In the past six years I have been through a journey of understanding rest. I have never been more exhausted, and more rested in the span of the last year. I’ve written about busyness and contentment and in those posts I make mention of resting and just being.
But what is rest?
After the last weekend camping at a jazz festival and constantly being around people, I had to sit in a darkened room by myself for a couple of hours before I was physically ready to speak to anybody. That was my process of resting.
But for others, rest could be going out with some friends and having an insane amount of fun (which would be a nightmare for some), or a chill hangout with close friends everyone reading in silence. For some, rest is sleeping the entire day.
When I was working, I would countdown to Saturday night when I could be alone, and sleep the Sunday away. I would countdown on my calendar the number of days to my next holiday. I’m never really satisfied with the work that I was doing, anticipating the next time I could get away and do something else. Even now, on my Sabbatical, I find that I have moments where I count down days till I get to sleep or be alone.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Except there’s a perpetual dissatisfaction with my present. And rest & holidays tend to disappoint. I could not enjoy them because I knew they would end and I would have to get back to working. I remember having insomnia on Sundays because I was filled with so much guilt, anxiety and dread for the coming week. There was a dissatisfaction when I was working, and then a dread when I was resting.
“Stop working in order to rest, but work from a place of rest”
My friend shared this quote from a doctor who had given a testimony during their supernatural ministry course.
If we are able to shift our mentality to work from a place of rest, then it would drastically transform the way we lead our lives. We will be able to live more intentionally in the now and be less worried about the future. We can feel more centred, wholehearted, less restless and more collected.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Classic verse about rest. If someone sent me this when I shared I was tired, I would roll my eyes. Yet, when my mentor prayed this over me, I discovered a new depth in it (Thank you Lord) that might help us understand rest. So often people tell you to ‘rest’, but they never actually tell you how. I attempt to do so with these verses.
One. Go to Jesus.
Jesus says ‘Come to me’. He knows in this life we get tired, we are burdened. I was feeling so broken from the emotional burdens of friends and brokenness in the world. I was also trying to organise evangelistic events, and meeting with people while trying to write my dissertation and figuring out my uni work. But I realised that I had been carrying it all on my own. Jesus invites us to go to him.
What to do:
Literally go to Jesus. I spend a few moments with him processing all that I was feeling. I pray through each of the things I felt I was carrying and tell him how it was making me feel. It’s okay to shed a few tears in the process because something we carry so much it can actually hurt.
Two. Rest is given
Jesus says “I will give you rest.” So often I find myself trying to rest, and I end up being more anxious because I’m not resting, or relaxing, or sleeping. Striving for rest is so exhausting. This is exactly the feeling I get when I go on a holiday and I come back and say “I need a holiday to rest from that”. Jesus says it is a gift. When we come to him, he gives us the rest we need. And he says he ‘will’. Not he might, or he could. He will.
What to do:
After talking to him about all the issues, I spend some time in silence/in gentle worship. In these moments I gain a new perspective in the work that I do. He gives me ideas about my essays, He shows me how he loves my friends and I don’t need to be their saviour. He shows me where I had been fighting on my own and nudges me to give up control in those things. He shows me that He is enough. I often receive a profound sense of peace and feel more settled on the inside.
Three. ‘Take my yoke upon you’
This is one of those overused phrases that no one actually understand what it means (at least in my 10 years of speaking complex christian I never looked into it properly). Yoke refers to the frame that is put on animals so they can carry heavy loads. Contextually, Jesus might be referring to the entire Mosaic law that Jews were meant to follow. There were more than 600 laws plus extras, and it was such a burden for people to carry. So when Jesus says ‘take my yoke upon you’ and that his ‘yoke is easy and my burden is light’, I think we can reflect on the freedom that Jesus gave to us when he died on cross and that we are now saved by grace and grace alone. We no longer have to carry the burden of being saved by the law. We are free to live and love!
What to do:
Worship Jesus for our salvation. Because we are saved by what he has done on the cross, we no longer need to strive. Receive the deep understanding of this freedom. What we do during the day does not define us, we are not saved by our good works. We have been saved for good works, but our salvation & worth no longer hinge on them.
Four. Learn from Jesus
Jesus says ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle & lowly hearted’ and if we learn this, we will find rest. I have been grappling with this quite a bit. What does being gentle and lowly hearted have anything to do with rest?
I think it has to do with the messiness of our pride. Pride tells us that we are so important and everything hinges on the work we do. Pride tells us we are capable enough to manage it all. Pride tells us that if we don’t do something, the world will crash.
What to do:
Humble ourselves before Jesus and acknowledge that we are nothing but dust. The world carries on without us. This is not a self-deprecating low self-esteem melancholy, but a healthy holy acceptance that the world does not revolve around or depend on us. But God is the sovereign Lord who has it all in the palm of His hands.
Maybe Matthew 11 will sound a bit more like this:
“Go to Jesus, with all your burdens & worries, lay them down before him and be filled with the rest that Jesus will give to you. Stop trying to work for your salvation, & receive the gift of grace. Learn from Jesus, and lay down the pride that says you can earn anything that he doesn’t first give you.”
Daily I’m learning to involve the Holy Spirit in my schedule, asking Him to show me what I need to do, what He intends to do during my interactions with people, whether I need to stop and spend some time alone instead of rushing from place to place, person to person. But it is so easy to get caught up with the busyness. When I feel my heart is restless, and I’m starting to dread things or feel an exhaustion that extends beyond a physical one, I know I have to come before God again and go through the process above.
Learning to act from a place of rest takes a lot of intentional effort to be conscious of what is going on internally, and that in itself takes some getting used to.
I’m learning that true rest comes from Christ. No matter what I do to try and rest, it may help for the moment, but it never really lasts. When I come to Jesus though, there is a deep peace even when everything around me feels chaotic. I feel an anchored-ness despite the madness of my emotions. I feel this sense of rooted-ness in the midst of all the changes.
For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.
Psalm 18: 31-36
God is our Rock. I think of Moses being protected in that cleft as the Lord passed him, I think of Elijah sheltered in the rock when the wind, earthquake & fire passed.
Maybe it is time we spoke more about rest. The right kind of rest. The rest that comes from the Rock of our salvation. Where do you find your rest? Where do you look for your salvation? Where do you find your confidence?
Teach us Lord, to come to you before we run to all the escapes of the world. Teach us Lord, to trust that you alone can bring peace. And that you are the giver of rest. You want us to rest, to learn to be your child again, to be completely in your embrace every moment of every day. Thank you that our salvation is secure in you. Thank you that you are the immovable rock, and all other ground is sinking sand. Thank you that we can stand on you and be utterly secure in the knowledge that we are completely known and loved by you.