Practicing the Discipline of Rest in a Busy World
In most of my conversations with friends, the same question comes up: “Have you been really busy lately?” I don’t know why we ask. My normal response is: “Yes. But isn’t everyone busy?!?” It does not matter if you are ahead, behind, or keeping up, you are busy. The demands of normal life range from the mundane of grocery shopping to the nervous moments of watching your kid’s first soccer game to the too-seldom Friday date night. Our reality is simple: rest is elusive.
At times, all we want to do is collapse. Just falling on the bed to take a nap becomes the goal for our weekend. We know that the Bible leads us in the direction of resting but we don’t know how we’ll get to it. The To-Do List is too long for resting. So what are we to do with the principle of rest, the Sabbath, and how it all relates to our normal life?
All believers need to practice the spiritual discipline of rest. But it does seem a bit unpractical. For many of us, it seems impossible. So let me ask you to look past the normal thoughts about it. The spiritual discipline is not just for monks in a monastery who are untouched by the hyped-up pace of our work places. Rather, God designed His creation week as an example and Jesus taught rest as beneficial for us.
When questioned about His followers picking grain on a Sabbath, Jesus explained it this way:
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
God has an intention that we rest but not in some weird, legalistic way. It is not about staying close to your house all day and never mowing the lawn on Sunday. There are some great ways to practice the discipline as spiritual rather than with a checklist from the legalists.
We need a better understanding of this discipline. It is not just sitting quietly in our homes or in a church service. It can include those practices but is not limited to them. Rest is for the purpose of enjoying God’s grace and presence without the distraction of work. In the Creation Week, the Lord ceased His creative work on the seventh day. The Old Testament principle of the Sabbath caused people to not farm, sew, build, and so forth in order to reflect upon their covenant with God and worship Him. Jesus has His followers with him on the Sabbath. It is a time that we are to enjoy God’s presence.
Let me give you a few suggestions.
Walk away from your mobile devices. The constant buzzing and beeping notifications do not allow your mind to rest. We keep them near us because we need to be needed by others. We don’t want to miss out on who is commenting on our Facebook posts. Walk away and give your mind time to rest.
Enjoy the community of faith. When we rest, it can be a solitary time but should not always be so. Most of what we see in the Bible is that our time of rest is regularly done with others who share our faith. On our day of rest, we can take the time for purposeful and concentrated worship and Bible study. We pray for needs, share joys, and declare the gospel together on our day of rest.
Move around during your rest. The spiritual discipline of rest is not just for Sundays and does not have to mean stillness. If you enjoy gardening, then dig in the dirt. If you like hiking, go out into the woods. The practice we need to engage is the separation from the daily labors of life. The rest we engage is as much about your soul as it is your body.
But do be still some. With the idea of enjoying the activities of life uninterrupted by our labors, we do need to regularly sit down. As one who preaches on most Sundays, it has taught me to truly, deeply, and utterly enjoy taking a nap. I joke about it being one of the more spiritual things I do each week. But, in my heart, I’m completely serious. The moment that I can shut off the world and just slide into sleep is more than just rejuvenating. It is a sign of faith to God that I don’t have to be spun up in worry about work all of the time. I can rest… in Him.
Have fun with your faith. Resting will be hard for the go-getter. It will be stressful for the anxious heart. Remember that it is a time for you to remember just how great God is at providing for your needs. Resting from work and decision-making is an expression of your love for God. You love Him enough to trust that He can provide. It is your life declaring that you are not defined by work and accomplishments. Your life is defined by Jesus and His work on the cross.
Engage your heart and soul. Rest is for the purpose of our bodies but it can also deeply increase your faith. When we don’t rest, it is often because of worry and anxiety. We go to be late because we’re worried about our lives. We wake up early because we’re anxious about a project at work. We don’t rest because our faith is thin about a decision to be made. Rest is a spiritual discipline. Allow God to use it as a tool to draw you to Him through scripture and prayer. Your time of rest should often be a time of reflection about God’s provisions and His goodness.
Adapted from my book, Habits for Our Holiness.