Resting is hard, because I am a sinner. Resting is unfruitful, because I do not do it the correct way. In fact, most of the time, I do not even think about it the correct way.
In mid-August, when our summer interns had just moved out of my apartment, and the crazy busyness of summer camp and VBS was over, I found myself craving some much-needed rest. It felt wonderful to have lazy days, to watch some TV, and even to nap. I deserved this, because I had been working so hard! Rather than renew my energy, however, these activities seemed to sap me of it. I confess, I am much better at escaping than I am at actual resting. I have recently found myself caught in a vicious cycle of using my time unwisely—topped with bad sleeping and eating habits. My “resting” has now gone too far, and it is making me so tired! I even came back from a great trip to Bulgaria still feeling tired. Why is rest so fleeting? I think the answer is: I am doing it wrong. I am in need of much more than just a break from work.
Consequently, I have been asking myself, “What is the correct way to rest?” I know that everybody gets re-energized and refreshed in different ways: some by being with people, some by being alone, some by reading, some by running. Certainly there is value in those things and in having a respite from work on a Sabbath. These pursuits may recharge our bodies, but we need more than this for our souls. A tired soul can wear down even the strongest body.
What is my primary need? How do I get it?
What I am really seeking is spiritual rest, and I cannot get that from a nap.
The following Scripture passage from Matthew 11:28–30 is a well-known quote from Jesus and is used as encouragement for the Christian who has too much on his or her plate:
Come to Me, all you 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. (NKJV)
How do I really give Christ my burden so that I can rest? What is His burden that I am to take upon myself? What burden can He have that is so easy and so light? After meditating on this verse, I believe Jesus is talking about grace. All He asks me to carry is grace. As I grow in my understanding of grace, I find rest for my soul; I feel relief from an inner tiredness and from the things that weigh me down. I find He is taking my burden without any effort from me at all. I do not have to earn it or prove anything, and it is not something I control.
So how do any of us grow in our understanding of grace? My one-word answer is: worship. To know grace, we must know the Gracious One. I have found that I must feed my faith daily through worship of God and through meditating on His Word and His character. However, even though this does recharge me spiritually, my rest is not the goal of worship. I enter into worship to lift my eyes away from myself toward my Highest Joy, to proclaim the righteousness of my King as I bask in His steadfast love, and to remember who my Lord is and what He has done for me. The surge of life that this gives to me is icing on the cake, and I find rest in the truth that Jesus loves me. Oh, how I can feel my body relax and my breathing become easier when I understand His goodness and His faithfulness to me!
I need this reminder of God’s faithfulness everyday—not just on Sundays. So, I am convinced that this kind of resting is something that should be ongoing; in other words, I should not wait until I am exhausted to try to “catch up” somehow. In fact, if I am properly resting along the way, I think I would not even reach that depth of exhaustion in the first place. I know that having a daily “quiet time” is not magic, and I know there is no condemnation if I miss it sometimes, but I also know that when I experience the feeding of my soul each day with the power of His word and the reminder of His grace, I am not so soon worn out or frustrated. When I worship God in the morning, I do not spend all day trying to get my life right and make things go my way (which is exhausting!), because I know that I am in His hands. The power I have in Christ is inexhaustible!
I hope that you too will find true rest for your soul. To that end, let me suggest a few things:
- Take stock of the ways in which you attempt to rest. Which ones are helpful? Which ones seem to add to your tiredness? Which ones are more about escaping than resting?
- If worshipping on your own is new to you, use hymns and worship songs to get started. I listen and actually sing along to some favorites on Youtube—of course, I do live alone. Remember, it is primarily about the lyrics, so meditate on them. I recommend He Will Hold Me Fast—talk about grace! A little gem I found with recordings of a congregation singing is http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/resources/music/.
- Read and pray Scripture! Focus on the passages that talk about the characteristics of God and praise Him for these things. Psalm 36:7–9 (NRSV) is a good example:
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit within you to prepare you, to give you a mindset of worship and eyes to see from an eternal perspective. He gives us the ability to worship.
- Think about just being with God and enjoying Him. This is not about accomplishing something, it is not about performing, and it is not about following rules. Go to the One who loves you.
- Do not wait until you are exhausted to start resting in God. Trade each and every day’s burden for His grace. Taste every day the great blessing of personal communion with God in worship.
Grace to you, and sweet rest.
Question to consider: What are some suggestions you have found work well to find true rest for your soul?