Rest and Peace
Earlier this month, one of our words for the week was “weary.”
This is something many of us have experienced during the lockdown time. Objectively, this seems a little strange, as this is a period that is literally defined by the importance of not going anywhere or doing anything.
Of course, for a number of people, this time has meant more work than ever – those who are home schooling, for example, or those working on the front lines and in key worker roles.
Even those who are not affected by the above, however, have found themselves growing mentally and spiritually weary as time goes on and uncertainty weighs down on us. And as our lives look so different now, it can be hard to find ways to truly rest.
We are promised, however, that we will be given rest if we seek it.
Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
So what does the bible say about rest?
Rest in nature
Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
This is one of the best known passages of the Bible. It’s something that everyone can immediately identity with. Green pastures, quiet waters… later on in the psalm, the author goes on to speak of going through the valley of death, and feeling God’s presence with them instead of fear. Is this because they were first strengthened by a moment of rest with God?
While the psalm uses poetical imagery, it can also be taken in a literal sense. Nature can be deeply restful. Of course, not everyone has easy access to actual green pastures and quiet waters – some may not even be going outside of their homes at the moment.
But God may well have his own idea for something you will enjoy, whether it be a moment in a park, a garden, or a view from your window.
Rest in obedience (and snacks)
Kings 17:2-6 “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
When this story takes place, Elijah was actively doing good, obeying God’s commands – he had just warned of a coming drought, the result of God’s displeasure with the idolaters in Israel. But just after this, when God told him to go and hide himself, he did. He didn’t push on with his ministry, or try to find another good work to do.
God had prepared the place for the rest, and also a plan to keep Elijah strengthened, by having the ravens bring him food.
This is a very practical moment – Elijah needs food for strength, so God sends it to him. How often do our troubles seem so much worse when we haven’t eaten all day? Elijah rests because God has commanded him to, but the rest itself is something that God has designed to benefit Elijah’s human needs.
Rest after work
Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is something very important to remember, any time we try to convince ourselves that we can get along fine without rest. Do we think we’re going to do better than God?
This would later become the Sabbath day, a day only for rest. Of course, Jesus made a point of freeing us from the religious structures of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12, “How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.") But the importance of time set aside to rest was built into humanity from the very beginning.
The day of rest is listed as the final moment of creation, the seventh part of a seven-part story. It’s included every time we look at these events – we consider it a part of “creation”, even though God wasn’t creating anything on that particular day.
Might a time of rest be just as essential to our works as the works themselves?
Rest in faith
Mark 4:35-40 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Jesus knew that he needed to rest. And he slept through some circumstances that would ordinarily have someone’s full attention. Interestingly, the storm didn’t wake him, his disciples did.
He reprimanded them for their lack of faith – the faith he had, that they would be safe. Of course, he didn’t just go right back to sleep, he commanded the storm to be still first. It seems he wasn’t telling them that it was wrong to bother him, but rather that they shouldn’t have been panicking.
A time of rest will often be interrupted, either by others, or by our circumstances, or both. It doesn’t mean that we should ignore those who need help (“I’m sorry, I can’t help you with the storm, I’m having some me time. You understand.”)
It should be noted Jesus did make a point of setting boundaries when necessary – there are many other times in the gospels when he rested, often taking himself away from his active ministry in order to do so.
But when our lives feel like unmanageable chaos, taking a moment to rest can seem as nonsensical as having a nap in the stern of a boat during a storm.
If we do rest, we do so in faith that Jesus will fulfil his promises to us.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”