Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Time to Get Some Rest

How would you define "too busy"? It used to be that people were too busy if they didn’t have time to stop by the house; then it was if they didn’t have time to write, then it was if they didn’t have time to call. What could be easier then sending an email...or updating your Facebook page...and yet there are many who don't have time for that either. Have you tried twitter…it's another social networking site that asks you to briefly respond to the question “What are you doing right now?” a thousand times a day for the benefit of all your friends who care to know. No thanks.

The odd thing about our addiction to busyness is that we actually have more time off than any generation in recent history. In 1880 the typical household provider had about 1.8 hours of leisure per day over the course of a year. But between 1830 and 1995 the length of the work week fell from 70 hours to 40 hours and leisure time tripled. Now the question is, with all this discretionary time, why are we still so tired? Is our exhaustion real or imagined? In his book, Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald suggests that our fatigue may be evidence that we have forgotten how to genuinely rest. I believe that it's our Heavenly Father who teaches us the true purpose of rest and how to experience its greatest blessings….

Did you know that God was the first rester? That's right, the idea of getting some rest is a biblical concept. In this country, it was devout Christians and Jews who first pushed for time off on Saturdays and Sundays to worship. And though it was Henry Ford who instituted the five day work week in 1926, it was Jesus who said, “Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Actually, the idea of rest goes back even further…for, according to Scripture, the need for “rest” is built in to the very fabric of creation. Turning to Genesis 2:2 we read that “On the seventh [or 'Sabbath'] day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” Does God, the all-powerful creator, need to rest? It seems unlikely. A few weeks ago, my family visited the Huntington Gardens and saw the Titan Arum, or “Corpse” Fower, a 7 foot plant that blooms every 10 years. That’s because it takes that long for it to store up the energy to produce its stinky flower blossom. All living things must store up energy to expend energy, and rest to work. God submitted the whole creation to this cycle and then observed it himself as an example to follow!

Think with me a moment about the necessity of Sabbath rest (not just leisure). Today we tend to look at rest as a luxury…when God intended it to be a necessity – the very purpose for which he created the cosmos. And because we’ve failed to understand the necessity of Sabbath rest we have substituted it with the luxury of leisure. Don’t misunderstand me; there is nothing wrong with leisure…with recreation and ball games and sightseeing and amusement parks, or hanging out with friends. As Gordon MacDonald points out, these things are good; but they do not by themselves feed the soul like sabbath rest. The sixth commandment is to “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy….” (Ex. 20: 8). What we are supposed to do on the sabbath should be possible in all our daily activities…especially our leisure activities. Family vacations, time with family and friends become holy when we invite God to be part of those times. Sadly, the holiness of sabbath rest has often been replaced with leisure activities that are decidedly unholy, fruitless, and degrading....

Men, we need to beware of “Miller time” when it becomes “wasted time.” God calls us to self-control in all things. If you are tempted to self-medicate when you are under the stress of work, loneliness, or family conflict, get some help! We need to beware of so-called “adult entertainment” and internet sites that make a wasteland of our souls. This kind of “entertainment” is destroying marriages; and our example as fathers. As fathers we are not only investing in the degradation of someone else’s daughter, but our own....

Leisure has become synonymous with doing whatever feels good at the moment, regardless of the cost. I know a pastor who recently told his church that he was leaving his wife of many years…and for what? In order to pursue a same sex relationship. Was scratching this itch really worth the end of his marriage or his fellowship with God? I grieve for him and especially for his family. If the luxury of our leisure time is inconsistent with the necessity of sabbath rest; if we would be embarrassed for God to be the silent witness of our discretionary time (which he is)…then we must turn and flee from it, but having said that…we need to understand what we are fleeing toward…and positively define what is meant by the practice of sabbath rest…

Let's briefly consider four practices associated with Sabbath rest. First, genuine Sabbath rest sets aside time for reflection. When God rested from the work of creation...we’re told that he looked around and “saw everything that he had made,” and then reflected on its meaning and value. The conclusion: “It was very good” (Genesis 1:31). When God paused from his work to appreciate it and to reflect on its meaning and value; he was teaching us to reflect not simply on our work…but on God’s work, and to give him praise and thanks.

Every Friday night, observant Jews recite a prayer that goes like this: “You made the Seventh Day Holy for Your Name, it being the very purpose of the Making of Heaven and Earth ….” The whole purpose of creating this universe was that one holy day the creation itself (you & me) would look up and worship the Creator. Genuine sabbath rest is a time to ponder the true purpose of our work and God’s work… to glorify him, and consider how to shine our light before others.

Another aspect of genuine Sabbath rest is that it establishes a rhythm for our week: 6 + 1. For “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:2) Without God’s call to this rhythm of work and rest…our labor would be never-ending. I don’t believe there is any legitimate activity in our lives that would not benefit from a day off each week…whether we’re talking about work, exercise, checking our email, watching TV, eating, shopping, driving, talking on the phone, etc. An intentional fast from these things has the potential of readying our hearts to receive more of God’s love, his word, and have more time for the people we love.

Sunday worship is one of the most important ways that we re-establish this rhythm and become re-centered in who God is and who we are. Last Spring, Lisa and I and our girls spent a few days in the mountains at the cabin of one of her friends. The cabin was built almost 100 years ago…and because of the extreme weather changes…nails continually work themselves loose. I spent a good amount of time one day…pounding those nails back into the front deck. Gordon MacDonald observes that on the Sabbath, after a week of extremes, and the push and pull of our daily responsibilities, we are actually setting aside time to “repound the nails of our convictions and commitments.” With every hymn or praise song…with every prayer…and with every sermon, our drifting spirit is being re-grounded; and the foundation of our faith is being reaffirmed and restored.

A third quality of genuine Sabbath rest is freedom… with responsibility. How important is it to observe the sabbath? We should begin by saying that Christians don’t technically observe the sabbath (or seventh) day of the week to rest and worship. We rest on the first ordinary day of the week, like the first Jewish believers, in celebration of the day Jesus rose from the dead. That in itself reminds us that every ordinary day is holy before God. When it comes to observing sabbath rest, Jesus teaches us freedom + responsibility. As he was walking through the fields one Saturday afternoon, his disciples were picking grain; an activity considered to be “work” by the Pharisees and therefore forbidden (see Mark 2: 24-28). Responding to his critics, Jesus says that “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27)! The sabbath was meant to be a gift, not a legalistic burden.

But if the Sabbath is to be observed with freedom, it is also to be observed with responsibility - a time in which we are encouraged to do good, to worship God, spend time with family, and serve others. One day Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath since this too was considered by some to be “work.” He asks his accusers rhetorically: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. (Mark 2: 27, 3:4) As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus makes it clear that we can work on the sabbath; but that this work should not be the usual, daily kind of work for which we receive a paycheck. Rather, it should be a time in which we do those things that bless our neighbor and all other living creatures, and honor God. As a pastor, my day of “rest” is Sunday (my day of worship) but it is also Monday, because this is the day I rest from my work, reflect on God’s call upon my life apart from my role as pastor, and invest in my family and other relationships.

The fourth quality of genuine sabbath rest is spiritual renewal. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28). And again,“Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:30). Jesus invites us to find rest in him by imitating his habit of taking time for solitude and silence. What do these badly needed spiritual exercises look like today? An early morning discipline of 5-10 minutes alone with God in prayer…an evening walk in which you meditate on God’s promises and speak to him in the quietness of your heart. For many of us, these may seem impractical and needlessly time consuming….

MacDonald points us to a man like William Wilberforce, a member of the English parliament who worked to end slavery in England over the course of twenty years. Where did he get the spiritual strength and moral courage to persevere for those many years without giving up? At one point he was offered a cabinet post under the new prime minister but found that this “rising ambition” – said one biographer -- was consuming his energy and crippling his soul (Garth Lean, God’s Politician). But “Sunday brought the cure,” Lean writes. It was that discipline of sabbath rest that re-centered him in his true calling and purpose – to serve God by working for abolition. Wilberforce writes, “Blessed be to God for the day of rested and religious occupation wherein earthly things assume their true size. Ambition is stunted.” (MacDonald, 162). What if Wilberforce did not know the blessing of sabbath rest? Could it have derailed his mission to end slavery? No doubt! This world needs Christians who are being renewed by the discipline of sabbath rest.

My eldest daughter Corynn recently culminated from elementary school. It was such a joy as a father to watch her crossing this first milestone in her education. On her last day of school, I was helping Lisa with a party just outside her classroom. At one point, I came into the room where the children were taking pictures and signing yearbooks. I sat down on a chair trying to keep a respectable distance so that my daughter didn’t feel too overcrowded by her dad’s presence …and then, to my surprise, Corynn walked over and sat in my lap. I thought to myself, "Wew! She's still not too old to sit in my lap!"

Jesus, we are told, ascended to heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father. Friends, a day is coming when we too shall graduate from this world… and begin the real adventure; beginning with that moment that we sit down in our Heavenly Father’s lap; receive a hug from his Son, and rest deeply in his love. For this life is only preparation for the true rest, the holiday (or 'holy' day) that awaits all those who trust in Christ…the day of worship and service to God that will be our endlessly creative assignment in God’s full world.

The writer of Hebrews describes it well: “A sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4: 9-11)! And so in anticipation of that future holiday...may I humbly suggest on behalf of the Savior that it's time for you to get some rest.

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