Sensing my struggle, an older woman from my church reached out to me. I will never forget her wise words delivered over a chicken salad sandwich and iced tea. She told me that knowing God – just to know Him – was a more worthy endeavor for my life than anything else I could do or accomplish. She told me I had to make rest the single most important, non-negotiable activity of each day. She reassured me I could trust God to use those around me to accomplish everything else. In my heart I wondered, but what about my children? She had an answer for that objection, too. All the sacrifices my children would have to make as a result of my rest, she said, would "build better people" who would not only grow up to understand that the world does not revolve around them, but also learn how to show compassion and serve others. I left that precious lunch meeting determined to rest. I learned quickly, however, that resting is easier said than done.Why do we struggle with rest? We long for an afternoon at the beach or an hour to steal away to a quiet place and read a book. But often these mini breaks never come. We have become experts at pushing ourselves beyond healthy limits and cramming in just a few more things before our heads hit the pillow at night just to get up and do it all over again. Social media, cell phones, laptops and email reinforce our 24/7 frenetic lifestyles. We pride ourselves in all our accomplishments. We’re even prouder if our accomplishments include ministry, helping others and service at church because we’re not only busy, but we are busy doing good things! Inside, however, we grow emptier and emptier. I never realized how empty I had become until breast cancer thrust me into rest against my will for an indefinite period of time. I could not figure out how to switch to low gear and idle the engine because I had been running in over-drive so long.
At a loss for what to do, I turned to the Bible. Surely our Creator, the designer of all mankind and the universe, would have something to say about rest. “His divine power has given us EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3) I needed to learn how to rest. If God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness,” I reasoned, He would have the answers. Thus, I began a quest to examine every verse in the Bible that mentioned the word “rest” beginning with Genesis and ending in Revelation. My findings astounded me. How had I gotten so far off course from the way God designed me to live, I wondered? More importantly, as I looked at the church and the harried Iives of the people sitting in the pews, I realized that we are all off course. We have succumbed to the worldly mentality that the best and most productive life is filled with accomplishments and activities, and our souls suffer for it. I had been going to church all my life and had been doing all the things a “good” Christian should do – going to Bible study, reading the Word, praying, loving my husband and children, serving in the church, helping others – but I had missed the point. I had spent my whole life doing things for God but missed knowing Him intimately because my life was void of rest. That’s what busyness does. Busyness sweeps us up like a swift river current and carries us downstream farther and farther from God who calls from the riverbank to pull aside and rest with Him. Soon we find ourselves so far away that His voice is barely audible above the roar of the white waters. We exhaust ourselves trying to keep the boat afloat and only call to God when we’re desperate and need Him to throw us a rope.
God designed us to live in a rhythm of work and rest. When we fail to follow His pattern, it is to our detriment physically, emotionally and spiritually. The greatest casualty is our souls. Our souls, starving for intimacy with God, remain weakened and malnourished as long as we remain in a famine of rest. Rest is important to God. Rest is a theme that appears repeatedly throughout the Bible. Rest is introduced in the opening pages of Genesis when God rested on the 7th day of creation. The idea of rest is further developed through the Old Testament and climaxes in the gospels when Jesus proclaims, “It is finished,” and sits down to rest at the right hand of God after accomplishing the work the Father gave Him, salvation of the world. The remainder of the New Testament focuses on the outworking. As rest has been introduced, developed and climaxes at the cross, the focus shifts in Acts and the Epistles to how it should be worked out in the church and in our daily lives. Finally, rest culminates in the book of Revelation, showing us a glimpse of the joy awaiting all who choose to enter His rest. This 10-week study will take us on a journey through the pages of the Bible to show us God’s glorious design for rest and point us toward keeping in step with it.
I pray that this study will change your life the way it has changed mine. Looking back, I can see that the enforced period of rest I initially despised has become one the greatest blessings in my life. In fact, my whole life has been a journey seeking rest, beginning in college when I had to withdraw from school when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and continuing through a more recent cancer battle – a sarcoma. Learning about rest at its essence is learning about God. There’s nothing greater you can do with your time or with your life than knowing God. When you sit down to do your study, the world will scream for your attention and all manner of pressures and distractions will come. Fight against it! Make your time learning about rest with God the single most important, non -negotiable activity of the week. Trust God to help you accomplish the things you are leaving undone to spend time with Him. Perhaps He will show you that those things that seemed so pressing don’t matter as much as you thought, so you can let them go. This study will fail miserably if you just add it to your “to do” list. The point is not to come away with more knowledge or to feel guilty that you’re not keeping the “rules” you should be. The goal is pulling aside from the fray so God can renew and refresh your weary soul. Give yourself permission to rest.
I never realized that resting could be so hard until I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 42 years old. My sprint through life as a mother of three active children came to a screeching halt. Surgery and chemotherapy meant I had to step down from my role as director of women's ministries at a large church in Kalamazoo and retreat – retreat from everything I enjoyed doing outside my home and all the activities that made me feel significant. If that wasn't difficult enough, I humbly had to rely on my friends and husband to help me meet my family's basic needs. I no longer had the energy to cook all the meals, do laundry, keep my house clean and drive children around town. All I could do were a few simple daily tasks and rest. I hated it. Resting felt like being trapped under a one-ton boulder with no escape. My long days seemed pointless because I wasn't accomplishing anything. Even worse, if I could manage to still myself physically, I couldn't calm the anxious thoughts constantly swirling through my mind as I wondered what the future held for me with a life-threatening disease.