When I was in grad school, I took a class called Personal Spiritual Formation. In my first week of that class, I was told that I would be required to choose two spiritual disciplines to practice for the duration of the semester and journal about the progress.
However, there was one catch: I had to get them approved by my professor. Sounds easy, right? Just choose two, get it checked off by the professor, and off you go! That was not the case.
When I submitted my two disciplines, my professor’s response was: “I think these disciplines aren’t ones that are going to help you grow in this season. I think you need to practice the disciplines of rest and meditation.”
Rest? Meditation? Really!? How do I even practice that? For some of you reading this, you might be thinking I hit the jackpot. I get to practice napping and having solitude. But when I heard those words from my professor, I wanted to weep.
I didn’t know how to rest and be with God.
This began my journey to figure out what rest is, what it could look like for me, and how it might be exactly what I needed.
What Is Rest?
Rest simply means paying attention to our God-given needs and limits: the physical, mental and spiritual, and choosing to honor God through finding an unhurried rhythm in our everyday lives.
Life can often take on the pace of the NASCAR 500: the only way to do it is to go full throttle and not stop. But what happens when we live our lives at this pace?
- Exhaustion and physical depletion
- Little to no patience with yourself and others
- Failure in the ability to be present with others
- Loss of joy and contentment
- Focus our worth on what we do rather than who we are
- Grasp for control of everything and rely only on your own strength
- Delusion of what our limits are
- Burnout and loneliness
Rest is what grounds us in the presence of God. Psalm 62:1 says, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him” (NIVTM).
Jesus talks about rest in Matthew 11, and I love how The Message translation puts it:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt. 11:28–30, emphasis added)
What comes to mind when you read these words of Jesus? What words are pulling you in? What is God inviting you into? What would taking a real rest look like for you?
Human Beings Need Rest
Adele Calhoun in her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, said, “…We are human beings, not human doings. We are meant to live sane lives that partake of a deep and playful holy leisure” (pgs. 64-65).
Growing up, I had this perception that rest was wasting time. It meant I wasn’t needed, and I was losing out on a new opportunity. I allowed my desire for work and purpose to outweigh my actual needs. I remember writing about this in my journal:
I had to change how I viewed rest. I had to realign my priorities.
What if what I was doing for God was actually hindering my ability to be with God? So I re-focused, and for the first time, saw rest as purposeful and a part of how God created me. He created each one of us in His image, and He has shown us what it looks like to work and rest. Simply be with Him. That is enough.
The best part of rest is there is no agenda … and it is the hardest part of rest, especially if you are in vocational ministry. What I began doing is what I call “little sabbaths”.
I find pockets of time in my week to spend time in the presence of God. It could be as short as 5 minutes or as long as I need it to be (afternoon nap, anyone?) And I needed to block those times in my calendar to ensure that I would prioritize purposeful time with God to simply be. What could it look like for you to find pockets of time for your little sabbaths?
Rest looks different for every person, but it is not replacing our work with other productive activities. The core to rest is that you don’t produce, and you recognize your limits.
God did not make us to say ‘yes’ to everything. Sometimes rest means just stopping and choosing to not work past your limits. Ask yourself these questions: What is causing depletion in my life? Where am I choosing to work past my limits?
Rest with God is the remedy for a broken and exhaustive spirit. If you find yourself resonating with my NASCAR 500 list, God only wants you to simply be with Him.
Please hear these words (God speaks these often to me):
Look how far you have come. I have been longing to have you rely on Me and be with Me. I am always here, even when you think that I have deserted you. Leave behind your regrets and live in My love.