When I played basketball in high school we used to do this drill called continuous action. It was a three on three full court drill in which after you had completed offense, you ran off the court, and three more of your team would run in to play defense against the other team. And so you popped in and out of the drill with the action never stopping. You had to get in and down the court fast, before the three formerly defenders, now on offense, beat you down the court and your coach yelled at you, or worse, punished you with lines.
I was reminded of this drill the other day when I read Isaiah 60:1-2:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD risesupon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appearsover you.”
Consider the action in these verses. Your light hascome– this verb is in the perfect tense, meaning the coming of the light is sure and has happened. The other verbs – the darkness covers, the Lord rises, his glory appears– are imperfect tense, offering a sense of incompleteness, continuous action, or being in process. The Lord is rising upon us and his glory is appearing, even though the darkness is covering the earth.
God is acting continually in the midst of suffering and evil.
What a great assurance for us to rest upon. His risingupon us continues, the appearingof his glory continues, even when our strength fails, our physical bodies collapse in exhaustion, our hearts melt with fear. We stop our action for many reasons. We get bored. We need to eat food. We’d rather do something else.
God’s light, Jesus Christ, has come. Therefore, the rising, the appearinghas been put into motion and goes on without ceasing. The ripples of his light do not fade in spite of the darkness that – for now – covers the earth.
Rest in the sureness of his action. He does not grow tired or weary. His understanding has no limits. And he gives us the gift of that continuous action, the gift of moving with him: “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Splendor and majesty are before him; strengthand joy in his dwelling place. 1 Chronicles 16:27
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10.
If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:10-11.
What a beautiful Sunday message this morning by our guest preacher, Ed Germann, Southeast and Great Lakes Regional Field Director of International Students, Inc. His point – the joy of the Lord is our strength. Joy. Joy. Joy. And while listening, I realized how much joy has to do with rest.
I’ve been struggling with joy lately. That fact has popped into my brain at the oddest moments – stubbing my toe on a toy left out, walking through the house with a pile of laundry, or picking my child up at school – again. How is it that simple tasks can feel so burdensome and meaningless?
What’s so beautiful about the joy of the Lord is that it’s more than happiness. It’s greater than our past achievements and our present circumstances. The joy of the Lord reaches back and pulls us forward from the certainty of our future. As Ed Germann emphasized this morning, we find our joy by looking forward at what God will do for us, what he has already done for us that we have not experienced. And that forward-looking joy is in spite of the sufferings we experience in this life. That forward-looking joy gets us through the trials of this life.
Joy is rest – rest from the heaviness that threatens to tackle us at every time we read a negative news story, lose part of our dream, are hurt by a friend or disappointed at work. Joy is rest from the doldrums of routine. Joy is rest from indifference, the flippant “who cares?” attitude that can pervade our hearts, work places, our homes, even our churches.
But joy, like rest, isn’t something we can conjure up in our hearts simply by wishing it present. The reality of joy, like rest, is that it’s a gift. Rest is given as we come to Jesus. Joy, likewise, comes from being in the presence of Jesus. Thus, David can praise the Lord saying, “Strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” Jesus encouraged his disciples to remain in his love. When we are in Jesus’s love, his joy is in us, and our joy is complete.
So if you’re struggling with joy, like me, I challenge you to:
1. Spend extra time in his dwelling place – as you read his Word, pray, and worship.
2. Look forward. This might be a perspective shift for you. Remind yourself of his promises in his Word – the “yes and amen” promises of Christ. Remind yourself of the eternal realities of heaven.
3. Encourage another person. We live in community and we need to give the gift of joy as much as we need to receive it.
When you’ve had a long day and you want to rest, what do you do? Put your feet up? Read a book? Watch TV? Chat on the phone? Rest, to us, often means changing our activity from more strenuous to less or non-strenuous. If we were cooking, laundering, or doing chores around the house, rest means a sit down activity, perhaps napping. We send our children off to rest time and intend for them to either sleep or play quietly in one place. Rest is the cessation of motion, the pullback from duties, and the shutdown of sweaty work.
Sometimes we transfer this understanding of rest into the spiritual realm, thinking that spiritual rest is merely quietness before the Lord, or the pause of our holiness efforts. We might think of spiritual rest as the listening moment in prayer. We stop our asking and give God five seconds to answer.
On the contrary, spiritual rest goes much deeper than ten minutes of sitting down with Bible in lap. Spiritual rest is the dynamic movement of grace in our lives. This rest happens in the river of grace, and rivers have currents. Right now, the river by my house has a swift current, thanks to several days of steady rain. If I “rested” in that river on an innertube, I would be moving, not still. Likewise, spiritual rest is a ride on God’s innertube. We are carried along by grace and live the spiritual life on his terms. We stop trying to move ourselves along. We take our hands off the equation of holiness. You know, the equation that goes:
Hard Work + Following the Bible + Jesus = Righteousness
(We aren’t so stupid as to completely take Jesus out of the equation)
Great amounts of activity happen as we float along. We laugh with others who are also tubing down God’s river. We pull others off shore and into the grace current. We grow in the fruit of the Spirit.
Enough metaphor. Spiritual rest, like the physical, takes time. We have to spend time reading the Bible, praying and listening, talking with others about spiritual things, and worshipping regularly with other believers. God does not give us the equivalent of a five-hour energy shot. There are no shortcuts with spiritual rest.
Perhaps this is why I am so tired. I cut the corners on spiritual rest like I do on physical rest. My life is an irractic, routine march. Trying to bring consistency to my spiritual rest is about as successful as my current potty-training efforts with my three-year-old. And thus the tension. I need rest. I need grace. But I’m busy doing, doing, doing. Doing and rest are juxtaposed in my life, and seemingly contradictions. But rest happens where all the doing meets all His grace, when I realize that the movement that seems chaotic, when done in relationship with the Father, is actually a place of rest.
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”Matthew 6:33
Have you ever lost something precious? Of course you have. My five-year-old loses precious things every day, and immediately, I hear a panicked voice, “Mom, I can’t find ________.”
It seems obvious that when something is lost the answer is to look diligently. But seeking is not our instinct. As evidenced by my daughter’s worrying and complaining, seeking is something that must be learnt. Even when she thinks she is looking (one quick glance around the room she is currently in), she is really just waiting for her missing item to appear, or for me to get it for her. I usually find her item under a blanket or in her closet. You have to move things, open doors and drawers, I tell her.
Similarly, we must learn to seek the Lord and his kingdom first. Seeking takes effort. Seek means to search for, to attempt to obtain, to desire to possess, strive for, to aim. If we can’t find him in our darkness, then we look again, because he’s there. Lift up the restlessness of your heart and look underneath. Open up the drawer of business and peer within. Put your greatest heart-focus on seeking your Lord.
Seek first…not your job, your children’s wellbeing, not that perfect relationship, not your reputation. All of those things are good to seek. But what is our priority? We know what we are seeking first by how we feel. If we are seeking first his kingdom, we should be experiencing a deep, satisfying rest and joy. When we run around seeking after other things, rest eludes us. Overwhelmed is probably not an adequate word to describe the frenzy that some of us feel in life right now as we go about our duties, fulfilling our commitments, holding our heads high and gritting our teeth.
I must admit that my soul weariness is signaling some messed up priorities. I can make excuses, but when it comes down to it, I’m making choices. He may be first in my intentions, but he’s often second in my actions.
Resting in grace and aiming after God. Restis a gift we receive when we come to Jesusand seek him first. We come and receive, that’s grace. We seek, that’s our calling.
We all have secrets. We all have days when the cards are held close, guarded thickly by our shame or regret, days when the “closed” sign remains hanging on the doors of our hearts because the risk of opening ourselves is too great. Parts of us might be so easily broken that we hide them from ourselves. We nurture dreams and wounds which are as delicate as wild columbines.
When I was just beginning to get to know the man who would be my husband, I discovered that he had sequestered part of his heart and stamped a red “fragile” warning on it. I knew he’d open that door to me someday, and I prepared to offer grace. Sure enough, one February afternoon while hiking, I saw the tension building in him, the emotional clouds blowing in with the speed of a summer thunderstorm. It takes a lot of energy to hold oneself back, to hide from intimacy, and he was at the end of that energy. He opened himself that day, with humility and vulnerability. I baked him an apple pie that afternoon and left it as a surprise for him the next morning. And you know what? His soul was at rest. A heart that risks, that finds acceptance and unconditional love, knows deep rest. Our relationship changed that day.
The only rest for a heart heavy with secrets is to yield to intimacy, to disclose yourself to a trustworthy Savior. The cross is a sanctuary for the secret-laden. The cross does not condemn. The cross saves – saves us from our hiddenness, from the voice of sin that yells, “Cover up!”
Don’t remain bound by the exhaustion of holding yourself back. Find safety in the Savior who knows a little bit about pouring himself out. He doesn’t ask you to do what he has not done. He who held back none of his life, offers you the chance to hold back none of yours.
Columbines near Sky Pond, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. Photo by Nick Krantz.
“Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Interesting that Jesus did not just say, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” By saying “Come to me all who are weary…” he spoke to those who understood true weariness, those aware of their weaknesses and needs. Think of those who came to Jesus for healing. They came because they were desperate. They came because they had exhausted their own resources. They were weary.
Those who feel strong and self-assured did not come to Jesus. They solved their own problems, so they thought, and in doing so, missed out on true rest.
Jesus knew the secret: we are all the weary. Do not take inventory of your life and conclude that you’re “makin’ do” right now. Humans are not superheroes. We are, by nature, limited – in strength, in knowledge, in talent, in time. Even moms – contrary to the “I’ve accomplished so much this morning” Facebook posts – have limits.
Those unaware of their own proclivity toward weariness soon find themselves surprised by a breakdown. Rest is our essential for our bodies, but the physical is just a mirror of the emotional, mental, and spiritual. Jesus knew that the issues of weariness and rest reached far beyond our physical bodies. Have you ever woken up after a good night’s sleep and still felt tired? Oftentimes, despite eight hours of sleep, we wake with yesterday’s stress cloaking our hearts like the dew on the grass. Weariness is not eliminated simply by shutting our eyes and going to sleep for a while.
Thus, we have a problem. When we’re hungry we go to the grocery store. When our bodies are sick we go to the doctor. But we can’t buy rest. We can’t create it, either. Rest is a gift. It’s something we receive. In order to receive, we have to be willing to hold out our hands. In other words, we have to recognize our weariness. Rest is not an achievement.
“Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
If you want rest, don’t sit down on a rock beside the trail of life. Keep hiking. Keep coming.
Rest is for those who come. It’s an ironic reality: you have to make an initial move before you find rest. The key, however, is to move purposely, not frantically – that is, move toward Jesus. Don’t move like a dog chasing its tail.
Rest is found when we cometo Jesus. We do lots of coming – toward hard work, toward self-actualization, toward the happiness of financial gain, toward a fulfilling relationship, toward any number of spiritual practices.
But none of these comings result in rest.
What will it cost you to come to Jesus? In the Gospels we see people sacrificing much to come to Jesus. They travel miles. They give up their businesses. They donate all their money. They miss meals in order to hear the Teacher.
Ultimately, coming to Jesus will cost you your life – figuratively speaking. But what we lose is nothing compared to what we gain: Rest. Rest that is complete and irrevocable. Rest that encompasses forgiveness and eternal life. A forever rest that flows from the side of pierced Grace, not a temporary rest concocted from our own efforts.
I somewhat bashed resolutions in my last post so I want to make up for it today. The foundational idea behind making a resolution is to create a change in life that moves you forward, that makes your life better. That’s sort of like sanctification. As we know from God’s Word, sanctification (that growing we do in Christ) is a strange mix of our faith and works fueled by the Holy Spirit. We make choices in life, and resolutions merely honor the fact that some of those choices are good and others, not so good.
The key to making resolutions, and also keeping a restful heart, is to hold hands with grace.
That sounds nice. I wish I knew what that really meant. What does a life stimulated by grace look like?
Ironically, I think it requires a lot of letting go. Loose hands. A quick forgetfulness. When we mess up, we release the weight of failure immediately. We recognize that Jesus has strong, broad shoulders, which, on the cross, carried our failures. We rest in his success, not our own.
Additionally and paradoxically, a grace-stimulated life requires holding on. We must stay connected to the grace-source, Jesus. The hand of grace we hold is a pierced hand, a hand etched with our names. We don’t let go of this hand no matter how deep the pain or how broad the shame. And when we hold this hand, we experience true rest.
We’re headed for a stressful year if the resolutions we make are dependent upon our abilities and work ethic. We’re headed for a year that is anything but restful if the demands of our resolutions hang over our heads like condemning laws.
Bottom line, only one person fulfilled Old Covenant Law (meaning he perfectly kept the Father’s resolutions, his requirements for his people). His name is Jesus. If our little resolutions aren’t tied into His resolution, we have no hope for a restful 2013.
With that in mind, what areas are you hoping to improve in over the next year?
Among other things, I’m resolved to manage my time better in order to write more. That means prioritizing and setting aside good and fun things in order to pursue the writing that has been on my heart. And I’ll do this, of course, by holding hands with grace.
*This month I’m focusing on Rest – what it is, what it’s not, what it looks like in our life, how we work it into the fabric of our anxious hearts.
The eagerness of December 31 gives way to the demands of January 1 – demands of resolutions, commitments, and hopeful fresh starts. The New Year begins the pressing in of responsibilities and the fear of failing on yet another year fraught with high expectations.
The perfectionist in me can’t take the anxiety of such certain failures. All my good intentions to be better (…than last year, than my neighbor…), just end up burying me in shame as they come crashing down – about the third week of January. So I avoid making resolutions, at least consciously.
But resolutions still resonate in the empty areas of my heart, those hidden chambers that secretly promote a personal agenda of progress and improvement. And thus, a sense of doom clouds the joy of the Spirit.
Sometimes a resolution is no more than legalism in disguise. Resolutions dress up as Good Ideas, but when we strip away the masquerade, we find Old Covenant Law snarling at us. If God’s people couldn’t fulfill the Law originally, when the miracle of the Red Sea was directly in their rearview mirror, we won’t be able to fulfill it today, either.
Instead of resolutions, how about this year we try new mercies.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23
How can we receive new mercies each morning of 2013 when our days are laden with new sin?
“…because of the LORD’s great love…” And what is this love? “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And what did Christ do? “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
What if we celebrated new mercies like we celebrated the New Year? What if we waited with anticipation every evening for the dawning of a new day and the surety of those promised mercies? Let’s consider every night this year a spiritual December 31 – an ending followed by a new beginning the other side of midnight. Let’s celebrate every night with a midnight kiss, the seal of heavenly grace. Let’s rest our ruthless resolutions in the solidness of His faithfulness. Let’s take respite in the love of God that guarantees new mercies.