I used to rest well. I’m an introvert so I need to have regular times of being alone, being quiet, staring into space and thinking; resting. I used to do this a lot sitting outside, staring at nature. Sit. Think. Pray. Read. Stare. Be Quiet. Repeat. But then life got ramped up a bit.
What Steals Our Rest
In America it seems like everyone is always busy. Even as a single person I found working full-time with a daily two hour round-trip commute to be quite tiring. Add on to that keeping up with friends, family and eventually a boyfriend; church activities; hobbies; exercise and…whew! You know what I’m talking about. If all of this wasn’t busy enough then I got engaged. That’s when things went over the edge.
As I added wedding planning and pre-marriage counseling to the list, there were so many details racing through my brain at all times that even when I tried to rest and unplug…I couldn’t. My mind was always on. Because my mind got used to always being “on”, even when I wanted to just slow down, I found that I still craved some kind of entertainment. Often while I was “resting” I would be watching TV while surfing the internet while texting friends. Even though that was supposedly down-time activity, it definitely didn’t bring true rest to my body or mind. So, what does?
Re-Learning How to Rest
It’s been over 2 years since I got married and while some work changes have allowed me to step out of the frantic rat race, I’m still trying to re-learn how to rest because there are still so many things that fight to steal my attention from God.
In Matthew 11:28 (AMP) Jesus says: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]” In this verse the Greek word for “rest” is defined as “to give rest, give intermission from labor, refresh.” Our job is to come to God, to be still with Him, and His job is to give us refreshing. But we need to make the first step to come to God.
+How do you best connect with God? How do you rest with Him?
+What is stealing your rest?
+What two things can you begin to put into practice this week that will help you regularly find true rest and renewal in Christ?
Maybe you could read the Bible and pray before checking email or turning on the TV. Or actually take a lunch break and talk to God while you take a walk, or sit in silence in your car and pray. In the evenings turn off your computer, phone and TV and spend time praying with your spouse. Learn how to guard your free time and say “No” to things that you don’t need to do.
Learning to regularly rest with God refreshes us but also teaches us how to have an ever-present stillness, peace and rest within. We can learn to take that rest and peace into the chaos of the world, and still be at rest no matter what is happening around us. Just like Jesus in the boat in the storm (See Matthew 8:23-34).
I want to be at rest like that. Don’t you?
Recently I found myself thinking, I wish I could get back to the spiritual place I was in with God five years ago…less cynicism and so much more fruit of the spirit flowing out of me on a regular basis. But then I thought, God doesn’t just want me to be like I was five years ago. He wants to do something NEW and something MORE in me right now. Yes He wants me to be free of the negative thinking and habits and become more like Him, but He wants to help me to do that going forward, not looking backward.
Whatever negative attitude or habit we have chosen to walk in over the years—anger, bitterness, pride, a critical spirit, whatever it is–God wants to free us from those things and bring us into a new place. When we feel like we’ve become a “less wonderful” version of who we used to be and we look back and say I want to get back to where I was, we mean that in a good way….but God will help us move forward. He wants to bring us into an even better place than we used to be!
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19
+Are you looking back instead of being in the present and moving forward?
+What negative attitudes or habits do you need to let go of in order to move into a new and better season with God?
+Trust that when you surrender yourself to God’s work in your life, He will refine you and make you more and more like Jesus. And because He is so gracious He’ll work it all for good. (Romans 8:28)
God is the source of our strength. He has limitless strength and is strong at all times; His strength is especially showcased in our weakness. We find strength when we seek Him. But there is another important way that God brings us strength.
Through our relationships.
God created us for relationship with Himself and with others. We need to be in healthy community to thrive. When we are in godly relationship with others we strengthen one another’s faith and encourage each other to keep going.
Your Faith Encourages Me
I have a friend who has been through many intense trials and yet in the midst of illness, stress and intense relational drama she clings to God with a faith that won’t budge. Even when the situation seems insurmountable and her questions remain unanswered, she keeps running forward in faith. She keeps seeking God, keeps worshiping Him, keeps following Him. She won’t give up. Her faith strengthens my faith and it gives me more strength to keep going when I am discouraged, because I think of how she keeps going.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
Jesus paved the way and set the example for us with His persevering faith; and we encourage others as we follow His example.
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2
+Take time to refresh a friend and spur them forward in faith!
+Even when you feel weak make a decision to keep going. God will use your faith to strengthen and encourage others.
+Be intentional about keeping your eyes on Jesus. Follow His example of joyful perseverance.
Every now and then I buy a bag of real potato chips. Since it’s an occasional treat I find that it’s easy for me to overindulge. The other morning before breakfast I thought, Mmm there are potato chips in the pantry! I’ll just eat a few to begin the day. I ate way too many felt full; so much so that when I made my standard healthy oatmeal I didn’t even want it. I had to force myself to eat it because I knew it was healthy, but since I had already filled up on junk food there wasn’t as much room in my stomach for the healthy food.
If we’re not disciplined it’s easy to do the same thing when it comes to spiritual matters, isn’t it? When I get up in the morning the first thing I want to do is turn on the news. I love current events and like to keep up to date. I’ll just watch the headlines, I think to myself, then I’ll turn off the TV and read the Bible and pray. If I’m not careful, some days “the headlines” turns into several hours of mindless TV, then I have to run off to my commitments, then I get home late and need to make dinner and if I get around to it I’ll read a chapter in the Bible before I go to bed, thinking, tomorrow I’ll spend more time with God. Uh…not if I turn the TV on first thing…
Giving God Our Left Overs
There are lots of days that I spend lots of time with God and choose Him first before anything else; worshiping, praying, listening, reading, seeking Him. Time with God isn’t just a box to check off my ‘to do’ list. He refreshes and renews me; encourages me and gives me insight….LIFE….when I am in that focused time with Him. I need it to thrive. And it’s a choice. But there are also days when I make the decision to put other things first; things that aren’t nearly as important; things that can wait. I fill up on the “junk food” and if God’s “lucky” I give Him my little bit of left over time late in the day.
When I start my day with God, I find that I feel more at peace and full of joy throughout the day. Tasks are easier to complete with a good outlook. When I start my day with junk and give God the left overs, my outlook and attitude are often junk, too.
What Do You Meditate On?
What are we listening to, thinking about, talking about, watching, reading, and spending our time doing? Are they things that honor God and help us toward honoring others?
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
It matters what we are putting into our minds because it goes into us and ends up in our hearts. And then that comes back out of our mouths, for better or worse.
“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” Luke 6:45 NLT
When we fill up on everything else but God why do we expect to be full of God? Do we assume the fruit of the Spirit will easily flow out of us when we are filling up on life-taking things rather than the Life-Giver? This week join me being intentional about filling up with God, not with junk. I think we’ll be surprised how much better we feel and how much more the intake of godly things produces a greater outflow of the Spirit through us!
“Well that figures,” I thought with a disappointed smile as I saw the teenage boy pull into a church, undoubtably for a youth group activity. Five minutes earlier this same teen had flipped me off as I changed lanes in front of his car. I didn’t cut him off, there was plenty of room but he was driving fast and had to slow down a little bit in order not to run into me. As he flipped me off I kind of laughed; he didn’t even look old enough to be driving. As I was inwardly attempting to bless instead of curse, he pulled into a church. The whole thing made me think about the message our actions give off as followers of Jesus.
Being An Example 24/7
Whether we like it or not, as Christians, people are watching us. They may not seem interested in Jesus but none the less they want to see if this Jesus-follower they know walks the walk or if they’re simply full of talk. Obviously no Christian is perfect and perfectionism is an unrealistic taskmaster to serve. We all blow it sometimes and thankfully we live under God’s grace. Besides, the point isn’t to try to be better, it’s to become more like Jesus, which will actually make us better people as a result.
At the same time, we have a responsibility to be aware that how we live—what we say and do on a daily basis—matters. A lot. Our words and actions show our character and if we claim to follow Jesus, it reflects on Him as well. I don’t know about you, but I want to do as little as possible to make Jesus look bad.
Walking the Walk
James talks about this “walking the walk” when he gives his insight that faith and works go hand in hand. Words need to be followed up by actions. Some might say that once you’ve done the action, you’ve earned the right to say the words. James also gives the example of the double mindedness we often display even with our words:
“Sometimes it (our tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:9-10)
We represent Jesus at all times; to our non-believing co-workers, family members, friends, strangers in line at the grocery check out. Are you rude to the clerk in the check out and then you get into a car with a bumper sticker that says “Jesus loves you”? Are you saying amen in church and then losing your temper at other drivers in the parking lot as you exit? Do you gossip or fudge the numbers at work and then invite your co-workers to church? If we’re not walking the walk people won’t take our faith seriously.
Isn’t This Risky for God?
It’s really radical that Jesus decided to advance His good news through a bunch of ragamuffins like us, isn’t it? Think about it for a minute, Jesus’ main plan for letting the world know about His love and redemption is through us. Even the first disciples were full of issues and contradictions at times. But this is how God chose to do it, and we need to take Him seriously.
When I read the Bible I am reminded that discipleship isn’t about working through a 5 step workbook; rather it’s about learning to model the behavior and values of a person you are trying to be like. A teacher models their behavior and character day in and day out based on how they live and the disciple then learns to model the behavior of their teacher. The first disciples lived with Jesus. They were almost always with Him. He lived His life in a way that honored God and He modeled that to His followers. They, in turn, learned how to live a life that honored God. This daily sharing of life is so important. Paul talks of it as well:
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
Are you living like Jesus? Are you modeling His example of seeking the Father, loving others, being gracious? When you look at your life would you want someone to emulate it or would it be an embarrassment? Remember that people are watching. Instead of letting that intimidate us, let’s use it this week to be spurred on toward becoming more and more like Jesus. That way anyone who sees us in action will be pointed to the good news of Jesus.
“This is really heavy. Maybe too heavy to wear for an extended time. But I’ll try it anyway.” That’s what I was thinking the other day as I put on a beautiful necklace with large stones. I like the necklace a lot and got it as a souvenir in one of my favorite cities but I rarely wear it because after I bought it I realized that it’s a bit heavy sitting around my neck; especially for longer periods of time. It made me think about the bondages that often hold us down in life. Those things that keep us chained and in the proverbial pit. We notice the heaviness of those chains but how do we get free?
Isaiah 52 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible! God is calling His people out of captivity in Babylon. He is getting ready to deliver them from what has been oppressing them. That is something to celebrate! In verses 1-3 He says:
“Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.
Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive. For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.”
I love how God tells His people exactly what they need to do. God is going to deliver them but they have a part to play, too. They have to make a decision to stand up, to get free, to walk into their true identity in God, and to get moving forward! In John Wesley’s commentary he notes this about the word “awake” — “This is a prediction and promise what she should do, that she should awake or arise out of her low estate, and be strong and courageous.” Matthew Henry adds, “The gospel proclaims liberty to those bound with fears. Let those weary and heavy laden under the burden of sin, find relief in Christ, shake themselves from the dust of their doubts and fears, and loose themselves from those bands. The price (is) paid by the Redeemer for our salvation…”
+What is holding you down? Is there a stronghold or invisible chain around your neck? Is it from past mistakes? Fear of moving forward? Hurtful, untrue words that shaped your thinking?
+Will you make a decision today to rise up, shake off the dust of victim thinking, break those unhealthy chains and move forward in Christ? If you don’t know where to begin, ask God to show you. He will. He wants you to be free!
God, You truly are our deliverer and You are able to break every chain that binds us so we can follow Your call to stand up and move forward into more and more of the abundant life that Jesus offers us (John 10:10). Help us to be strong and courageous as we make a decision to “awake” and partner with you as You deliver us from strongholds. Amen.