"Slow down, you move too fast..."
We live in a world that runs at high speed. We live lives crammed with activities, distractions. We crave the rush, the newest, the fastest, the sleekest. We are producers, social climbers, accumulators, prestige hounds, experience seekers, adrenaline junkies. We are enslaved by and shackled to busyness, whether at work or play, believing it to be a gateway to all we need to feel significant, valued, even loved. And our culture, and sadly even the Church, seems to affirm this lie, applauding us for the frenetic pace and overloaded schedules. However, this hectic living does not bring health, healing or wholeness to our souls, but violence, robbing us of the ability to experience God in the now of our lives. For when we live this way we are not present to the present or the Presence, but instead we are continually transitioning from one kind of doing to another kind of doing. It is this e-v-i-l pace (evil = live spelled backwards; so as I use evil here I am referring to living life in a way that is the opposite of the life God created us to l-i-v-e) that severely hinders our experiencing God and that which God has provided for us through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. God has provided an antidote to all this craziness: it is called rest.
Rest is not something new, for it is as old as time itself. If we go back to the creation account we discover that the sum total of humanity’s first full day on planet earth entailed the sole activity of resting (Gen 1:26-2:3). Day one of life with God and one another was not about getting anything done - it was a entire day given over to rest. Rest is one of God's original gifts to humankind. It is a gift born out of and affirming relationship with God, dependency on God. This rest was not about recuperation but about preparation. Resting prepares us to enter into life from a posture of being, being with God, resting in God, ceasing from doing in order to experience trust, dependency and yieldedness. The idea of rest as preparation is also demonstrated by the Jewish reckoning of a day - for their day begins at sunset (which itself is drawn from creation - "There was evening and there was morning"), they eat, they rest in preparation for what God has in store for them once they awake. Rest is a gift woven into the fabric of the created Universe and within the strands of our DNA, a gift of being with, of preparing for—but we do not rest.
So centuries after God's original gift of rest, God meets with Moses high up on a mountain and shares with Moses 10 things (Ex 20:1-17) that God desires to make a part of the Hebrews’ lifestyle, one of which is the command to rest (keep the Sabbath). The command to keep the Sabbath (4th commandment) follows three commandments focused on honoring and glorifying God and precedes the commands regarding honoring parents, not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness and not coveting. The Sabbath commandment, the longest of the 10, is the linchpin command uniting our relationship with God with our interaction in the world. It is rest/sabbath that enables, empowers and prepares us to be in the world but not be of the world, it helps us to keep from being seduced and assimilated by the world. God again is urging His followers to enter into relational rest, to cease doing, even doing for God and instead be with God, resting, savoring, enjoying life, creation, God and even self, receiving life, gaining perspective regarding work, control, the importance of doing.
But instead of this command reminding the people of the creation story, seeing it as a gift, a call back to a life of walking with God in the garden, a life of freedom, an invitation to return in some form to "Eden living," the religious leaders – motivated, I believe at least in part, by fear – developed elaborate strategies to help people "keep" (not break) the Sabbath. A highly involved set of rules were developed concerning what to do and what not to do. The focus was on external behavior and the gift of relational rest was lost.
In Isaiah 30:15 Isaiah writes, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.’ ”
The Psalmist encourages those with ears to hear to slow down, stop doing, get out of the breakneck speed of life, and while none of the following translations of Ps 46:10 mention the word rest, what is implied is a slowing down, a stopping, a resting for the purpose of knowing/experiencing God.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God... NIV
“Cease striving and know that I am God” NASB
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” Message
Jesus also speaks to the barrenness of our busyness and invites us to find rest in Him, to get off the hamster wheel of doing, producing, achieving, to escape our driven-ness. Jesus invites us to into enter the green meadows, wade in the cool waters of relational rest, of Sabbath.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy- laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
"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."
Jesus takes Sabbath- keeping head on a number of different times. He initially does this by choosing to publicly heal on the Sabbath, something forbidden by Sabbath rules. The religious leaders become irate claiming Jesus is not of God because of such behavior.
“Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, ‘This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ ” Jn 9:16
On one occasion Jesus confronted the protectors of the Sabbath asking if it was lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath.
“ And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?’ After looking around at them all, He said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.” Luke 6:9-11
Eventually Jesus, the self-declared Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8), states that “man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man" (Mk 2:27) – harkening back to the creation, to that original 7th day, a day of rest. Also Jesus practiced Sabbath (for He was Jewish) and modeled resting ( Mk 6:30-31, 6:46; Lk 4:42, 6:12). Also in John 6 there is an account of Jesus taking a leisurely walk on the Lake. Jesus valued rest.
Normally I would present you with a number of questions to help you discover why you do not rest, what keeps you from resting, what feelings does Jesus' invitation to rest stir within you? However I am going to forgo all that and instead invite you to take some baby steps that will help you to begin to develop the ability to internally rest. I am going to invite you to lead with your body, trusting God and the process.
The first step is slowing down. This involves slowing down and cultivating an awareness that is only possible once we choose to slow down. This awareness is an awareness of the Presence in which we live, move and have our being. Over the next month (July) begin to work on slowing down and then once comfortable with slowing down, move to rest and finally to taking a Sabbath.
Suggestions for slowing down and resting
When we live life at 100 miles an hour it will take an inordinate time to slow down in order to rest. The discipline of slowing down helps us begin to create the internal space for rest to become even a possibility.
1. One of the most profound ways of beginning to slow down is to choose to walk more slowly. That is a good place to start. When you walk slowly be aware of your surroundings, the sights, the sounds, the smells, seeking to be open to finding God in all things. This begins with the body, and with time incorporates the mind and heart.
2. In addition to walking begin to incorporate one or more of the following: pause before answering, eat more slowly, savor your food, drive more slowly, put a buffer of time before meetings, choose to stand in a longer line rather than a shorter line, when something catches your attention (a flower, sunset...) linger, do not rush to check or answer email or pick up your phone when it rings, leave early for meetings, appointments, let someone go ahead of you in line, breathe deeply expanding your chest with each breath you take…. As you enter into these practices pay attention to your internal messages, feelings, and seek to bring all this to God.
As you learn to slow down it enables you to enter into times of rest more quickly. When you have practiced slowing down for a while move to intentionally resting.
3. Begin by stopping for a couple of minutes throughout your day to simply become aware of your breathing and remind yourself that God, the Creator and Redeemer, is with you.. It is God who breathed life into you and continues to sustain you.
4. Take a mini-Sabbath (7-15 minutes) to refocus your heart and mind toward God.
5. Take a power rest in Jesus. Schedule 15–20 minutes of silence focused on an attribute of God, closing your eyes and being still.
6. Endeavor to sleep a healthy length of time – 6 1/2 - 8 hours. This type of resting is very important.
7. Develop a plan for extended times of rest. Ask yourself: What would be most restful for me… Walking at the beach, park, in the neighborhood? Taking a long bubble bath? Lying in a hammock? Playing with my dog? Flying a kite, hiking, taking a bike ride, preparing a meal, camping, surfing, swimming, blowing bubbles, juggling…? Finding a quiet spot for “doing nothing”? Gardening? Think through what you would do if you had an hour, an afternoon, or a day for rest. Then invite Jesus to join you during this time with you and seek to be present to Jesus throughout your time of rest.
8. Finally, take a Sabbath – an entire 24 hour period to slow down, to rest, to be with God in the spacious meadow of time and leisure. It often works out well if you do a sunset to sunset Sabbath.
Back to Food for Thought