“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)
Have you ever wondered what an appropriate use for a day off is, and how much off there really should be in that day? Sometimes the days I have off are days of catching up on things that have piled up and I wind up running the entire day. Other times I am amazed at how absolutely little I accomplish. But then there are those days that just flow and are very relaxing in the process. Sometimes they may be very active and sometimes not so much.
The first is not so much a day off as much as it is a day away from doing what you do the rest of the days. It is a day to do other things that could not be done while you were doing the work that pays the bills or otherwise demands your time. The other extreme is a day that usually springs from exhaustion and in which there is a level of lethargy that when it was done you might be more rested, but not necessarily refreshed. It is, at least for me, a sign that I may not necessarily have things in balance and maybe I am trying to do too much. The middle ground is the kind of day that when it is over I truly know that I have had a day away.
For me working two part-time jobs for the time being, being off from one might mean that I am on to the other. And since they are so very different in their nature the second one can be very relaxing while the former one can be very tiring. One requires much more physical energy and the other much more contemplative thought. At the same time, though, I can also feel pressured trying to accomplish more in either type day than is realistic whether expected or not.
Today is my birthday and I was off from the energetic job. But since I worked at the first job yesterday rather than being at the second I felt the need to pay attention to the needs of the second. I could have chosen tomorrow as I have it off as well, but my desire was not to sit around or to go take a hike or ride my bike in the cold fog. It was not to tackle some of the built up to do’s around the home or even get under my truck and change the oil. My desire was to get away and to have some quiet time of study and contemplation. So, this is what I did. I went to the church where I am serving as interim pastor to find that no one else was in the building, and it was very quiet. It was just me and God and the study before me, and I enjoyed it immensely. When another staff member came in later and told me (in light heart) to get out of there as it was my birthday, I responded that this was a very relaxing way to spend it.
Rest is an interesting thing. Everyone has a concept of what it should look like, and for most of us it does not look the same. But rest is something we all need. It may not be on the same day every week, and it may not even be consistently weekly. But it is something we need. For some it may come in regular bits every day. For others it may come by shutting things out as much as they can on some regular basis. For still others it may be a fleeting thing that seems like a breath of fresh air when it is found and greatly missed when its time is up.
We are designed to rest. We are designed to get quiet or to cease from the normal things that wear on us. But how we go about it varies with every single one of us. For some it was legislated into practice as with the Jews who, probably because of their short-sightedness and disobedience, were commanded to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy before God. This was not only for their benefit but also as a reminder of the six days in which God created and then rested on the seventh. There are some today who maintain that they need to do the same. There are others who have had to be much more creative. This is especially true when there are children in the home or there are varied job demands and schedules.
Over the years I have heard much on the need to rest, the need to take a vacation, the need to get away. While there is obvious value in all of these there is the obvious reality that rest cannot be fully packed into these get away moments, days, and even weeks. There are the times when things are boiling up and our hearts are in turmoil over any number of circumstances, and it is in these times when things can escalate so fast and we can react so quickly that we become emotionally overwhelmed and spiritually clouded. It is in these times that it becomes so easy to lose sight of God and the peace that comes from being at peace with Him.
Jesus knew that we would experience many things. He knew the persecution that His disciples would endure. He knew that they and we would be pressed from all sides. He knew that there would be seasons where there seemed to be no relief, and it is in light of this that He told His disciples in Matthew 11 to find their rest in Him. He had just spoken great woes over the people of the cities who rejected him. He had just spoke of John’s and His own rejection, and in verses 28-30 He told His disciples to bring their burdens to Him and lay them on Him. He had experienced great resistance and was soon to experience even greater rejection, and knowing that He told them that His burdens were light. If all of these things are considered light to the Son of God, then clearly anything we might endure is immeasurably lighter. He knows how to handle our burdens and He knows how to give us rest in the midst of them.
This does not mean that He takes them away, but that He will help us to stand through them with the confidence that comes from knowing that God has us firmly in His hands and that He sets the limit to every burden we encounter. While we may not get the physical relief that we want at times, we know that He has promised rest for our souls even in the midst of the storms of life and the periods in between the days away.
In my studies today I was focused on John 6:18-21 where we read of Jesus walking on water out to His disciples. His disciples were in the midst of a storm and when they first saw Jesus coming they thought Him to be a ghost as we read in Matthew 14:26. But when He identified Himself and He entered the boat the winds stopped and they were greatly relieved. These disciples did not yet fully know who Jesus was. They knew Him to have done some pretty amazing things, but when they were on their own they thought believed themselves to truly be on their own. And when He came and proved Himself to them again, then they found their rest. They had to grow in their understanding of Him, and grow they did such that they were the ones used by God and moved by the Holy Spirit to bring us the truths that we read and trust today.
As I thought about finding rest in the midst of persistent storms, I also thought about David who while he was being pursued by King Saul who was trying to kill him, we read, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” … “They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 57:1, 6–10, ESV)
Later in psalm 61 he wrote, “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah” (Psalm 61:1–4, ESV)
Planned rest is a good thing. God intends that we seek it out and make it a regular part of our lives. But He also knows those times when we cannot get away, knowing every detail of the days in between that we have to get through. He is our rest in both. He is the One who can bring peace in the midst of the greatest storm. He is also the One who speaks to us in the quiet times as well. I had a very good birthday so far, and I am so thankful for the reminders from God’s Word of the peace that comes from being His.