The theme of the next several blog posts will be rest. To be clear, I am no expert on rest in theory or in practice. In fact, rest is an a subject that I have wrestled with perhaps more than any other over the past several years, both in terms of what the Bible really says and living in obedience to what I know it says. My sense is that I am not alone in this, which is why I want us as church community to wrestle with what the Bible says about rest together.
A Personal Story
When my wife and I were married and I was a pastor in Tampere we were very privileged to enjoy a close mentoring relationship with an older couple who were in their 60s. Our times together with this couple were solid gold. They really poured into us and were always very real.
One evening they gave us a call and asked if they could visit us in our home and spend the night with us (they did not live in our city and were passing through). That night we got onto the subject of having children: when Katja and I were planning on having children, how we should prepare, etc. At one point in the conversation I remember saying without thinking: “When we have a baby I hope it learns to sleep through the night because I would really struggle to go without sleep.”
I will never forget Marilyn’s response. She looked at me very gently, smiled, and said, “Shaun, God will give you what you need.” I got the message and closed my mouth.
Jesus is What We Need for True Rest
Over 14 years and 5 children later I am beginning to see God’s providential hand in that evening and Marilyn’s words to me. Not only have I learned that babies do not come with a mute button, but in particular God has given us the gift of twins, born with a rare and disabling illness and for various related reasons they do not sleep through the night. Adding to that, when they were younger they were very sick and needed sometimes to be brought to the hospital, or have special medicines. Those years, though largely behind us, were hard and we never would have thought we would sleep as little as we did. I remember praying and even fasting for our twins to sleep through the night and saying to God, “I really could use a good 6 hours uninterrupted tonight, please God allow them to sleep,” only to wake up two hours later disappointed with God for not answering my prayers—now I know He did answer me, He gave me what I needed not what I wanted.
What I noticed in my life was that rest and sleep became a kind of rival God in my heart. “If I could just have rest,” I thought, “then everything would be fine.” I began to use a lack of rest as an excuse for different things like not exercising, being irritable.
Have you also found yourself using a lack of sleep to justify small sins in your life? Saying if I just had more rest, then I would be fine?
What I have come to realize—just recently in fact—is that God gives us what we need. God gave me a lack of rest to show me that He is my true rest. Not sleeping showed me that so much of what I thought was right in my life was not powered by God’s grace but my own strength, and it was not until my strength began to slip away that I was able to see what I truly need is not eight uninterrupted hours of sleep but Jesus, my true rest.
Sleep, of course, is a good gift from God (Psalm 127:2), and we need to develop good health and rest patterns (we will talk about these in later blogs). But until we deal with the potential idolatry of rest, and enthrone Jesus as our true rest in our hearts, we will not experience rest as we should. And worse, our desire for rest can feed our selfishness.
4 Facts About Rest
As we embark on this blog series of blog posts I want to fire off five quick facts about rest:
Rest is Creational
God does not need rest like us. We are created beings, and he is the creator. But even God, in the act of creation, rested in order to establish a pattern of rest.
At the heart of the fall was man wanting to be like God. One way we want to be like God is by thinking we do not need to rest, that it is not part of creaturely nature, that we can keep going. But even Jesus Christ incarnated was tired and needed rest.
Rest is Complicated
We must recognize that in God’s wise providence, some we will not be able to get normal, regular rest. Illness, disasters, sick children all complicate things. But very often a lack of rest is self-inflicted. We get addicted to technology, play or watching things late into the evenings. We take too much on at one time or we prioritize poorly. It is complicated, but we must take responsibility for the ways we fail to rest as God intends.
Rest is Commanded
Rest is commanded. It is not optional. If you are not resting in your Christian walk, you are being disobedient. The good news is that in the New Covenant, when we are given a command, we are given the grace to carry it out.
Rest is Communal
A lack of sleep is not something we talk enough about in community, and I think that needs to change. If you are struggling with a lack of rest for self inflicted reasons—a gaming addiction for example—you need to reach out to your church community to help you. If you are in a situation in life where you cannot sleep due to a medical issue, whether its your own or a loved one’s, then you need help. As a church we should seek to help each other rest.