August 16, 2013

25 Lessons on Rest and Renewal

I knew it was going to be a good summer when, before we started our sabbatical, God gave me a word that would characterize what was to come. It came as I fell onto the couch at the end of a day of packing, planning, and preparing. The word was this: Receive. I recognized that He wanted me to receive the rest and renewal that I so craved but that only He could give.

While we were away, I spent each early morning sitting in a special spot with my Bible open and my pen buzzing back and forth over journal pages. However, the first few days were quite different. I struggled to focus because, although the schedule had stilled completely, my brain was still whirring at lightning speed. I spent much of those first few days staring out the window by my special spot. From that perch one morning, I noticed a flower standing tall in the yard across the street. It was healthy and strong and beautiful, but the thing I marveled at most was that it was still. This, I thought to myself, is how one grows by receiving: by being still in a conducive environment. The flower did nothing to make itself flower other than receiving from its Creator the sun and rain it needs.
From that same perch, I observed people coming and going from work, some with briefcases and some with children in tow. Some left incredibly early and got home after our family had finished dinner. I wondered about each of them, about what gave meaning to their lives or if they thought below the surface of their routines. Do I? In my life, I am one of them, coming and going, buckling in children, carrying in groceries, putting the trash out. Am I ever still and quiet enough to look below at what is happening in my heart?

And that's another thing: Only God can do work inside my heart. I was struck by that thought as I stared out the window, thinking about what I'd read that morning in Romans. I cannot transform anything down deep--these are places only God can go.

Do you see what I saw that day, how all these fit together? If God is the only one who can transform my heart, and because He wants very much to do so, He only needs one thing from me: He needs me to still myself in submissive reception to His gracious work. We grow through receiving; we move through stillness.

I am notoriously bad at resting and being still, so I had much to learn and receive this summer. Here is a summary of what the Lord taught me about rest and renewal after I determined to receive from Him:

  1. Sabbath rest and solitude don’t just come—they are chosen and planned for.
  2. Rest is a choice that acknowledges God is God and will continue to sustain His universe. 
  3. When I don’t choose to accept God’s gift of rest, it is often either because I am fearful of the response of others or that I feel unworthy of rest (I haven’t earned it). This shows that I feel at times as if I am my performance rather than a child of God. 
  4. There are also fears associated with rest: fears that God won’t actually give rest and renewal, fears that I’ll waste it, fears that I won’t want to return to life once I start. 
  5. Rest is a reward for the child of God, not that it is earned but that it is a gift of grace. 
  6. Slowing down makes us more observant, more joyful, and more grateful. Life becomes sweeter. 
  7. Rest shows us our limits with great clarity. It shows us what is healthy. Rest caused me to be suddenly awake to a level of overstimulation and exhaustion that I have come to associate with normal Christian living and ministry. I only discovered my unhealthiness when I stopped. 
  8. Distraction is the enemy of rest. For me, the distraction of my phone is my greatest obstacle to true spiritual rest. 
  9. Busyness blinds, distracts,and fuels guilt over everything that I feel I’m not doing well. When I slow down, I see that things aren’t as bad as I think they are. I have eyes to see where God is moving. 
  10. The Word comes alive when our minds are clear and still. 
  11. Solitude isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite uncomfortable. We must be purposeful and persevere in rest, reflection, and solitude. 
  12. At the same time, we cannot force true spiritual rest. We must release ourselves to God and receive what He gives. We can plan our rest, but God is the ultimate author of rest. It may look differently than what we plan for. The point, always remember, is to receive. 
  13. Rest fans into flame those desires that are good and true: marriage, family, friendship, godly passions, and knowing God. 
  14. It’s uncomfortable to look at yourself and your life with such clarity, but it’s also a gift and an opportunity. 
  15. Rest gives a renewed craving to be with the Body of Christ. 
  16. If we take the time to drink from the well, there is abundance to be had. Psalm 36:8 
  17. Environment is an important part of rest. 
  18. If we discipline ourselves to physically rest, our hearts can also rest when life disappoints us or things seem out of control. Rest teaches us to trust God instead of trying to control our lives outside of His leadership. 
  19. Stepping out from the work of ministry reminds me that it is not “mine”. I am simply a steward of everything I have and every role I’ve been given. 
  20. People come into perspective when you leave them. When we’re exhausted, they are obstacles, problems, objects, takers, a means to an end—not beloved. 
  21. Rest teaches me that God will lead us, if we let Him. He leads at a perfect pace; we do not. 
  22. Rest helps us enjoy God. And when we enjoy God, others will enjoy Him as well. 
  23. Doing something fun is a great re-set button. I need more fun in my life. 
  24. To rest well, we must fight through restlessness. 
  25. Resting or fasting from possessions (living simply) frees us to spend our time feeding our souls. 

What have you learned about rest? How do you practice a Sabbath rest? Or, if you feel like you don't rest well, which of these 25 lessons do you most resonate with?