Advent is the season where we get ready for Christmas. It’s also the season we remember that Jesus is coming again and so we work to be ready for that Second Coming. We prepare our soul through prayer and fasting and worship and study and service. Advent is nearly at an end. Christmas is in two days. Are you ready? It’s been a long, busy season. We’ve worked hard. We’ve studied many types of prayer. I’m looking forward to the Christmas break when we can rest a bit. We need rest. I need rest.
Part of prayer is learning to truly rest in God, even in the midst of chaos. So today, let me share about what is known as the prayer of rest.
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Jesus Invites us to Rest in Him
Who couldn’t use a little more rest? As children, we often fought our parents when they tried to make us take a nap. (When I became a parent, I learned how blessed it could be to make your child take a nap--because it gives you a moment to rest too!!!) As adults, there always seems to be too much to do and never enough time to rest. Some people would kill for a little extra nap time! I have Good News! God wants you to rest!
When God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, He established a holy rhythm for life. There were six days to do the ordinary work of life and then the seventh day was a special day to rest. It is was a wonderful gift God gave to humanity--a special day just for rest, to leave off from the stress and strain of regular work and just enjoy sweet communion with God who is the source of life.
But people, who are overwhelmed with sin, always strive to gain more, more, more. God wants to give us rest, but if we rest, we might miss out on some of the “more” that we desperately want. We say we want rest, but when we have the choice between entering into the Lord’s rest or chasing after more (more money, more fun, more stuff, more more more), we usually choose “more” over rest. If we are honest and if we really think on the matter, we realize our lack of rest is most often the result of our own choices and priorities in life.
In the midst of this, Jesus invites us to rest. “Come to me,” he says, “And I will give you rest.” In other words, be my disciple (follow me, pattern your life after my ways instead of your own or the world’s example), and I will give you rest. Again, the choice is before us. We can choose His way that leads to rest, but we most often choose a different path that keeps us from rest.
Sabbath, rest, means to rest in God. It is trusting in Him to take care of things without giving in to the nagging impulse inside that says we’ve got to make something happen. Sabbath rest is not so much “being lazy and doing nothing or sleeping all day”; it is letting go and trusting God to handle it (or else doing what He tells us to do according to His plan).
3 Ways to Practice the Prayer of Rest
The first practice is solitude, something I spoke about last week. Solitude is going off to be by yourself. Solitude can help you worry less about what others think, but it can also help you stop trying to be in control everything. When you voluntarily step away from all your normal work and interactions with people, you have to let go. We may think the world cannot survive without us; everything is going to fall apart if we’re not there to keep the train on the tracks. Is that really so? Are you so important the world cannot survive without you? Who do you think you are? (Pause…)
Last January, me and my whole family came down with the flu. I was not able to go preach or lead worship at the church I pastor. Thankfully, my worship leader and choir leader volunteered to lead the service without me. They told me to stay home and rest and recuperate. They designed a prayer service with special music and different people from our congregation leading prayer. They designed and lead it completely without me. People loved it and told me how meaningful it was for them. It was so well-received, we decided to do ti again this year (not get the flu, but the service!). Furthermore, that same day, I was scheduled to lead a planning meeting where we planned all the activities for the 2018 year. I was supposed to lead the meeting. Thankfully, two ladies from my church stepped up and led the meeting. With the help of other leaders in the church, they planned all the activities for the calendar year. And it all turned out great! We had a great 2018 year full of wonderful programs. And it all got planned without me (maybe because I wasn't there).
Step away from things. Go off by yourself for a time--a few hours, a few days. Rest in the Lord. Meditate on this eternal truth: One day you will not be here anymore. Do you think the world will not go on without you? Of course it will. And it will go on with you for a little while if you leave it alone and take a rest. In fact, things may work themself out just fine without you (with God’s help instead of yours). It may be that your absence is what is really needed in order for God to work it out.
Silence is another way to practice the prayer of rest. What I mean by “silence” is not so much refusing to speak or make noise. What I mean is to silence your striving and grasping and manipulative control of people and situations. You have to silence the inner turmoil within your mind that worries frantically, “I have to do something!” No. All you need to do right now is rest. Be still and know that God is in control. He doesn’t need any help from you. Quiet your mind and let God rebalance you. If and when He want you to get involved, He will show you. Then you will be a peace in your soul and better able to resume your work according to His priorities. But here’s the thing, you can’t hear God’s still small voice guiding you until you silence all the other worrisome voices loudly urging you to “Go! Go! Go!”
A third way to practice the prayer of rest is reflection. Through reflection, you take time to stop your work, rest, and intentionally reflect on your life. You consider: Who am I? What is my purpose according to God plan? You make time to reflect on God’s glory, what He has done for you, and His incredible power and ability to hold the whole world together. You empty your mind of all the things you have to do and instead consider the wonder of God and rest in His love for you and the reasons He gave you life.
Caution! (Don’t Be A Pharisee)
The Pharisees in Jesus' day were militant about the Sabbath. They believed you could not break it because God said so. Jesus came along and drove them crazy, because he kept doing things like healing people or picking corn on the Sabbath and they said it was against the law. Jesus said something different. He said the Sabbath was made to serve man not man to serve the Sabbath. The Sabbath is God's gift to us, not something we do for God's sake.
Sabbath is different for every person. Exodus 20:8-9 says, “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” I added the italics to the word ordinary because I want to point out that everyone works in different ways and we need rest from our ordinary work. Most people work all week long and then rest on the weekend. I'm a pastor. My most important work day is on Sunday, a day everyone else considers a Sabbath. And I also work by serving God through religious activity. That is my ordinary work. So when I rest, I like to do something different--maybe build some furniture or work on a car. That is restful for me, even though it may be very physical. Resting for me often means not doing "church" stuff. For you it will probably be different. You need to take a break from your ordinary work routine and do something dedicated to resting in God.
Maybe, you want to take a vacation. Great! But be sure it's a resting vacation. Sometimes we work so hard trying to pack more, fun, more memories, more, more, more into our vacations, they are anything but restful. Just slow down, take it easy, and rest.
Jesus invites you to rest. He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Notice that Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you.” A yoke is a tool to help oxen do work by pulling a loaded cart. So following Christ still means you will work. The difference is, the work will fit you so well it won’t seem much like work at all. On behalf of Christ, I invite you to come to him and rest. Lay your burdens aside and take his yoke upon you. Enter into the prayer of rest.