When our third man cub was four years old, we experienced a year of him unexplainably waking throughout the night, screaming and crying. Troy and I (mostly Troy because he’s a very kind husband) would be in and out of bed seven or eight times a night that entire year, trying to console a little boy who couldn’t fully explain whether the problem was pain, fear, or something else. As a young mom at the time with three other boys, two older and one toddler, I was exhausted and exasperated. After a few months of trying everything and feeling incredibly worn out, Troy suddenly started getting up early again each morning, despite sleepless nights. I still remember my disbelief (and a bit of defensiveness) when he told me he was getting up before the kids to read his Bible and spend time with the Lord: “That’s great, babe, but how in the world can you afford to get less sleep?” His answer will perennially be a favorite reminder: “Honey… I can’t afford not to.”
Troy knew what he couldn’t live without, and that has been a significant reminder to me as a I make priority choices every day. In that season, I equated survival with another few hours of sleep, but Troy looked to spiritual rest in the Lord as the means to thrive.
Time with the Lord is not a magic pill, not a formula, not a duty, certainly not an “easy button,” and not akin to burning incense to appease a distant god; it’s simply what we’re created for—relationship with Him. Functioning apart from the fuel of His presence is like taking a cross-country road trip with an empty gas tank. It brings to mind another story of one who chose time with the Lord, and one who chose what seemed more “productive”—the familiar account of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus in Martha’s home:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
Perhaps, like Martha, in our task-mindedness, we forget that rest—ceasing from work and being still before the Lord—is not a luxury, rest is productive.
How often I look at the mess in my home, the incomplete home projects, the tables to be set, the meals to be made, the shelves to be dusted…and roll my eyes at the idea of rest (or anyone who might suggest it). But God Himself, who rested after six days of creating the heavens and the earth, didn’t set the example for rest to simple give us a break but rather to be our rest.
Like Martha, we spin and toil anxiously over “many things,” and often forget to choose the portion that is most necessary. We think it a luxury to rest because we think everything depends on us. The Martha mindset puts my own abilities and resources on center stage, but a Mary posture looks to Jesus.
James 1:23-24 (NIV) remind us that it’s not the “doing” that is the issue but what drives our faithfulness:
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
Being a “doer” is putting into action our heart posture. All the productivity and perseverance we strive for find their fuel in our perspective on true rest. When we see how much we’re provided for in Christ, we can be fruitful for His glory because He’s fruitful in us, and we can rest because His rest is productive.
In our present cultural glorification of busy, we can choose to see our to-do lists, calendars, and schedules differently. It’s not that Jesus didn’t expect work to be done, meals to be made, and tables to be set; He simply called Martha to recognize opportunity for best in the midst of all that was good. All work, no matter how needed and useful, becomes anxious toiling if not fueled by our most-needed sustenance: rest in the Lord.
The psalmist says it this way:
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. Psalm 84:10 (NIV)
- Rest is where we remember that He is God and we are not.
- Rest is where we remember that He holds all things together without our help.
- Rest is where we remember that God created the time restraints and limitations we rebel against.
- Rest is where we remember that He is at work in us, even in the waiting.
We might think we can’t afford to take time for rest, but really, we can’t afford not to.
*This post is adapted from an excerpt from ”Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship” by Ruth Chou Simons, that releases on September 10, 2019.
**Copyright © 2019 by Ruth Chou Simons (art and text)
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97408