Most of us think that rest will just happen. We'll catch a nap on Saturday or sleep in on Sunday. We'll download a popular pastor's recent sermon and pray over our coffee—praying to just hang on for this "season." It's almost over. Then we'll get some real rest and really dial into God and all that.
We all deal with seasons of life. But fast and furious seasons of life should not negate the rhythms of Sabbath and continual prayer in our lives. In order to keep our sanity and health and spiritual vitality, disciplined living is essential. And disciplined living begins with Sabbath rest.
What does it mean to rest in God?
God rested from His creation work on the seventh day. We, therefore, should follow suit. We take time off from our work and do something else relaxing, or we do nothing at all. But Sabbath rest does not necessarily mean we become sedentary for a day. In fact, Sabbath rest is less something you do and more a place you go; or put another way, a way that you are.
The writer of Hebrews says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (4:9). Israel, because of their lack of faith, did not enter into the promised land and so did not enter into God’s rest.
When we fail to enter into God’s rest, we live in rebellion and anxiety. We all know what that means for our work: stress. But when we learn to trust in God's provision and leave our projects for a day, we find that place where God rests. It’s a place of “quiet alertness,” as author Richard Foster puts it.
A Sabbath rhythm is an act of trust. It’s an active and deliberate decision to obey God, weekly. But not only weekly. You can practice Sabbath each day as you take time to retreat in your mind and heart, leaving space for reflection upon God's Word, expressing thanks for His provision, asking Him to be your teacher daily and trusting in Him as your friend.
Too easily we crowd our schedules with our dreams and to-do lists. These are not bad in and of themselves. But they become bad when they become our idols. When was the last time you took a real Sabbath? Took a hike? Played with your kids all day? Had early morning breakfast with your spouse? Spent an afternoon reading the Scriptures, confessing and giving thanks? Took a real break from your work to enjoy God? One of my professors used to say, “Sabbath should be a little slice of heaven.”
Sabbath rest not only helps us regain our physical composure and focus on God, it also allows us to finally listen to His voice. More than anything, this has challenged and encouraged Jason and me the most. When I rest during each weekday, taking time for silent prayer and just breathing, I am truly able to hear His voice more clearly.
When I get to my Sabbath day and find myself playing with my girls or fumbling around my truck engine, I hear God more clearly. These times are not always times of great epiphany either. Often they are times of confession and conviction—when His truth bears down on me, crushing me.
Once, I faced a ten-hour travel day from Belfast to Atlanta with an L.A. trip waiting just a day after my return to the south. So I rose early and walked to Queens University in the Northern Ireland rain. I was winded and tired, but the time with God was sweet; full of “Thank You” and praise as the blue glow of the morning swelled. What a way to start the day!
When we Sabbath we are not taking part in mere ritual. We are joining our Heavenly Father in a place of quiet alertness. And in that rest, in that quiet, He speaks.
Today's Prayer: Keep me from being trampled, Oh Lord, by busy-ness and my own idolatry. Refresh me in tiny bits of heaven as I step into your rest.
Today's Prayer Series is taken from a new FREE eBOOK my friend, Jason Locy, and I have just released. It's called The Sound of Silence: A Short Book on Rest.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.