Rest is a radical practice.
In our hyper-scheduled culture that worships productivity, it’s easy to slip into a negative attitude toward those who promote a more rest-filled lifestyle, but The Radical Pursuit of Rest is not seeking to add one more thing — resting! — to the already full do-list. Author and professor John Koessler asserts that rest is not so much about what we do as it is who we are and how we see the world.
Therefore, it is not a contradiction for the author of Hebrews to say, “make every effort to enter that rest,” for it is a gift that comes to the believer, but . . . it is also possible to fall short of it. To those who are weary and burdened, Jesus offers a rest intended to dethrone performance and productivity, a rest that comes through relationship with God, who was, after all, the first to rest.
The truth is that “God is always at work in His creation, but He is also always at rest.” Since both our rest and our work have their beginning in God, both are gifts from Him, and one is enhanced by the other. The Radical Pursuit of Rest involves a four-fold understanding of rest:
- Rest is a place — Hebrews 4:1 speaks of entering rest and falling short of it, “but if rest is a country, it is not our native country.” This is certainly true of my own uncomfortable relationship with rest. It takes an act of the will to quit spinning the plates and to enter into a time of rest that is consistent with my confessional theology that God is holding together the galaxies and the molecules — without my assistance.
- Rest is a practice — Once the believer relocates into new life, the finished work of Christ serves as fuel to energize rest as well as work. There are behaviors and mind-sets that must be relearned because our culture equates rest with play, and often with activities that are more stressful and energy-draining than our work.
- Rest is a standing — Rest comes to us as a gift, but at the same time, we must position ourselves in such a way that we are able to receive it. Action is not incompatible with rest, making the spiritual disciplines a good starting place.
- Rest is a person — Since God is always as rest and always at work, He offers Himself as a “place of repose” through relationship and a right understanding of grace and forgiveness, peace and purposefulness.
The Radical Pursuit of Rest presents an important distinction between the Old Testament Sabbath, which looked forward to a promise yet to come, and New Covenant Rest, which looks back to a promise which has been fulfilled. At the same time, there is a posture of faith that they hold in common: the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) threw the people into a level of dependency upon God for provision that Jesus admonishes New Testament believers to cultivate in Matthew 6.
The “What shall we eat? What shall we wear?” questions are legitimate concerns if one is pulling back from the very activities that generate a secure living. Sloth, however, is not on the agenda. As “rest’s dysfunctional relative” it serves to clarify further the nature of what rest is NOT; i.e. detachment, apathy, or a fearful holding back from action.
Rest is also NOT complacency. Desire is a natural part of the human experience and is compatible with rest to the extent that one can remain at peace with God’s assignment relative to those desires. Pride and envy have no place in Kingdom-oriented ambition, and ambition for its own sake forgets the nature of God and His call to a life of servanthood:
“If the primary aim of our ambition is to be noticed, we ought to recall that we live within sight of the one who sees the sparrow fall to the ground.”
My understanding of work and rest has a thunderous impact on my practice of prayer. Like John Koessler, I admit that “I am more comfortable working than I am praying.” It turns out, however, that prayer is crucial if I desire to work from a position of rest, for rest holds my heart in relationship to God, not merely as my operations manager or CEO, but as my Lord and Master. Coming to God for rest through the discipline of prayer establishes my thinking in the present . . . “I am here in this moment. God is here, also.” Mindfulness slows the racing clock and the silence becomes a fertile place rather than an awkward and stumbling conversation.
A biblical theology of rest will deepen my longing for a healthy relationship with technology, and will also clarify my understanding of worship which Koessler defines as “an exercise in sustained attention that requires us to train our vision to see reality as God describes it.” This reality check turns common practice on its head for “worship is not a feast we lay out for God. It is the table on which God spreads his feast for us.”
Silence and solitude, attentiveness toward God and mindfulness of his presence, taking the yoke of rest that Jesus offers all lead to a radical perspective on this world that affects even my view of leaving it behind. Augustine was on the right track. The God who Himself rested and who offers rest as a gift has “made us for [Himself], and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in [Him].”
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.
I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.