Matthew 11:30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Psalm 23: 2-3 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul
The first time we traveled to the YMCA camp of the Rockies in Estes State Park, Colorado, our son was just nine months old. The second time we visited, almost three weeks ago, our son is now almost nine and we drove him and his younger sister, five, the long trek west from Iowa to the Colorado Rockies. It was time to introduce the kids to the Rocky Mountains. My parents accompanied us because they enjoy the location as well, and treasure the time with the grandkids.
The mountains wrap their arms around everyone. Local churches hold retreats for their youth groups. People fly in or drive in from all over the country and the world to the YMCA camp. It is truly a unique place where Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, Europeans gather, providing a rich, multi-cultural experience to the hiking and climbing environment. This landscape equalizes us into one human race who respect the sacred beauty. All skill levels are welcome. Some, like my husband, dive into total immersion. Others, like me, are content to sit on the sidelines most of the time, also enamored, and translate visual beauty into language.
Climbing mountains is in my husband’s DNA. He grew up climbing and hiking the Appalachian Mountains with his father in North Carolina. My husband’s father was deeply rooted to the Blue Ridge mountains. A hiker and a naturalist, he also had a talent for capturing their beauty on film and made a career out of photographing them. Much to my husband’s delight, our son is also developing an affinity for this landscape. My father-in-law would have been so pleased to lead his grandson in exploring the trails, had he lived. A third- generation mountain man.
I am much more drawn to water, so we found Lily Lake, just a few miles outside of the YMCA camp, which is a postcard worthy location of sparkling, clear water surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. The path around the lake is almost flat, but trails meander away from the water up into the higher ground.
Now this is my place of rest. This is where I wanted to meditate on Psalm 23: He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.
I wasn’t in a reverie of beauty for the entire week. I was finally talked into climbing what’s called the Bible Point trail with my husband, kids and my Dad. If I had any concerns about my daughter’s strength and coordination, they quickly dissipated when I was promptly left in the dust. Her young legs scampered up this mountain in less than 15 minutes with hardly a break. My endurance was definitely tested as I panted in the thin air and slipped several times. I do just fine walking the hills around my suburban neighborhood in West Des Moines. But this. . . this is radically different on a spiritual, emotion and physical level.
The Bible Point Trail has Bible verses strategically posted that can mark places of “rest.” My dad pointed out the sign-post on which Psalm 121 is written, and declared it to be his favorite. “I lift my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber . . .” how appropriate.
You feel so small and insignificant, surrounded by the fragrant bristlecone pines that blanket the grandeur of earth pointing to the skies. Your lungs expand, the gentle winds cool the sweat from your brow as you stack one foot in front the other and your soul breaks wide open at the majesty of it all. And somehow, you realize, that if you can breathe deeply and carefully step among jutting rocks and boulders along your path, and keep your gaze fixed to the hills above, your creator will guide you through other life’s challenges as well.
Sometimes it takes the Herculean effort of climbing a figurative mountain in order to experience the rest that God wants to give us. We have to watch out for that looming boulder of perfectionism! Step very carefully around the slippery rocks of bitterness and unforgiveness. And if you need to, stop and take a break at the twisted, narrow slope of inadequacy. Catch your breath. Drink deeply from your water bottle and pray. That’s gonna require some serious muscle to overcome. It’s not easy to shed ourselves of this excess baggage. It’s one of the hardest things a believer must do.
But once you touch the brilliant blue sky, gaze at the tiny structures in the vast valley, and listen to the rushing waters of an unseen stream hundreds of feet below, rest rises deep within.
Several meanings of rest are defined in the Bible. When we think of rest, we think of physical weariness. God did not create us to go nonstop. Since he provided the example of resting on the Seventh day of creation, we need to do the same. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a commandment and an act of obedience. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done,” (Genesis 2: 2-3). It’s a spiritual discipline to intentionally stop all social and work activity and focus exclusively on the Lord. But if you’re like me, you tend to spend Sundays frantically preparing for a busy week. It’s not laziness, as our culture would have us believe, but obedience and the willingness to seek after the Lord’s will first.
If we don’t make it a priority to seek ye first the kingdom of heaven on the Sabbath, the Devil will be happy to provide an idol to distract us and lead us into sin. Rest and focused time reading God’s word helps restore us to continue in further service.
When Jesus offered his followers rest in Matthew 11:28, he intended to give them relief from the ridiculous man-made legalistic rules and laws that the religious order of the day imposed upon the common people. It’s still happening today when we tell ourselves that good deeds, faithful church attendance and 47 spiritual disciplines is the only way to “earn” Jesus. That’s works-based salvation, and that miserable way of living was nailed to the cross along with Jesus, whose death and resurrection guarantees that salvation is now a gift, and not to be earned.
It’s a paradox, you see. When we rest, we become more productive. But sometimes we need to surrender a lot to experience that rest. Our culture is screaming at us to go nonstop accomplishing that “to-do” list. How can we possibly rest if there’s grocery shopping, meals to plan and prepare, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, yard work, studying, and those 47 emails are not going to answer themselves! And quite frankly, sometimes it’s easier to hide behind “busyness” rather than slow down and focus on what our heavenly father has to say to us. Because we’re guilty, and we know it. Ouch. But he’s not mad and itching to inflict punishment. Those of us who are “do-ers” often find our self-worth in accomplishing something, rather than humbly submitting to God’s command. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? But he’s not mad and itching to inflict punishment. I visualize him waiting, patiently, with open arms, ready to give us grace.
Author and pastor A..J. Swoboda has an excellent book on the subject of rest. Taylor from the “Taylor and Jen” show on LIFE 107.1 radio station morning show (local to the Des Moines area) quoted from Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World this morning while I was driving my third-grader to school. Swoboda references the Genesis 2: 2-3 text. God created man on the sixth day. The order of God’s creation is important. Since the very next day is the seventh, which God ordained as rest, the first “job” Adam had to do was “rest”. He didn’t have to earn it. God didn’t want him to earn it. Adam could rest because God had already done all the work of creation. Resting is a gift. All Adam had to do was worship and get used to his beautiful environment in the Garden of Eden his first day on Earth. This blew my mind. I know it was God, giving me a wink and a nudge. God leads me to exactly what I need to hear at exactly the right time in writing these posts. He is faithful and growing my trust.
Another way to think of it is that rest is the willingness to trust that Jesus’ work on the cross is enough. No more striving for anything. We breathe deeply into that freedom. Now we relax into his grace that will cover ALL our weaknesses and sin. This finally makes space for gratitude and peace to freely flow into our hearts.
Healing can come only when we rest our wearied bodies, wounded hearts and souls.
And I close with a quote from Corrie ten Boom: “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”
Father God, forgive me for not observing the Sabbath. I know that spiritual disciplines are not intended to make me feel guilty or overwhelmed, but to draw me closer to you. One hour at a time, one day at a time, I’m slowly learning. I’m grateful for your patience. Help me to enter your rest so that I can be better equipped to serve you. Amen