LORD, TEACH ME HOW TO REST!
We need a place, a time where and when we can rest and recharge our life. Jesus often withdrew and even encouraged his disciples to withdraw and rest. Mark reported this incident. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had don and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a deserted place” (Mk. 6:31-32).
Rest is an ordinance of God. Elohim rested on the seventh day and declared it holy (Gen. 2:1-2). He had Moses put the “Day of Rest” into the Ten Commandments, with the longest explanation, above six other Commandments (Ex. 20:8-11). It is next to God, the most important ordinance for man. God is the Lord of the Sabbath and not man. Jesus reasserted this concept when He used the Sabbath to heal the people. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Son of Man, therefore, is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). Jesus did not come to abolish or even amend the Law but to fulfill Law (Mt. 5:17-18). The Sabbath Law became the most perverted Law for the Pharisees. Jesus made them aware with this question, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you immediately pull him out?” Yet, they objected to healing a person from dropsy (Lk. 14:1-6).
The Day of Rest or the Sabbath is under the supervision of man and not under a religious doctrine or ordinance. God designed it for the purpose of the human body only and not for all the other things like entertainment, pleasure, recreation, sports, and whatever else man is using the Rest Day for. The human body, at work, is under enormous stress. It needs time to recuperate, rejuvenate, reorganize, reassess and readjust to the six days, which the body has to endure. In our scientifically advance work, man needs rest from his partying and vacationing. I know that my body needs protection from a simple round trip to Canada that takes seven hours. It takes me more than a day to regain my composure. Of course, I am only eight-four years old and may need a little longer even to stand up straight. This, I know for a fact that if I had treated by body in my youth as the youth do today, I would not have survived my seventy-five percent burns at the age of twenty-one or cancer at sixty-eight. I came from a part of the world where the Sabbath was holy and I was not allowed to gallivant all over and sleep at the job on Monday’s and Tuesday’s. I was not exposed to drugs, liquor, tobacco and sex. I had twenty skin grafts and transplants and they all healed. At the same time, a Canadian on booze and tobacco had a small burn on his leg that rejected the grafts and did not heal. I was transferred to a rehab before he was and I spend a total of eighteen months in seclusion. If we do not rest our body, then we do not respect ourselves.
The Polish army trained by father to be a blacksmith. After two years of service, he was kept in reserve but allowed to go home and open his own shop. He worked hard, but on Sundays he rested and so did all the farmers rain or shine. That principle of rest, father took with him when the Germans drafted him to build ditches to keep the Russians out of Germany in 1943 and 1944. He finished the project in January 1945. In the beginning, father was put in charge over one hundred men and women in forced labor and little work had been accomplished due to exhaustion and illness. Without permission, father quietly divided his work force into three groups. He put the physically stronger to work the first day. The second group was ordered to rest and sleep, to be ready for the second day to work. The third group was charged with preparing food and keeping the fires going. Within a short time, father’s progress came to the attention of the Nazi leaders and they placed him in charge of all the workers. Shortly after, they disappeared and so did their guards, leaving father in charge of the whole project. Our hired hand and I took a load of supplies to the camp and I was treated like a prince and these people sang, danced, played music and told stories in Polish and other languages. They rejoiced and praised my father for instituting two days of rest for one day of work. These workers brought our father home the night before we had to evacuate. Rested workers are thankful people.
While the Israelites were in Egypt, they were not allowed to rest and they could not keep up making bricks. Moses returned from exile and asked Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go for a three days of rest to worship their God in the desert (Ex. 5:1-3). Pharaoh refused and ended up losing all the Hebrews. What would the outcome have been if the three days of rest had been granted? Of course, Moses’ request was a white lie, very typical of God’s people in those days to ask one thing and do another.
In Canaan, they were to let their servants and animals rest, including the land if it is to continue to reproduce (Ex. 23:11-12). In our day and age, we have two days of vacation per week where we tire each other out, so we can be recouped while we are at work. Is it any wonder that businesses cannot survive? What we tell the Lord is nobody’s business. When the body needs rest, no words are necessary to explain. Our spirits can communicate without words calling God “Abba” Father (Ro. 8:15). Especially when we have done all we could and what was right for that day, we should find a sense of contentment and gratitude for having been of some necessary service. There is comfort in the words of Jesus, when He said, “Well done thou good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21). Every day should be such a day.
Worn out physically by the enormous needs of the people, Jesus needed rest and rejuvenation. The lonely place provided both. Rest is as basic as food and drink. The human body needs a break from carrying a mind that bears the burden of so many concerns and needs. It goes to rest with endless worries. Jesus offered this suggestion, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do no labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into a fire, will he not much more cloth you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt. 6:25-34).
The human mind gets clattered and Christians are not exempt. My parents lost everything in 1939, again in 1945 and then in 1953. In the last financial meltdown, we lost way more than my parents did. We saw our homes disappear and our wallets shrink. Our minds were on properties and on financial securities. Every night, we went to bed in disarray. We learned that we could not alter or continue to bear our worries. We had to unload them before our physical strength gave out. Our bodies are not just our temples, but they our vehicles in which we live and move in order to survive. Even a handicapped person, like myself, has to sustain with rest what I have otherwise my mind stops functioning and I become useless. I have to have a time when and where I can set my priorities that enable my body to endure. I have learned that a rested body helps me think more clearly and I can bear my disappointments with more acceptance and ease. My body and mind experienced healing by doing what is right for it is synonymous with the will of God and Christ’s kingdom among us. We must not be astounded that even the world will prefer healthy bodies and sound minds to manage heir affairs.
Rest is not meditation. I find meditation harder than physical labor. I can and I have mentally exhausted my body. I am an exegete and work with texts in different languages and cultures and thinking can be frustrated. To arrive at the right answer is an awesome chore. I take many breaks before I come to a conclusion. Imagine what Jesus must have felt every time He tried to convey the truth to the people and they did not get it. He was dealing with the salvation of their souls and the people trusted the wrong messengers and message. At the end of the day, Jesus had to let go and hope that tomorrow would be better. I too have served as a pastor and I am being hunted whether I have depended on interpreters that have altered or slightly shaded the message of salvation. Pastors that quote others rather than their own opinions sound wise, but does that exclude them from discovering the truth for themselves? I have found that what I had preached on Sundays did not appear so adequate on Mondays. The main reason was that I had not taken enough breaks for my sermons to mature. Particularly when the responses were too favorable, I wondered whether I had pleased them, rather than saved them.
We need a place and a time where and when we can rest and recharge our life. Jesus withdrew often and even encouraged his disciples to withdraw and rest and so should we. Some of us may be a bit confused as to when we should rest. A traveler came upon a farmhand stretched out under a tree. “Taking a rest,” inquired the visitor? “Not exactly,” he replied. “I don’t call it rest just yet. It’s waiting for the sun to go down so I can quit with a clear conscience” (La.190). This is not the kind of rest that will ease our conscience – that is – if it is still in tact. At the end of a hard day or a difficult task, we ourselves need to find time to rest. If we do not rest, we end up not being of any use to anyone else. Sir James Creighton Browne, eminent physician, once observed, “We doctors, in the treatment of nervous diseases, are now constantly compelled to prescribe periods of rest. Some periods are, I think, Sundays in arrears” (Wa. 2242). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow set the idea of rest to poetry,
“What secret trouble stirs thy heart?
Why all this fret and flurry?
Dost thou not know what is best?
In this too restless world is rest
From over work and hurry” (Wa. 280).