Song of preparation: I Am Thine O Lord by Reawaken
Closing song: Amazing Grace by Reawaken
Resting in the Lord
Now for those of you who happen to be a parent with younger children at home or a grandparent involved with childcare helping out the family, you might appreciate the creativity of the following two ideas.
One mother, with three young children at home, was thanking her neighbors for lending her a play pen they weren’t using anymore. She told them, “I use it every day. I get in it and the children can’t get to me.”
Another idea that might make you chuckle involved four couples who rented a summer house for two months. Altogether, the four families had 13 children amongst them. The deal was, each couple would take a two-week vacation at the summer house and watch all 13 children. When the summer experiment was over, someone who had heard their story asked, “How in the world could that possibly be a restful and enjoyable vacation watching 13 children for two weeks?” And this was their answer. “During those two weeks we didn’t rest at all. The vacation part where we actually rested – was the six weeks without the kids.”
Well, I have to admit, I have never tried either one of those two strategies, but I do like the idea of finding a creative way to do some self-care and getting an opportunity to rest one’s mind and body.
So, let me ask you, how have you been doing lately, in particular when it comes to rest? Is it happening? Are you sleeping through the night? Have you figured out a routine that works for you each day? Or, how about this? Do you find it peculiar with all of the sheltering in place we have done since mid-March, that we still find ourselves at times feeling restless?
If you are like me, you enjoy doing things. You enjoy completing projects. You enjoy the sense of accomplishment by finishing something. You set goals for yourself and enjoy checking them off your list. However, the idea of just sitting around relaxing without anything to do, or the idea of waiting for how life use to be and how quickly is it coming back, is not working for you. Let’s be honest, sitting around doing a bunch of nothing makes you a little stir crazy. And my guess is, you’ve probably been inventing things to do to keep busy while driving those around you a little bit crazy in the process.
So, if that sounds like you, I understand because you miss your old life style with all the activities, especially if those activities involved contact with some close friendships.
And I think the reason why we miss those close friendships so much is because I believe God designed us in such a way to enjoy fellowship, to enjoy connecting with others on a regular basis, even if you are the type of person who loves periods of solitude. Because we all need human contact from time to time, don’t we? I also believe we were ultimately designed to connect with God, and we will never, ever be truly happy until we do. We can try to fill that spiritual void in our lives with all kinds of things, but it won’t work. It won’t satisfy you. Why? Because you can’t plug a spiritual yearning in your soul with material goods.
Today, I want to try tackle the idea of resting in the Lord, of finding ways to deepen our relationship with God that doesn’t involve all the energy of doing something and filling every spare moment with an activity. Think about it, in the midst of a pandemic and because of a deadly virus, many of us have been forced to stay at home and wait things out. And because we have to wait things out, we have been given pockets of time we never knew existed before, even if life seems a little chaotic right now as you find yourself scrambling around working from home or trying to help the kids with their schooling. And it occurred to me, because of these pockets of additional time, where many of us would rather be working our regular jobs, or functioning in our normal schedules, or having the freedom to go shopping and eat at a favorite restaurant, instead of fighting with this new present lifestyle, and bemoaning it, and complaining about it, I just wonder how our lives might be if we simply accepted it for now (on a temporary basis) as an uncontrollable and made an attempt to rest in the Lord.
Now do I like the fact I don’t get to do all the things I really want to do? No way. Do I wish this was all over? Absolutely. Am I giving up? No.
But you and I are smart enough to realize many of the predictions the infectious disease doctors told us about that could happen are happening. So, we are doing our best to be wise and take the necessary precautions and wait for a vaccine that will hopefully arrive early in 2021. And if 2021 is the potential target date for a safe vaccine, then I need to prepare myself with a plan of action. I need to figure out how I am going to operate for at least the next twelve months. If that means wearing a mask when I’m out in public, then I’m wearing a mask. If that means hand sanitizer goes where I go, so be it. When I compare the inconvenience of sheltering in place with what the holocaust survivors endured during World War II it doesn’t compare does it? We will get through this thing. It will just take time. And one of keys that I believe we all need to do when dealing with things that you and I can’t control, is learning each day how to rest in the Lord.
There was a very sad story that came out this past week, involving a wonderful, female doctor from Manhattan, who, at the age of 49, took her own life last Sunday, April 26th. Her name was Dr. Lorna Breen and she was the medical director of the Emergency Department at New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital.
Dr. Breen had a lot going for her. She had tons of friends. She practiced a religious faith. She was an active person with all kinds of interests. She was a snowboarder, played the cello, danced the salsa, and was soon due to receive her MBA from Cornell University. So here is a person who connected with life and was busy with life and seemed to enjoy her numerous interests, and yet, something went terribly wrong where she made a permanent solution in her mind to deal with a temporary situation.
What was the emotional and mental toll on her as she dealt day after day in 12 hour shifts with Covid-19? Did she feel overwhelmed by the volume of patients and that she could not help all of them? And after she contracted the disease herself, recovered, and then jumped back in to the war zone seeing patients die each day, would it have helped her to not jump back in so quickly, but rather take some time off and rest? When you are the director of a department, what extra weight of responsibility do you carry on your shoulders? What pushed this very capable person to the point where suicide seemed the right option?
And then, I was thinking about the rest of us, how are we handling the extra stresses produced by Covid-19? Or maybe, there other issues beyond a virus that has you concerned? Lisa and I have a wonderful friend that just discovered she has cancer and will be undergoing four months of chemotherapy. Well, that sounds like enough for anyone’s plate don’t you think? Still, every day on the news all we hear about is Covid-19, but there are folks dealing with so much more in life than just a virus. Did you know in April in the lower part of the United States we had 351 tornadoes? How are all of those people doing today impacted by those storms?
And I just wonder for you and me on May 3rd, 2020, does life ever seem uncertain or frightening? Does life ever feel overwhelming? Maybe, some of you are feeling an extra weight of responsibility right now because there are people counting on you all of the time. Maybe, you feel trapped in a routine and schedule that is draining you dry, because you are the main one who is giving but hardly ever receiving. And when it comes to doing something for yourself, that is a luxury of the past.
Well, one of the questions I want to pose to all of us is this: Do we serve the kind of loving, heavenly Father, Who tells us it is okay to take a break from life and to simply allow ourselves the healing gift of rest?
There is a very simple story in the Gospel of Mark that I want to share with you, that involves Jesus and His twelve disciples, who find themselves so busy in ministry with others they don’t even have time to take a lunch break. And if you are that busy, without even a moment to take in some nourishment and refuel the body, something has to give somewhere doesn’t it? In this account, we read that the disciples had been sent out in pairs to visit various communities to preach, teach, and heal. And when they return, Jesus pulls them together and they report to Him all they have done. This is how Mark chapter 6 talks about it.
30 The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place (quiet place) and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. [Mark 6:30-32]
You see, the disciples were actively doing, they were involved in ministry, doing what Jesus asked them to do, which was a wonderful thing, a good thing. But in the midst of heavy ministry, with many people pressing about them, wanting them, needing them, they weren’t taking care of themselves. (In other words, self-care, that is, doing something for oneself, was a luxury of the past.) Let me ask you, have you ever been so busy you forgot to eat? I know I have. Well, we might just say, that’s being a little bit too busy. So, Jesus says, “Guys, it’s time to rest and get away to some place quiet. We need to get apart or we are going to burn out and pull apart.”
And for our world today, in 2020, this may be one of the greater lessons in all of life we can learn. The idea of resting in the Lord. Dr. Steve Harper referred to this model in our spiritual lives as a rhythm of action and rest – with reflection.
A.) Hear what Jesus first says – come away by yourselves. Just us, nobody else. Yes, there are many people out there who still want to talk to us. Yes, there is still much work to do. Yes, there are still many places we have yet to travel and meet pressing needs, but I, the Lord of Creation, Who understands your personal makeup better than you do and how much you can handle, I am telling you, you need to take some down time. You need to get your batteries charged up again because you’ve been running on fumes. I’m giving you permission to take care of yourself and stop what you are doing. The work of ministry and all the responsibilities that go with that will always be there. But if you don’t take care of yourself – you won’t be able to take care of others. And dear ones, here is the good news. Isn’t it good to know our Lord says to you and me – we can take a break from all of our doing? It is okay to rest and stop all the activity.
B.) And then, what does Jesus tell His twelve disciples next? Let’s get away to a secluded, quiet place to rest and be away from the crowds. Jesus says, I want you to get away from the routine. I want you to chill, to veg, to be by yourself. Put your phone away or put it on silent. Don’t look at the clock. No social media. Forget about everything that needs to be done right now. Instead, know this. This is time for you to rest and reflect and see what is happening in your life. This is time for you to look at what your priorities are and see if they still hold true. This is time to evaluate if you are trying to do too much. This is time for you to focus on you and not the needs of others. This is time to get quiet and listen to God. This is time to be still before the Lord and discover what is most important.
And so, Mark 6 tells us Jesus and His chosen apostles get into a boat to physically separate themselves from the masses. This becomes their time to regroup, to relax, and to recharge.
How about you? Where is that secluded, quiet place that speaks to you about being alone with God, resting in the Lord? Is it in the early morning by the breakfast table? Is it in a den with the door closed? How about a fireplace in the winter months or a backyard patio?
Have you noticed on the news how many people gravitate to beaches or to parks to where the various governors have recently closed them down again? There is something majestic about nature is there not? There is something beautiful about the rhythm of the waves or watching the sun rise or set.
You and I need to find that place and time that speaks to us personally, which might even include going on a walk. I can recall times on my parents’ five acres taking a walk late at night with the dogs looking at all the stars while I spoke to God about everything on my heart and mind. It was my private time to be alone with the Lord.
C.) And finally, what is the last word Jesus shares with His men regarding rest? He says, only for a while. Not forever, mind you, just a while. We must come back to the world and to our families. They still need us, don’t they? There is work yet to be done. The ministry still needs our involvement. But for a season of time, the Lord gives us permission to rest in Him, to regroup, to relax, to recharge, to re-create, to reflect, and to reevaluate.
And what you may find interesting as you read Mark 6, is that after this time of seclusion and quiet, they get out of the boat and Jesus teaches the masses once again, followed by one of the most amazing miracles, the feeding of the 5,000.
I ask the question again: Do I serve the kind of loving, heavenly Father, Who tells me it is okay to take a break from life and to simply allow myself the healing gift of rest? Whenever I get tired – do I worship the kind of God who tells me – I want you to rest and take care of yourself? I want you to stop your busyness. You don’t have to perform anymore. Take some time for you and don’t feel guilty about it.
Do you remember the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 11 that tie in with rest?
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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. (Mt.11:28-29)
In the midst of all the craziness we are dealing with each day during this pandemic and figuring out a new routine for the long haul, may we at the same time learn and practice what it means to rest in the Lord. Always remember dear ones, you are not alone in this and you don’t have to carry the massive loads and burdens, the worries and concerns, the stresses and strains, and all the responsibilities of the world by yourself. That was never intended for you to carry. Instead, 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to cast all of our cares, all of our anxieties on the Lord, because He cares for you and me. Let us do that each day as we rest in the Lord. Amen.