Part 1: The Problem of Rest

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This is part one (of five) on Rest. To those who choose to participate in the ideas outlined in Subconscious Church, having a renewed view of rest is central to many other concepts and activities. Understanding Biblical rest is central to understanding Biblical mission, because how we view rest is a reflection of how we view our identity and relationship with Jesus – and will therefore impact how (or if) we introduce others to Jesus.

Before we can have a truly meaningful conversation around what rest is (or even what rest might be), we first need a brief detour to outline what rest is not. Through mostly anecdotal information gathering, here are some common misconceptions about rest:

We think rest is sleep.

Of course this is primarily due to the confusion of our wonderful English language. “I’m going to rest now,” most explicitly means, “I’m going to lie down and try to sleep.” Even in our Bibles, we translate several different and distinct words all as “rest”. The “rest” Jesus talks about in Matthew 11 is a different type of rest than the writer of Hebrews uses in the fourth chapter of that book.

When God rests at the end of Creation, the word used became the root word of Sabbath. It was intentional time set aside to take our eyes off of striving, off of labor, off of the burdens of the world, and to focus completely on God.

When Jesus invites us into his rest, the word used could be translated “an interruption” and “a fixed habitation”. Rather than a unique and intentional time, this rest is an interruption from previous ways and a welcome to a new and permanent rhythm.

It is good and right to exercise the discipline of Sabbath – of intentional refocusing on God, particularly when we feel that taking our eyes off all the spinning plates would send them shattering to the ground. Just as with other Old Testament tenants, Jesus takes the ante up: not only are we to experience rest as a discipline, but as our permanent address.

Rest is not a physical posture, but a heart posture.

 

We think rest is idleness.

If you were to hear it said of someone, “All they do is rest,” probably the image that pops into your head is either a couch potato or a beach bum. It probably isn’t of a young entrepreneur or a single mother of three. Mostly likely, when we think of people who rest a lot we either assume they have an illness or lack direction, ambition, or competency. Perhaps worse, we assume they aim to mooch off others who don’t rest so much.

There is a difference between being well rested and resting well.

In later posts on this series, we’ll talk about how some of the people who are the ‘best resters’ are also some of the most active, ambitious, and achieving people in the Bible.

Rest is not a cessation from all activity, it is cessation from striving.

 

We think rest is a safety valve.

I remember playing city league soccer as a youth, and when the coach would pull me off the field I’d be frustrated. I’d ask why, and sometimes they’d say, “Because you need to rest.” It’s like rest was the last resort, just a half-step shy of complete collapse. I think I still treat rest this way, and from many deja vu like conversations, I don’t think I’m alone. Probably most of us see it this way. Once we finally start to feel the cracks of fatigue ripping into various areas of life, then we start to consider rest – or at least taking a break.

Under this assumption, rest isn’t mainstream; rest is the option somewhere after Just Try Harder, Fake It ‘Til You Make It, and Don’t Be Weak. It’s that final valve that is set to only release pressure well after the needle is in the red zone. And therefore, rest is usually some direct or indirect admission of failure.

Rest is not a last resort, it is our initial condition.

 

We think rest is for the margins.

Let’s say this is the 100th rambling Christian teaching you’ve read on rest (and it probably is). Chances are you are decent at Sabbath (the discipline of rest) and you probably have a fairly alright view of people who value rest. You probably even try to work it in when you can in your every day routine. Where do you work it in? The margins – the free space, the white noise, the ‘dead zone’ of unproductivity – the space that was ‘wasted’ anyway, so why not rest? Right?

We see rest as a secondary citizen in the ranks of God’s directives – surely reaching the nations is a higher imperative than rest! Therefore, it is relegated to the badlands and thin scraps of whatever margin you may or may not have in your life (if you’re an American then chances are highly in favor of you not having healthy margins).

I think for many of us, rest is mostly just inconvenient – there are no structures in our routine of life that naturally lend themselves to rest. One of my favorite quotes is, “Complicating your life is far simpler than simplifying your life.” Rest is not the same as a simple life, but it is probably true for many of us that busying our lives is far easier than creating proper rhythms of rest.

Rest is not for the margins, it is for the middle.

 

We think rest makes us super spiritual.

However, I recognize that this type of website attracts a certain clientele, and if you’ve read this far, then you probably already think rest is a great thing. In fact, like me, you probably think rest makes us pretty spiritual people. “Oh yeah, I totally had an epic day resting with Jesus. I drank lattes at that hip coffee shop that supports anti-trafficing then headed into the woods for some selfies of my Bible and I.” Full confession: this is a real statement, that I myself have said. Well, not out loud, but I definitely thought it. Okay, I didn’t even think it until now, but I definitely did it!

It’s not uncommon to believe that if I can just do the ‘6 steps to a well-rested life’, then the output of that mechanical process will be intimacy with our Daddy King. We become convinced (in part by statements like “rest is a heart posture”) that if we are the best ‘resters’, then God must be more pleased with us than all those ‘strivers’ out there. If we rest just right then God will be more impressed with us than if we are frazzled, teetering on the brink of burnout, and constantly frustrated and/or disappointed.

Of course, intellectually we all know this isn’t true! We don’t impress God, nor do we affect his affection for us. He is True – his love never fails! Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself and his mercies are new each morning! But that journey from our heads to our hearts… yeah, it’s a long one!

Rest does not increase our spirituality any more than breathing does – but it is just as important.

 

In part 2, we will examine The Laziness Antidote. Read on!

 

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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