Part 4: Rest and Spiritual Warfare

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After reading the first three posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) it would be reasonable to think, “If I rest right, my life will not only be uber spiritual, but epically missional.” Let this post help course correct.

It is true that we have an enemy actively seeking our ill. In fact, he is seeking to kill, steal, and destroy. Thankfully, Jesus has come that we may have life, and life most abundant!

What is the catalyst that allows us to have this “abundant life”? While at this point in the series it may be reasonable to think the answer to that leading question is, “rest!” but it is not. Rest has no power to move us closer to the abundant life Jesus yearns for each of us. And this very point is sometimes where our enemy strikes.

Rest and righteousness

So far, I have made some rather audacious statements about rest:

“Rest is a heart posture”

“Rest is just as important as breathing”

“Rest is the only true antidote to laziness”

“Rest precedes mission”

“Biblical rest is being found in the Fog of Glory”

“Rest is the only mechanism to allow long-term missional engagement”

Bold statements – and statements I believe are true with one big, fat, hairy caveat: None of it is actually true.

Rest, of itself, is inert. Like money, relationships, or Comic Sans, it is not inherently good or evil. How we view it, use it, and lord it over others makes it into a tool used either for good or for ill. And our enemy, bent on our ill, seeks ways to nudge us into using rest for ill, rather than for good.

Rest, of itself, is powerless. It cannot activate us to mission. I cannot allow long-term missional engagement. It cannot defeat laziness. Only Jesus is able, willing, and actively doing those things. It just so happens that there is a decent amount of Biblical precedent that rest is the tool Jesus uses for our good towards mission, long-term engagement, and the like. It is Jesus who gives us righteousness, not our spiritual disciplines.

What would delight Jesus would be for us to seek him – using rest as nothing more than a stepping stone into his presence, his embrace, and his mission.

What would delight our enemy would be for us to seek rest for rest’s sake – to place our worth and value in whether or not we are resting, resting enough, or resting right. This would effectively steal our attention from the beauty of Jesus and shred us to pieces as we try to perform better on the altar of rest. Jesus was already shredded to pieces on the cross of calvary, putting to death any striving for righteousness of our own accord! He is our righteousness, and he freely bestows it on us – rest or no rest.

I believe the perspective given on rest in this series is true IF AND ONLY IF rest is viewed through the lens that it is Jesus we’re after – his fame, his lordship, his Kingdom come – and rest is simply a paltry (but consistently used) tool to move us towards Jesus and his glory.

Rest and spiritual health

Just as rest has no capacity of itself to make us more missional, it also lacks capacity to make us more spiritual. If you perfect the art of rest (whatever that is) and waltz into church one Sunday morning to an auditorium packed with stressed-out rest-less people, guess what? You have no higher ground to stand on than they; we all are each covered by the same blood of the same Lamb, made perfect and righteous by his work, and his work only.

Our rest contributes to our spiritual health only when it is the background music to our dance with our Lover Creator Almighty God. When we attempt to court rest in exchange for spiritual health, we accomplish nothing more than narcissistic quid pro quo, effectively prostituting ourselves to a disappointing courtesan. Instead, as we come to the feet of our Daddy King and lay our hearts before him, he wraps us up and says, “Find rest in me”, and we obey.

Our enemy often convinces us to court rest like a suitor, seeking an exchange of goods, because we are so apt to the commodification of spiritual things: if we can just do the “8 Steps to Holy Living” (rest would probably be on that list) then surely our lives will be holy! If I can just find all the collectibles in the set, I’ll be complete.

There is, of course, a vast difference between procuring a wedding license and actually living with a spouse, forever. I think we often confuse our relationship with God as being a bureaucratic checklist instead of a life-long romance. So we look for the ‘right’ list to check off and ‘hope to God’ (ironically) that all the bases are covered. Rest can easily become just another checklist, allowing our enemy to usurp the beauty of the wedding dance with the drudgery of paperwork.

Burnout and genuine spiritual warfare

In an earlier post, I shared some of the burning questions that gave rise to Subconscious Church. I wrote:

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lies in front of the fold as its Gate, and he leads his sheep through the grips of death and through pastures of remarkable beauty. He doesn’t let a single sheep fall by the wayside.

If this is true, then why are so many of us falling by the wayside, mired in burnout and fatigue? How can the very followers of the Good Shepherd, who have yoked their lives to his, be the ones who experience such rampant rates of burnout?

This white hot why (as Bill Hybels would say) has driven much of my writing on Rest + Work, and other rhythms of Subconscious Church. There is, however, one fact that cannot be brushed under the carpet. I haven’t written about it before only because I think it can too quickly become a catch all, a fallback and scapegoat for our failures instead of the last blade of Occam’s Razor.

And it is this: sometimes the enemy, for reasons known or (usually) unknown, claims a victory and we find ourselves burnt out, dried up, and utterly beyond exhaustion. Sometimes we find ourselves here having terrible rhythms of rest – if this is so, I would carefully comb through our own hearts before blaming our burnout on Satan. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves here despite having authentically developed healthy rhythms of rest – now what? The truth is, of course, rest or no rest the enemy is out to attack us, and sometimes he wins (in the short run).

Jesus had pretty impeccable rhythms of rest – I mean, he was Jesus! In fact, right before his crucifixion, we find him resting – and resting well! Yet just a few hours later, it would appear that the enemy won (in the short run, of course).

If we have atrocious rhythms of rest and find ourselves burnt to a crisp – it could be genuine spiritual warfare, or it could be our own laziness or busyness that did us in. It would be foolish to say that all who burnout must be ‘bad resters’ – this would be to imbue rest itself with some power, which it doesn’t have!

The enemy seeks any way possible to thwart our attempts to magnify Jesus with our lives.

  • He may try to convince us to seek rest for rest’s sake, distracting us from Jesus in pursuit of our own piety.
  • He may try to convince us that if we can get the ‘program of rest’ just right, we will merit for ourselves spiritual health, maturity, and righteousness.
  • He may fool us into thinking that our rest is acceptable when it is merely our ‘corban’ – our attempt to shirk God’s call on our lives.
  • Or he may just be outright attacking us, and we are under fire from the forces of spiritual darkness, in which case only the power of the Almighty Living God can overcome as we lay ourselves before him.

In his life and ministry, Jesus models how and why rest is an important tool for his followers to understand and use. For Jesus, rest gave him precious time with the Father to pause, slow down, and focus on the promises spoken by the Father – and these sessions consistently provided Jesus with a renewed and refreshed sense of vision and mission. As his disciples, we follow in his steps and are therefore clearly urged to see rest as a posture of priority, even more than mission. We are given the tool of rest to give us means to listen in to the promises of God as he declares his love for the Son and his love for us. This listening in launches us on mission; we work from our rest, instead of resting from our work. In the next post we will explore how to build a strong work ethic on the back of a strong rest ethic.

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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