Part 3: Rest Like SCUBA

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I am not, by nature, one to press into a rhythm of rest. Most of this book has been written as the midnight oil wanes. My definition of a vacation is not working on Saturday. So being told to create intentional space for rest can feel a bit like being told to sit in the corner in time-out all day. But as I have pressed in to this rhythm, I find my presumptions about rest to be erroneous.

The Tsunami

On December 26th, 2004, a massive tsunami was triggered in the Indian Ocean and decimated miles and miles of coastline in India, Thailand, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and – most tragically – Indonesia. I remember seeing the breaking footage take over our TV screen. We were glued – our hearts ripped with empathy as hundreds of thousands of lives were literally swept out to sea. Yet beyond a few poignant days and the recurring anniversary my life wasn’t particularly changed by the tsunami. I didn’t volunteer to help with clean up. I didn’t uproot my life and move to Indonesia to respond to the incredible pain that was produced by such a cataclysmic event. For as gripping as it was, the act of observing the tragedy from thousands of miles away in California didn’t produce transformation in my life.

In contrast, I am confident that every single person – local or foreign – who was on the island of Sumatra on December 26th, 2004, was irrevocably changed by the tsunami. There were high powered financiers, lawyers, professional athletes, and stay at home moms who were forever changed by that tsunami simply because they were on the island when the ocean swallowed the coastline. They didn’t cause the event, they didn’t plan it, they didn’t contribute to it in anyway: its power was so far beyond their ability to control, manipulate, or simply grasp, that all they could do was observe the power sweep through. For them, regardless of what their future held on December 25th, they experienced a transformation through observation on December 26th simply because of where they were standing.

Empty Foxholes

For those of us content to sit behind the thick walls of our comfort zone, the idea of rest as a vehicle to move us toward mission may fall flat. We are removed by thousands of spiritual miles from where God’s mission is actively transforming lives. We may hear stories, read books, listen to podcasts, and even go on a short-term trip or two; but the material structure of our lives insulates us from the visceral activity of God-on-Earth redeeming lost and broken people. Like me, seeing the tsunami roll across Sumatra through my television, we are nudged toward empathetic action for a short spurt and we quickly recede back into the shell of the comfortable and routine with no perceptible change in our behavior, character, or worldview.

When this is our posture towards the mission of God, “rest” becomes another empty foxhole to hide behind to avoid taking action for the sake of the Kingdom. It becomes a false spirituality that we parade as righteous when it only enables our disengagement and apathy. Rather than honoring God and pursuing Jesus, our “rest” can be our escape clause, like the “corban” of the Pharisees. And like the Pharisees, Jesus would fiercely rebuke us.

Moving with the epicenter

Our God is so epically powerful that the act of observing God is to be acted on by God. When the prophet Isaiah beheld God he is moved to transformation simply through observation. Isaiah is painfully aware of the fact that the power of God is so far beyond his ability to control, manipulate, or simply grasp that his only recourse is to hang on for the ride. He doesn’t act on God’s behalf through clever sermons, nor does he contribute to God’s victory through social justice; he sits and reflects on God. And not a distant reflecting, as though God were far off: God was present, surrounding him, enveloping him. Rather than one option among many, reflection was the only option when the fog of glory was so thick. When God shows up in the might of his glory, Isaiah is moved first to confession:

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Isaiah 6:5

As the incredible power of the Almighty God swirls about him, his helpless state is sure and real: there is nothing he can contribute to affect his condition, and he is fully at the mercy of the King of Kings. This is to be at rest – to stumble into the Holy of Holies, to be present at the feet of the Strong Tower, the Morning Star. It is a rest that positions us rightly by aligning our posture and our vision on God alone.

We are more fortunate that the coastline of Sumatra, because the power of our God is both mightier and kinder than the ocean swells that fateful day. Rather than destruction, we are given life. Rather than temporary dislocation, we are given permanent residence in the household of the King. This genuine rest roots our Identity, shapes our Character, and fuels our Movement.

For Isaiah, as it ought to be for us after confession, a posture of contemplative rest directly links to bold mission:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go…”
Isaiah 6:8

To rest in God is to be launched on mission for God. This is most true when we are in a position to behold the movement of God in place. When we are caught up in the epicenter of divine activity we cannot help but be changed by what we observe. For Isaiah it meant a moment in the Temple. For you it will probably look different. To rest well we need to move the material construct of our calendars and possessions into spaces that give ear to the movement of the Spirit as He stirs toward cataclysmic change in your geography. He is at work in your geography in tsunami-sized ways; if you don’t see it now, sit at the feet of the King and pray the crazy prayer of, “Lord, show me your glory!”

In Need of Change

In Subconscious Church we talk a lot about the shift from knowledge-based maturity to obedience-based maturity. Jesus makes it clear that his family – those who most reflect his family values, and are therefore the most “mature” members of his family – are marked by obedience more than knowledge.

The powerful moment for me was in realizing that action follows presence. Those on Sumatra in December 2004 are moved to action after they are moved by the presence of the tsunami. Isaiah is moved to action after he is enveloped in the presence of God in the temple. The disciples begin their ministry only after they receive the Holy Spirit. Even Jesus begins his ministry only after he hears the promises and affirmations of God Almighty spoken over him.

The family of Jesus – those who hear his words and do what they say – are those who understand that we can only hear Jesus’s words in their power when the thickness of his presence thoroughly interrupts our schedules and projects. This is one of the most uncomfortable realities of living as a disciple: to obey Jesus is to be moved past the limits of our own imagination and comforts. The family is God is sent on the mission of God only after we are overwhelmed by the presence of God – and we experience the presence of God when we find rest in God.

When we move into the complexity of the uncomfortable, observance is active transformation and remembrance is resolve. To reflect is not to be inert and to remember is not being stuck in the past. Memory serves as a Biblical motivation: our hope is sure because we remember that Jesus has accomplished all this and more already.

The Fog of Glory

When Jesus is transfigured before the disciples, their first inclination is toward action. They want to build shelters. Like many of us, the impulse is to do a project: “Let’s build a building! Let’s start a school! Let’s feed the homeless!” Instead of applauding their project list, God envelops the disciples in a fog of glory and speaks his love over the Son, admonishing the disciples to listen to him (Matthew 17:1-13).

Being exposed to the glory of God enshrouded the disciples in a fog that prevented them from the project they originally proposed. God intentionally moves them into a place of less clarity to slow them down enough to listen to him speak. And instead of a long “honey-do” list, God gives one simple declaration and one simple command: “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him!” (v. 5)

When God spoke first, Isaiah was moved to a lifestyle of mission (in his case, prophetic ministry). When Peter speaks before God does, he is moved to temporary project lists to satisfy the very human itch to just do something.

During wartime, the term “fog of war” is used to excuse inhuman behavior as a consequence of exposure to the horrors of war. As a direct opposite, when we rest long enough to be enveloped in the “fog of glory,” we are slowed from our break-neck pace of busyness to listen in to God’s declarations, commands, and promises, and we can be mobilized to life-long mission as a result. If our mission is a result of rest in the presence of the Almighty – rather than haphazard desperation – work that results from this rest is laser-pointed straight into the heart of God for his glory.

Sometimes God calls us to the fog-enshrouded mountain to get our eyes off ourselves long enough to listen to him, so when the fog clears we can see the people around us we are meant to minister among and alongside. As we rest, we tear our eyes so completely off ourselves and onto Christ that when we look on him we see our neighbors, and when we look on our neighbors we see Christ.

Rest like a SCUBA diver

I do not believe that mission can exist only in a state of busyness. Program can, but mission cannot. To be set in motion for God requires that we first find rest in God. God spoke the universe into existence from nothing, and when he speaks over us as we sit at his feet, the creation that results in our lives is powerful, diverse, life-giving, transformative, and entirely a focused on him. And not in our lives only, but in the lives of every person we intersect: his momentous creative nature – his Word – transforms us and our neighbors when, and only when, we come to rest at Jesus’ feet (cf John 1). When we humble ourselves to a position of “nothing” before the Almighty God, he enacts enormous creativity – an energetic response that is packed full of action, mission, and transformation.

Like a lap-swimmer holding their breath, a rest-less busyness may be sustained for a short while (and longer with practice); but Biblical rest is the SCUBA gear that allows us to submerge deeply into our world for sustained periods of time without suffocating – far beyond what is possible when only relying on ourselves.

Kingdom breakthrough requires complete reliance on God for air – we are too far in to breathe on our own. Biblical rest is the mechanism God designed into our beings (and the covenantal relationship we have with God) to transfer spiritual oxygen from him directly into our souls. I believe Biblical rest does not yield quiet piety but grand adventure. More than this, I believe the adventure is completely missed by those too important or busy or hardworking to stop their own pursuit of Kingdom and listen to his voice declaring Love and Truth over us, our neighborhood, our work, and our world.

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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