Series on Rest (pt. 3): The Gift of Rest

By: Brad Rogers

Between two remarkably tall trees in the peaceful natural area of my back yard hangs a beautiful, multicolored piece of fabric with cotton cords at its ends.  Our children told me, when we first moved into our newly rented home two years ago, that as great as our backyard was there was not anything to do in it.  I asked them for a list of things they might like in their back yard.  I don’t remember what all the list included, but I do remember a “swingset” (I don’t think that is the term they used), a trampoline, and a hammock.  My eyes landed on the hammock as I was attracted to its low cost, safety, and its facility in granting rest.  It taunts me.  It mocks me.  It haunts me ….   The idea of it was so grand in my eyes, but now it does nothing but taunt me.  I can almost hear it mockingly snicker and then cackle an evil laugh in my direction when I peer at it off my deck.   

“Brad, how are you doing? With Dan gone on Sabbatical?” “What’s it like being the one in charge? How does it feel?”  It’s some variation of these questions that our crowd at Redeemer have been lovingly asking me all summer, and my basic answer to all such questions is some variation of, “It’s busy…. I’m busy.” Sometimes I have joked, with a touch of sinful pride and defensiveness, “it’s not his job or mine, it’s doing both.” This is what I feel, there is so much to do, so much to keep track of, so many things I am not getting done.  But, that hammock has been mocking for more than a year, not one month.

Wayne Muller writes, “I have visited the large offices of wealthy donors, the crowded rooms of social service agencies, and the small houses of the poorest families.  Remarkably, within this mosaic, there is a universal refrain: ‘I am so busy.’  It does not seem to matter if the people I speak with are doctors or day-care workers, shopkeepers or social workers, parents or teachers, nurses or lawyers, students or therapists, community activists or cooks. Whether they are Hispanic or Native American, Caucasian or Black, it becomes the standard greeting everywhere: I am so busy.”

I have been in that hammock a few times.  Once I get myself nice and balanced, I look up at the tops of those trees with only small flecks of sunlight peeking through, dancing leaves and the brush around me, and I am lost in wonder for a few seconds.  Then my mind starts.  There are a lot of things that start flying around in my head, but I start thinking of other things I could be doing, other things I need to be doing, things I need to write down so I don’t forget, things that I did, in fact, forget.  I think about how I don’t get as much quality time with the kids as I think I should, and I should do that now.  I think about how my wife, Rachel, never gets a break from work around the house or from the kids.  I start thinking of all I would, could, and possibly should be doing; but if I stay there long enough (something like 2 minutes), I start hearing something else.  Maybe you already heard it.  The chief feeling I begin to have is an overwhelming sense that I don’t deserve this, I feel guilty for lying there on a hammock and relaxing.  It just can’t be right for me to ever be there. 

In one of the books Dan invited our Redeemer congregation to read with him this Summer, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes, “I am a touch on the lazy side and disguise this with busyness.  There is a crowd of people disappointed with me, who find me, by turn, indecisive, despotic, timid, rash, evasive, blunt, foolhardy, wise in my own eyes, foot-dragging, impulsive.  I do procrastinate overmuch and at the same time make too many snap decisions.  Most of my life is unfinished.  Many of my efforts are slapdash and slipshod.”  Boom.  Right there, at least for me, nails what I feel even if some of the details are not exactly the same.  Because all of this is true, I don’t deserve to rest; I have no right to rest.  Buchanan goes on to write that the lie many of us believe is that we can’t rest until our work is all done, and done better than we are doing it right now.  The hammock taunts me from the back yard, “You have not worked hard enough yet; you have not done enough things well enough yet; you better go make up for all you lack as a father, as a pastor, as a husband; you better go get to work; but even if you don’t go to work, you don’t deserve this kind of rest.”  Yet, we all know that our work is never all done, and it’s never done completely right.  Rest is not something God gives us because we have successfully accomplished our task lists or because we have finished things perfectly or as a bonus for a job well done.  Rest is a gift. Rest is a gift in that it is not something we deserve or earn, though it is certainly something we need.  It comes from the heart of our gracious God; and it’s a gift, a sheer gift to use the words of Mark Buchanan. 

So much of why I can’t enjoy the hammock is because I can’t accept the gift on a breezy Sunday afternoon. Why can’t I receive the gift?  All too often it’s because I am not resting in who God is for me, but rather I am resting in myself. I can’t believe that He would be that good to me.  In the vows new members take when joining Redeemer, we ask, “Do you know, receive, and rest on Christ alone as He is offered to you in the gospel?”  Here, rest means something like, “rely upon,” or “trust in.”  To rest in the way that God commands, to take Sabbath rest, to take his yoke upon us that is “easy” and find his burden light (Matt 11:29-30). We have to, with deep conviction, trust that God is sovereign, good and gracious. Again, Mark Buchanan penetrates right to the heart of the matter:

            “If God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, you can relax.  If he doesn’t, start worrying.  If God can take any mess, any mishap, any wastage, any wreckage, any anything, and choreograph beauty and meaning from it, then you can take a day off.  If he can’t, get busy.  Either God’s always at work, watching the city, building the house, or you need to try harder… Either God is good and in control or it all depends on you.”

Prov. 3:5            Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

                              and do not lean on your own understanding.

6             In all your ways acknowledge him,

                              and he will make straight your paths.

7             Be not wise in your own eyes;

                              fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8             It will be healing to your flesh

                              and refreshment to your bones.

 The way we work, the way we love, the way we play can all be restful when we are confident our lives depend not on us, but rather on a good, gracious and Sovereign Lord.  How do we do this?  We train ourselves, we rehearse to ourselves and remind each other of these things that are true as King David did of old,

Psa. 62:5         For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

                        for my hope is from him.

6          He only is my rock and my salvation,

                        my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7          On God rests my salvation and my glory;

                        my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psa. 62:8         Trust in him at all times, O people;

                        pour out your heart before him;

                        God is a refuge for us.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief, that I might take a long Summer nap in my hammock….tomorrow.