Recovering Rest, Part 1
While church leaders often point to the crucial need for rest, it’s a luxury that many of us simply don’t have. So what do we do? In Matthew 18:28-30, Jesus makes an important distinction between physical rest and soul rest. This two-part series explores that distinction. It’s my hope that you’ll find encouragement here, even if your life doesn’t currently allow you the physical rest you need.
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Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to the Vital Signs podcast. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. Thank you so much for tuning in today. We're going to begin a two-part series on the topic of rest. The fact that rest is an incredibly important and even urgent topic these days, I think, is fairly self-explanatory.
Recently three Christian leaders were asked what they think the most important spiritual discipline is that we need to recover, and to a man...One of them was Lauren Winner, these were people who are very accomplished by the way, with lots of academic work and really at the forefront of their fields.
But to a man, every single one of them said rest. That it's so important that we recover, rest, and we really experience true rest. So I'm going to talk about rest, but I also want to...I already here, I think, some critical voices piping up because my own voice pipes up here.
I just think, look, people often talk about how important rest is. For instance, my pastor often exhorts me to rest. He says, "Rest is so important, and I find that it is one of the most lacking features in so many young lives. You absolutely need rest." And part of me thinks, "Yes, absolutely, of course I do."
But on the other hand, I think it's just not possible. Let's get practical. In my specific case, I am a father of two young children, one almost three years old and one not quite a month old yet as of this recording. So it's one thing to tell me, to exhort me to rest, but it's another thing to actually step into the circumstances of my life.
And I know many of you listening have incredibly busy and full lives, but what I want to do, I've been thinking more and more deeply about this. What does it mean to actually rest? And my mind naturally just drifts to conventional thinking when it comes to rest.
Sleeping well, perhaps getting away a little bit for a vacation, but for many of us sleeping well or a decent night's sleep, a vacation, those are luxuries that for whatever reasons right now we simply do not have. So as we think about rest, is it only reserved for the elite few who happened to be at a stage of life that's conducive to rest, that happen to be able to afford getaways and vacations, that happen to be able to get through and have a decent night's sleep without it being interrupted by their children, so on and so forth?
Is it really just a luxury? I don't think it is. There's a deeply practical aspect to this because scripture actually has a lot to say about rest. Take a look for instance at some point through the book of Hebrews, and pay attention to the word rest. It's a recurring theme in the book of Hebrews. Fascinating.
But what I want to do here is I want to open by examining some of Jesus's words on rest because I think we have a very powerful insight here into how all of us, all of us, even those of us in very, very hectic circumstances, can find rest in Christ. And so my hope is that this is an encouraging series. I know often the Vital Signs topics can tend to be quite sobering and quite urgent.
And I think this is an important topic, but my hope is that this is encouraging. And especially if you're a skeptic or if you're not a believer, I hope that what you hear is not simply practical, but I hope that this constitutes some real wisdom for you because this comes from Jesus Christ.
And I think His insights into humanity are the best we could ever have, because after all, I believe as a Christian that He is actually the author of humanity and He tells us what it really means to be human, and He knows in a way that none of us can know. And so I want to look at Matthew chapter 11, and I want to look at verses 25 through 30. This is a very interesting chapter.
You've got a lot of different aspects to the chapter at the beginning. It has Jesus really responding to John the Baptist who is having his own moment of doubt, and we've had a Vital Signs series on that passage actually. It's a fascinating passage. You find one of the great heroes of the faith experiencing serious doubt as he's in prison. John the Baptist sends a messenger to inquire whether Jesus is in fact the One, the Messiah.
And Jesus has that wonderful response where He says, "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are healed," and basically gives John a vision of prophecy being fulfilled and the kingdom of God advancing. And then you have Jesus pronouncing really, really sharp, basically sharp judgment on many of the cities where His miracles have been performed and they haven't responded.
But then it concludes with this section on rest. And these are the verses I want to look at. So starting in verse 25 we read these words, "At that time, Jesus declared, 'I thank you father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. Yes Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
There was an article that appeared recently on BuzzFeed News by Anne Helen Petersen, and this article got a lot of traction, so there's a good chance that you read it or heard about it. But it was about one of our favorite topics these days, one of our favorite whipping people these days are the millennials. I am myself...I technically would fall into that category. So hey, take it from a millennial.
But this article is titled “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation.” So that's one heck of a title. And this article, which is quite long actually did really well, went viral, a lot of people were reading it. But what Anne Helen Petersen does in that article, she draws on the concept of burnout, but she's actually drawing on the psychological concept of burnout. And we need to make a distinction here between fatigue or exhaustion and burnout.
So in extreme fatigue or just exhaustion, you give out and you just stop. You can't go anymore. Your tank is empty. You're done. But when you're experiencing burnout, you're pretty depleted, but you're operating on autopilot and you keep going anyway in this half sort of dead, hazy sort of Walking Dead state of mind.
And so this, Peterson argues, is really the condition of so many millennials. Now it's interesting because generational studies are helpful up to a point. I happen to think that the generational studies, whether we're talking about Gen X or Boomers or the Silent Generation, Gen Z. Gen Z is still a placeholder apparently, until they come up with a better or more suitable title, who knows.
But there's a certain aspect to this that's helpful. They're heuristic devices, they're teaching tools, they help us make some distinctions, but they also break down a little bit. Because I think what she is describing in this article really applies to most of us and if this sounds familiar to you, if you listen to my other podcast, “Thinking Out Loud” with Nathan Rittenhouse, we did discuss this article at length.
So if you want to, you can go and listen to that, but here's what I want to focus on. What she's talking about is that millennials, and I'm just going to go ahead and say most of us now, I'm going to expand and I think you can expand her argument without doing violence to it. Most of us now feel that we always have to be on 24/7, 365. Now, part of that has to do with the fact that increasingly we're all living out loud more and more and more, and that is not just because of social media.
That's also because of the instant access that everybody has to us at all times. Think about the phenomenon even still of email or the fact that think about how difficult email makes it to establish firm boundaries, for instance, between your personal life and your professional life. Now suddenly people have access to you at all times. I still think of my smart phone as, among other things, a tracking device. People can follow you everywhere. People have access to you at all times.
They can text you anytime, they can email you anytime. Now I'm aware there are tools for setting up parameters, but it requires a very high degree of intentionality to get past all of those access points. And so increasingly we're all living out loud. We're always accessible and it's very, very hard for us to ever really shut down. We feel like we're always on.
This is very telling of my own personality type, but as a fairly deep seated introvert, the way I often picture this is imagine that you've got the same mindset that you have going into a business lunch, or if you're at some sort of a business function where you're supposed to go and mingle, work the room, tell stories, be interesting, be fun. Now I'm aware that some of you, you thrive in this environment. You're very good at it.
For me, sometimes I have to psych myself up a little bit. This is very, very energy depleting for me. But imagine if you have to do that all the time. Everything is the cocktail party. Everything is always the business function. Everything is the social gathering. Everything is the Christmas party all the time. Well, even if you're a social butterfly, that's absolutely exhausting. And so we feel that we're always on, but we also feel that we always have to be producing.
We always have to be making. We always have to be doing something to justify our existence in a sense. So it's this constant sense of giving, giving, giving, giving, and it leads to this real depletion. And it's in this kind of mindset, it's in these kinds of circumstances that Peterson argues some of the menial tasks of the day, the chores that you have to do, the errands that you have to do, become filled with a kind of existential dread.
This was one of the jokes about millennials, because she opens the article by looking at some of the initial points that people were taking because a lot of younger people, in this case a 27 year old who was being interviewed about why he wasn't going to vote. Well, this 27 year old didn't want to register to vote because just the notion of registering, of mailing everything out, all of that filled him with quote "anxiety."
Now that is kind of laughable in one sense, but in a deeper sense, she points out that because you're always going, you're always on, you're always moving, you're always having to do something and actually just to put out all this tremendous energy that those more menial tasks begin to seem almost like mountains, and it's just one more thing for you to do.
And so this is, I think, the sense that I think this, in many way, characterizes the kind of busyness of our age, but it's more than busyness. There's a kind of existential weight that attaches to this and it ushers in this real sense of depletion and burnout. I think most of us feel this burnout in our bones, and I think it's in this context that we really want rest. This is what we long for. This is why, by the way, the wider culture recognizes this as well.
You don't have to be a Christian to see this. There are plenty of...there are even vacation options where you can go on a digital fast, a digital holiday, where you go to some resort or some spa and you have to check your phone at the door and there's no internet access. But again, these are kind of privileged getaways that not everybody can do of course. Not all of us have that luxury. So how do we, in the midst of such a hectic atmosphere, how do we still rest? Because rest is absolutely crucial, make no mistake about it.
You know the reason why these three Christian leaders highlighted rest, is because when you don't have rest in your life, it affects everything. It affects your attitude, and it definitely affects your spiritual life. It affects your thinking, your reasoning abilities. And you're going to find yourself flying off the handle, you're going to find yourself with increasing anxiety.
It contributes to depression, it contributes to all sorts of very serious issues. And many of us are dealing with this in our day to day lives. We find ourselves flying off the handle more often. We find ourselves struggling with our relationships at home. We find ourselves struggling in the workplace. And so much of it has to do with a fundamental lack of rest in our lives.
So what do we do if we don't have the luxury of some getaway? If we can't have a decent night's sleep every night, if there's no guarantee? And face it, you don't have to have children for this to be true. Life is unpredictable. Life has hard edges and there are seasons of life, whether you're dealing with an illness, a personal crisis, these things are almost never planned, they never come at convenient times.
And often they sort of snowball, and it's one thing after another. This is why they say when it rains, it pours. How do you rest in those circumstances? Because Jesus is telling us in this passage that you can. How? How can you rest in these circumstances? That's what I want to talk about in this series. We get a really powerful picture of this in verse 29. He says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls."
This is interesting. Rest for your souls. Before I begin to get real practical here, let me introduce what I think is a very crucial distinction. There's physical rest, which is important, but it's not always realistic. But then there is soul rest, and soul rest is absolutely fundamental. Soul rest is not a luxury. Soul rest is something that you need and you can experience soul rest in any circumstances. You really can.
Let me give you one real quick example of this from just my practical personal life, and then I want to actually look at steps that we can take that are in line with the spirit of what Jesus is telling us here, to find rest in our lives. And I hope that this will not only be helpful to you, but I hope that it enlarges our perspective on what it means to rest.
But I remember not long ago, not long before we had our second child, we did a quick, a very quick weekend getaway. And again, I'm aware not all of us can do this, but this required some planning. We did quite a bit of planning ahead of time, and we went with a couple who are dear friends of ours, and we dropped the kids we had, we dropped them off with the grandparents and it was just us for just this weekend.
And it was the first time we had really spent significant time just with grownups, with just nothing but adult conversations. And so we just kind of maximized that time, those two days. And we really didn't sleep too much. We talked and we talked and we talked, and we did as much as we could. We lived it up, but we didn't get a lot of sleep.
In fact, I think I got less sleep actually ironically there than I would otherwise. And yet all of us came back so deeply refreshed. And what we were experiencing there was soul rest. Because we were actually, we were spending quality time with dear friends. This is one very powerful way to do it. And actually it's not that difficult to do with a little bit of planning. You can make this happen, but we were surrounded with people we loved and it was really a kind of rest that went beyond, that exceeded just mere physical rest.
But Jesus is talking about coming to Him and finding rest for your soul. Now what we experienced there on that weekend is a tiny microcosm of what Jesus is talking about, because Jesus is, if He is real, if Christ is who He says He is, He is the author of your soul. He's the author of you and your identity, and He knows who you are and He knows you better than anyone knows you. And to be with Him is to experience a kind of rest.
Why? A kind of rest that exceeds all other rest. Why? Because He loves you beyond anybody else's love. He loves you more deeply than anybody else does. There's nothing to prove with Christ. There's nothing you can do to earn His love. You don't have to fight to be more lovable, to be more witty, to be more funny, to be more on brand, none of that. All of that goes out the window, because let's face it, when we're with the people who we truly love and who truly love us, that kind of rest can take place even in the absence of physical rest because our guard is down. How often does our guard have to be up?
We pride ourselves these days on being so available and so transparent. That is the furthest thing from the truth. We always have to keep up appearances. We always are trying to sell something. We're always trying to convey a certain image to people. And all of the tools at our disposal make that more possible than ever, and it's making us so tired, so weary, so distrustful, so angry, and it's making us feel so unloved and so lonely.
But when you're with somebody who truly loves you, that soul rest becomes possible. And may I suggest to you that Christ loves you beyond what anybody else could do, loves you more than anybody else does. His love is supreme, and with Him you can experience true rest. So for the remainder of the series, I want to explore this topic of rest under three practical headings. Number one, take yourself off the assembly line mindset. Number two, sit at the feet of Jesus. And number three, take Jesus's yoke upon you.
So take yourself off the assembly line, sit at the feet of Jesus, and take Jesus's yoke upon you. What does it mean to take yourself off the assembly line mindset? Well, I've been spelling that out in many ways. We have these phrases that appear neutral, that appear innocuous enough, but actually they're anything but neutral. One of the ones that I notice over and over again is the word productivity used in conjunction with human beings.
You see, machines are productive, but a human being, do we really want to think about human beings as productive? I often will say, "I've had a very productive day," or, "I haven't had a very productive day." And what I mean by that is I got a lot of stuff done. But also part of what I'm doing there is I'm sliding slowly into that mindset where I'm measuring my value based on my output.
Now, there's nothing wrong with aiming to get more stuff done. There's nothing wrong with exploring time management. There's nothing wrong with trying to be more responsible with your tasks. But if you're looking at yourself as a kind of machine and you're measuring your value by what you produce, this is a recipe for despair. It really is. I've mentioned this before and I always think of it here, but a few years ago now, the New Yorker did a profile of this fascinating app called “Days of Life.”
And so in this app, and I've mentioned it before, but in this app you plug in your age, your gender, and I think your weight and I think that's about it. And based on these variables, this app estimates how long you have left to live. And it gives you this little running countdown and it has this pie chart on there, and it's got this countdown and if you want, if you're especially enthusiastic about this countdown, you can actually have it upload to all your social media channels so everybody else around you can keep a countdown of how close you are to the grave according to these numbers.
And interestingly enough, this app is filed in the productivity folder of the app store. And the idea being that time is running out. You are approaching that one true never-ending deadline. So get stuff done, organize your life, prioritize. And it's creepy and it's sad. I guess it's understandable to an extent, but this is almost a kind of emblem of our age. Pushing yourself, driving yourself nonstop to get more stuff done. This is almost like something out of a satire, but it's all too real.
If you want to experience true rest, you've got to take yourself off that assembly line mindset where you're simply measuring your own value based on your productivity, based on what you do all the time and you're just expending that energy with that sort of frantic sense of trying to solidify your own value through what you do. Christianity frees you, liberates you from that, because according to Christianity, you're made in the image of God and your value is secure. You are loved.
It's not dependent upon how much you've gotten done. It's not dependent upon your status. It's not dependent upon your job title. So many of these outward markers that we deeply, deeply prize and cherish because they mean so much to us, because we've elevated them so high, they're absolutely killing us. You've got to take yourself off that assembly line mindset, and that will free you in a way that you wouldn't believe to actually approach your work with joy for a change. Can you imagine doing that?
Actually approaching your work with real joy, without that sense of existential sort of dread, which registers often as this kind of ache in your gut. If that's gone, can you imagine what it would be like to wake up and not feel like your whole existence is on the line every time you begin working, every time you're online and you recognize that you're actually loved and that that love is secure? You've got to take yourself off the assembly line mindset. I think it's so important.
All right, so next week I want to talk about those remaining items there, as we explore the topic of rest, namely that we need to sit at the feet of Jesus and finally that we need to take Jesus's yoke upon us. Taking Jesus' yoke upon us, that's a very startling image, actually, a fascinating image, and it's remarkable that Jesus will use it. And I think once we really explore that image, I think it's really going to kind of open up this passage in a new way for us.
But you've been listening to Vital Signs, a podcast, exploring signs of life in today's culture. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister, and I'm a speaker and a writer here at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
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