Recovering Rest, Part 2

Oct 15, 2019

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. And this is the final installment in a series where we are exploring the topic of rest. In that first episode I drew a distinction between physical rest and soul rest and we've been getting our bearings here from Matthew verses 25 through 30, where Jesus talks about rest and I've got my distinction from Jesus here. Let's look at those verses one more time here and then we'll begin to explore this topic.

So it's written here, "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." Verse 29 there is really very arresting, I think you will find rest for your souls.

I talked about in that first episode, whenever I hear somebody telling me that I absolutely have to get more rest, that “it's incredibly important, Cameron, that you get more rest. I see, I'm looking at your travel schedule. I'm looking at all that you're doing, my pastor often does this to me and you just need more rest.” Part of me is encouraged and part of me is really annoyed because like you, I'm thinking, "How, in what world am I going to get more rest? It's just not going to happen. My current life circumstances won't allow it. I've got two small kids. The job is hectic. All of the stuff is not going to do itself. The grass is not going to stop growing and it's not going to cut itself all on and on and on and on. The list of chores, the list of items that just need to be done. This is just life." I often think, "Who has the luxury of rest?"

It's funny, in our world of multiple conveniences and all sorts of ways to customize our experience, we're more busy. The drive of our lives is more relentless than ever. We're harnessed to activity after activity and it feels as though we're never stopping. So is it possible to rest in those circumstances? Is it possible to rest when the notion of rest itself feels like a total luxury? Yes, I think it is.

If we bear in mind Jesus' crucial distinction there that He's making, rest for your soul. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are people whose lives were extremely filled with hard labor, lots of work and lots and lots of worries and anxieties. Israel under the heel of Rome. Israel longing for a savior and the deliverance of this Messiah that they've been told about. Israel filled with all sorts of hopes and dreams and fears. This was a society filled with people who are exhausted and Jesus is saying, "Come to me and you will find rest for your souls."

Dallas Willard exploring this passage makes a very interesting commentary here. He says that a lot of what Jesus has in mind here is the terrible burden that the religious system of the Pharisees was imposing on the people of Israel, Jesus' audience here. This immense set of rules and regulation numbering over 600 that constituted the law and that these people were buckling under that weight and what Jesus is offering them here is a liberation from that system.

Now, we're not buckling under the weight of the law in our own culture, but we are buckling under the weight of cultural orthodoxy, for sure. We live in a culture that relentlessly hammers into our skulls day in and day out that we need to express ourselves, that we have to have an opinion on absolutely every single item in the news, every arcane story, every piece of political legislation, all of it. We need to be not only informed, we need to be commenting on it. We need to have read every single article. You should know all about what's going on in the Amazonian rainforest, by the way, right now. You should know all about this fire and all the environmental implications and you should be outraged. Not only that, you need to be constantly upping, getting ready, beefing up your resume. You need to constantly be available to everybody to answer and to be ahead of the curve.

You need to also publish to the world the beauty of your life and all of your great vacations and all of the wonderful aspects of your balanced, gorgeous life, and you need to publish this all for the world and you need to keep going, going, going, going, going, going, on and on and on. It's absolutely relentless. It sounds so good if we just say yes, it's beautiful to be able to express ourselves. But when we actually spell it out and we look at the terms in which it comes to us and we look at the pressure, it sounds really, really exhausting. Many of us, I think long for a kind of quiet and a kind of noiselessness. That's why it's interesting that luxury vacations nowadays include digital fasts and getting away from our technology and that this is seen as some really special exotic pursuit.

It's kind of funny and it's kind of sad. So what do we do? How do we experience rest in the midst of all of this? Jesus is saying to come to Him. So in that first episode I talked about taking yourself off the assembly line mindset and not looking at yourself in such instrumental terms, looking at yourself as some kind of a machine and measuring your value and your worth based on nothing more than your output and your productivity. That's how we evaluate machinery. That's not how we should evaluate human beings.

A lot of our language as we talk about human beings tends toward the mechanistic, by the way. Even when we talk about something as sacred and something as special as human relationships, whether that's intimate relationships or friendships, we use words like compatible, compatible is a hideous word when it's used in conjunction with human beings and human relationships.

Machines are compatible. Human beings are relational. We are friends. We're wives, we're husbands, we're brothers, we're sisters, we're fathers and mothers, but we are not compatible. You see, all of this language betrays an understanding of human beings that I think is deeply emaciated and we needed to take ourselves off of that assembly line mindset and finally have a restored vision of human beings as human beings.

This is where I want to begin this episode here. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus rather than somebody else's feet. So we need to sit at the feet of Jesus. In Luke chapter 10 verses 38 to 42 we have a very famous story, namely the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus is going to the house where these women are. Martha famously is in the kitchen and she's very, very concerned about getting everything ready and making sure that everybody is...that proper hospitality is taking place, everybody's being served, everybody's taken care of, and Mary is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus and this is a story by the way, that I find very annoying as well and it's been a challenge to me also. I think a number of us when we hear this story are sympathetic to Martha. I know I am.

So Mary's sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha is a bit exasperated and she says to Jesus, "Look, nobody's helping me where I am." Jesus responds to her. This is Cameron's paraphrase here, "Martha. Martha, you're very worried and anxious about many things, but Mary has chosen the good part." All right, so every time I encountered this story, I find myself slightly peeved, right? A little bit annoyed because I think, okay, but on the other hand, the meal's not going to cook itself. The dishes are not going to wash themselves. Somebody has to be making sure this happens, please, oh, please. Let's give Martha a little bit of credit here. She's actually trying to do the right thing and why is she getting this gentle rebuke that's taking place here and why is her sister who does seem to be deserting her a little bit and sitting at Jesus' feet, why does she seem to be getting singled out as the person here who's in the right? It's always been interesting to me from that aspect. That's often the way I hear the story and the way I look at it.

Well, I remember hearing a pastor once speaking and this is wonderful. He recommended, he said, you know what? Let's practice a bit of what Charles Spurgeon called, the sanctified imagination. He mentioned that what we can do here is we can introduce a little bit of theoretical speculation that won't do any violence to the overall spirit of the story here. He said, so this pastor said, let's imagine the roles reversed. Let's imagine that Mary, but truly being... but Mary, it's Mary. Mary is actually in the kitchen and Mary is doing all of the chores and Martha is at the feet of Jesus. But he says, let's imagine they're still the exact same person, they're just doing different things.

He says it's entirely possible for the moral of the story to remain the same because it would be possible, for instance, for Martha to be sitting at Jesus' feet with a mind absolutely consumed with worry, worrying about everything, worry about her sister, whether she was doing it right, whether she had the right temperature on in the oven, whether she had all of the items lined up properly. Whether she was going to bring out the right dishes, the right cups, all of that stuff. It would entirely possible for that to be the case and for Mary to be going about those chores totally busy, immersed her work and resting with her mind on Jesus. There's this lightness of touch to her that is characterized by a restful posture.

That message really helped me to make sense of this passage because what's really under interrogation here by Jesus isn't so much deeds alone, it's a specific mindset. So plenty of us, plenty of us are Martha when we go to church. I'm speaking to the Christians now. Plenty of us are Martha in the pews, right? We're sitting there and we're ostensibly there to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth and to be challenged by his word, but really our mind is a million different places and we're worried and I think to each of us, the response is the same. You are worried, Cameron, you are worried about many things. Choose to focus on the good thing, the one thing that is needed and the one thing that is needed is Jesus to rest in your Lord and Savior because He is the only one who can give you rest for your souls.

There's plenty of other people who could maybe offer you physical rest in some way. They could grant you reprieve. They could grant you a leave of absence. They could give you a little bit of free time and space. They can take your kids off your hands and give you some physical rest. But listen to me, hear me carefully. Physical rest will do you no good without true soul rest. If your soul is not resting, you will continue to experience exhaustion and burnout with all the sleep in the world. Plenty of us are experiencing that.

It's a terrifying experience by the way, when you finally got that physical rest that you need and it's not gone. That nagging voice, that constant fatigue and sense of dread and tiredness is still there. What do you do? If you look at so much of our behavior, especially in our culture where self-expression is so extolled on and on and on, what we want is for people to love and to like us and to accept us.

There's nothing new about that. There's nothing special about that. But again, there's nothing...we each have unique aspects to our personality, but there's a sense in which if we just look at our common humanity, none of us are that special. I think it's actually a very liberating principle.

David Foster Wallace talks about this in one of the more spiritually radiant explorations of humanity I think in recent fiction, Infinite Jest and I've mentioned it before on this podcast and he's talking about an addiction center called Ennet House and everybody in this house, they finally realize as they come there, it's an addiction program, substance abuse program. Though they all have various stories and they come from various backgrounds and some of them have done really terrible things. Some of them have really exotic, interesting dramatic stories, but in the end they're all the same.

They got out of control with their addiction. They were doing something that they thought was making them feel good, thought that would help them live a better life and be more accepted and loved and it failed and they failed and now they're lost and they're in bondage and they need help. But that's all of us. There's a sense in which as Christians we look at all of it, we love testimonies and we love really interesting testimonies. But in the end, the story is always the same. We're lost without Christ and we needed to be saved. No matter how crazy...If we had a crazy story, if we just had a really calm, quiet, sort of mild mannered story, we still, we all just need our Lord and savior. There's a really freeing aspect to that. We just need to be loved and accepted.

So many of us go looking for that in the wrong places. We want acceptance and we want the veneration and affirmation of other people and other human beings in that as a one way street, it's fickle, it's fragile, and it never satisfies. If you want soul rest, the only place to truly gain real lasting soul rest is in the arms of Christ because he loves you unconditionally. He loves you beyond what anybody else can. Even your closest, most cherished friendships will fail you in this regard because human beings are fickle. Your spouse will fail you. Your best friend will fail you, your brothers and your sisters will, your parents will, and this shouldn't surprise us. Human beings are fallen. So if you're looking for that lasting acceptance and soul rest in the arms of other human beings, that is a recipe for disaster. Christ alone can do that, but we have to sit at Jesus' feet.

So often we're sitting at the feet of other people. We're dependent. We think of some sort of invisible audience or seeking the approval of some people around us and what we're trying to do, our worry really is to try to please them. So often the source of our worry is deeply personal and we trace it all the way to the source. We find that we're trying to please somebody, we're trying to meet some standard imposed by somebody at some point and whether that's if we're trying to live up to our own expectations or the expectations of somebody who's opinion we greatly value, but so often that's what it means to sit at the feet of somebody.

But if we sit at Jesus' feet, if we acknowledge that he is our Lord, the author of our salvation and our faith and the one who can love us beyond what anybody else can, then we have finally all that we need to truly rest. We can finally lay down our sword. We can let our guard down and we can, yes, relax in the deepest sense of that word and it will offer you rest for your soul and rest for your soul will give you the strength to power through.

Even in times where you can't get physical rest, even in relentlessly, ruthlessly busy seasons, you still are at rest. This is one of the characteristics of people who are deeply devoted to Christ. People often pointed this out when it came to Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard was by day, he was a philosopher. He taught for over 40 years at the University of Southern California, but he also, he's best known for his books on the spiritual life, “The Divine Conspiracy,” “Renovation of the Heart,” “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” These are all wonderful, life changing books. But the point is here, Dallas Willard was a very busy guy.

He was a very respected professional philosopher and in fact, I believe one of his translations of Edmund Husserl, from the French to the English is still one of the major ones that's being used, the most influential. He was writing all of these books and he was speaking many times. So he's a full time professor. He's speaking at many conferences, he's writing books. Yet everybody who knew Dallas Willard always said the same thing. They said, "Oh, I wish I could be on Dallas' time." They meant that that sense of urgency, that sense of just frantic urgency was completely absent from him. If you watch interviews or if you watch some of his talks, it's disconcerting. There's this kind of calm to him that is really eerie. It really is.

Somebody once went to Dallas Willard and said, how do I was a very typically American question. "How do I really get my spiritual life in gear? What are some tips you would give me?" Willard looked at him and said, "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." This person laughed and said, "Okay, but what else do I need to do?" He said, "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."

Now there's deep wisdom there because hurry, that frantic, frenetic drive, what's it coming from? It's often coming from a pretty presumptuous and arrogant mindset. It goes something like this. Well, if I don't take care of this, everything's going to come apart. It all depends on me. Ravi Zacharias often points out, he uses that quote from Charles Wesley, I believe, where he said, "The Lord buries his workers, but the Lord's work goes on."

It's not dependent on you. Now, does that mean that you shouldn't care, that you're not invested? Of course not. We are invested. There's a fine line here where there's a balance here. We want to maintain our responsibilities. We want to do our part and we want to answer, if we're Christians, we want to answer the Lord's call and do all of our work to glorify the Lord, but also with the full recognition that we are not God. All things are not in our hands and no everything will not come apart if we mess up in some certain task.

Our whole existence and the whole weight of the world is not actually on our shoulders. This is a byproduct of the mindset that we're at the very center of the universe, but we're really not. Life's circumstances often hammer that into us, don't they? When we find that life becomes so incredibly difficult and even emotionally unendurable on and on. We're reminded that we're not in control and we are not at the center of the universe.

We may be able to customize online and digital space. We may be able to customize our libraries, but we can't customize the world. We can't tailor it to fit all of our needs and our drives. Life moves relentlessly on, so how do we rest in those circumstances? We need to sit at the feet of Jesus because he's the one who is in control. All things are in His hands and we don't always understand what's transpiring in our lives and around us. We don't get it always, but we can look to him and we can look to His life and the cross and His resurrection and know that He is good and that He is returning to judge the quick and the dead to make all things new, to answer every injustice and we can rest. He alone. He's the cosmic savior. He's the cosmic ruler and the cosmic judge.

We can rest at his feet because He alone is the one in whose hands are all things. This is why we rest at His feet and He loves us beyond what anybody else does. For that reason, it's possible to go about the tasks that we have in our lives and they may be many. It may be a relentless group of tasks. Our days may be absolutely full and yet our minds can be at ease and our hearts can be at rest as we go about these tasks. We can do them with efficiency. We can work hard, but that hurry doesn't need to characterize our actions.

Dallas Willard is right. That hurry can be eliminated. We have to take ourselves off the assembly line mindset and we have to sit at the feet of Jesus and then it's possible to rest even in the most hectic of circumstances. Finally, we need to do just what Jesus says in these verses in Matthew. We need to take his yoke upon us.

Now this is a really fascinating image by the way. So the yolk that links to beasts of burden is what Jesus has in mind here. That's the image. Now bear in mind that if Christianity is true, this is the Lord of all creation and the image that he is preferring to us is one of two beasts of burden, yoked together, pulling and co-laboring. That's a tremendously scandalously humble picture. The Lord of all creation, giving you this picture of co-laboring with him. If we take Christ's yoke upon us, that means that no matter what you're doing, no matter how full your schedule, your calendar, no matter how hectic your days, no matter how absolutely overwhelmed you feel, you are never doing any of it alone. You are co-laboring with Christ.

Willard used to often say, we talk a lot about the cost of discipleship, right? The radical call that Jesus has on our lives and it is radical. He is calling for all of us. If we follow Jesus, make no mistake, he's asking us to take up our cross and to follow him all the days of our lives and yes, to die to self. But on the other hand, Willard would often say we don't talk about the cost of non-discipleship and the cost of non-discipleship is you do everything alone. You do this all on your own and you try to justify your own value, your own existence and you labor on your own. I think many of us know in our bones what that feels like to try to pull our weight completely on our own, abandoned. It's lonely, it's desperate, it's painful and it's totally unsustainable. It really is.

We need rest for our souls. If we take Christ's yoke upon us, we are working with Him side by side and here's another principle that I come back to time and time again on the Vital Signs podcast and elsewhere, we are resting in Jesus's victory, not our own. Christianity is predicated on us resting in Christ's victory and not our own. After all and what an astonishingly strange victory it is. The fact that Jesus would conquer all. Jesus would save the world through death, that He would be the conquering King and that He would do all of this through a Roman instrument of torture, the cross, and that He would rise on the third day.

So if we're resting in Jesus and His victory, then that liberates us to no longer be trying to be our own saviors, no longer trying to rest in our own victories. Then our failures, which come from time to time, we'll see them because we will fail, we will make mistakes. Those failures we can learn from them, but they don't need to define us and they don't need to lead us to despair.

Take Christ's yoke upon you because He is gentle. After all, He loves you. He's not a ruthless taskmaster. Our culture is a ruthless task master. Is it not? The cultural mandate around you to express yourself, to justify your existence, to publish your value and your brand? What a hideous word used in conjunction with human beings, again, to be an influencer, another hideous word, I think. That cultural mandate, that cultural pressure is ruthless. It is an absolutely ruthless taskmaster and it's killing us. It really is. Many of us are absolutely reeling from it, but Jesus is gentle because He loves you.

He cares about you and He knows you inside and out. He knows what you're good at. He knows what makes you feel alive. He knows what passions you have. He knows what's a challenge for you and He knows what challenges you need. He knows you better than you know yourself. He is the author of your faith and your soul. Go to Him. He is the one who will give you the rest that you need. He is the one who will take those terrible burdens off your shoulders and give you rest for your soul and rest for your soul is something that you can have in any circumstance, no matter how hectic. That is what we need.

We actually need rest for our souls. Yes, we need physical rest, but sometimes it's just not possible, at least not to the degree that we want it, but soul rest is. We can have that soul rest if we take ourselves the assembly line mindset and if we sit at Jesus' feet and rest in His word and his truth, and if we take His yoke upon us. If we do that, we are in a position to actually experience true rest even in the most hectic of times. I think that is a deeply needed, very practical word for all of us, in an age that is characterized by deep restlessness.

I always think about Augustine's famous lines, perhaps the most famous lines he ever wrote and the only ones that most people know that happened at the very beginning of the Confessions where he says, "For our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You. You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You." That in a word, summarizes everything I've been saying here in the series.

Jesus has made us for Himself. He is our Creator. Because of that, there's a unique fit between you and your Creator and your heart will be absolutely restless until it finds its rest in him. When you have found your rest in Christ, that doesn't mean you won't experience physical exhaustion in this world. Of course you will. That doesn't mean that you won't experience tremendous trials and grief and even moments of spiritual turmoil. You will. This is a fallen world. Scripture is very honest about that, but you also will experience true soul rest. You will find rest for your soul and it's a rest that goes beyond the circumstances of this world because you are embracing your Lord and Savior and that is what is needed. In that sense you can go about your life and you can go about those tasks and your heart can be at rest. You can and you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Dallas Willard is right.

Well I'm aware that this has been a little bit of a departure from what you usually hear on the Vital Signs podcast, but the Lord has put this theme of rest on my heart as well. As I mentioned, my pastor has been pushing me on it and I've been thinking about it a lot and I think he's right and so I wanted to share it here as a word of encouragement, a word of challenge and I hope a needed perspective to draw from the Lord's insights there regarding soul rest.

So thanks for tuning in here. 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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