Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Working on Resting

At my church, the pastoral leadership is given two days per quarter that we can devote to spiritual retreats. No expectation to come into the office, answer emails or phone calls, or do the tasks of ministry. It's time spent resting in presence of the Lord. I spent all of yesterday reading, praying, journaling, and watched an afternoon matinee (viewing good films is genuinely spiritually refreshing for me).

Yet in a culture where success and busyness are synonyms, pursuing authentic spiritual rest can quickly be viewed as laziness. I can imagine what some church folks might think: "He slept, watched a movie, hung out in a coffee shop, and wrote in a journal all day? And we're paying him for this?! How is that getting anything done for God?"

It is this last statement that is most disturbing because of its underlying assumption: my ministry value depends on doing things for God. Having a personal discipline of rest reminds me that this whole kingdom of God thing doesn't rest on my shoulders, that I'm not the savior of the world, that God will continue to transform creation with or without me, and I'm just along for the best possible of rides. In Mark 1:35-38, check out what Jesus does in the middle of an incredibly busy season of ministry:
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 
Here are some practices I'm learning from Jesus when it comes to the discipline of spiritual rest:

Plan ahead. Rest doesn't just happen by accident (unless you find yourself suddenly waking from a spontaneous nap you took on your laptop). Jesus didn't mistakenly wake up early and haphazardly decide to pray. Rest requires scheduling out a day or two into your calendar, usually at least a week in advance. It will also require you to say "no" when people ask to meet with you that day, and a very understanding and gracious spouse who will give you the time away.

Be alone. Jesus goes to a desolate place. Find a cabin, retreat center, or a friend's home to get away. I've found that many Christian summer camps will actually let pastors use a cabin for free in the middle of the week. If this doesn't work, a library or coffee shop and some good noise-reducing headphones could work too. Go on a hike by yourself. Sit on a park bench. Hide in your closet. Just get alone.

Remove distraction. No internet. No email. No texting (with the exception of a spouse for updates). No phone calls. No meetings. Definitely no video games. If music or books take away from your time with the Lord, avoid those too. This is about de-cluttering your spirit.

Be patient. Jesus must have taken quite a bit of time in prayer, as the disciples were searching for him. It takes more than just 30 minutes to really calm one's soul and listen for God's voice. For me, it takes at least a few hours to focus and get into rest mode, and I feel most rested when I've taken at least an entire day devoted to it. It may even be frustrating or seem pointless for the first hours, but I can guarantee that it can be deeply refreshing when given the right amount of time.

Listen carefully. Spiritual rest isn't about laziness; it's about actively removing distraction in order to hear God's quiet voice stirring in our souls. This, ironically, requires a bit of work and effort. Through Scripture, journaling, reading, or silent prayer, God will use this time to speak truth and grace into your heart.

True rest, paradoxically, requires work. How can you incorporate the disciplines of silence, solitude, and prayer into your routine?


  1. Right on Joel! I am blessed to work for a church that practices this as well.

    I take advantage of having Fridays off where my kids are at school, my wife is at school (she teaches) and I have the day alone to read, watch movies, work in the yard, ride my bike or nap. It is a refreshing time and certainly needed.

  2. totally agree! rest is a very important discipline, one we seem to be short on nowadays. rest, properly engaged in, equips us for the work ahead. like anything else, we can either just let rest "happen to us," or engage rest as an important aspect of our overall work. rest, by its very definition, is a temporary thing, so we had better utilize the time for God's glory.

  3. I suck at this. I'm working on not sucking at this. I appreciate the processing my friend. I'm having to look myself in the mirror and and my first qtr of 2011 and realize... I have long way to go to developing the rhythms and pace of life where I can notice stuff I otherwise would have missed.