And I will give you rest

I turned off the TV, got up from the couch, and made my way toward my bedroom, shutting off lights as I went. I was tired from the day and ready for a good night’s sleep. As I walked the final few steps to my room, I spoke out loud to God. “Lord,” I said, “it has been a great day!” My heart was full of joy. Contentment had settled over me like a drowsy blanket. But then, in that very moment, an odd realization came to mind. From a human perspective, the day had actually been pretty lousy! I had endured a mild migraine headache all day long. I had the headache from the moment I crawled out of bed until about 8:00 in the evening. I had gotten nothing done. I had slept on the couch for much of the day. Yet at the end of the day, as I was preparing for bed, my first thought was that it had been a great day.

I smiled when I realized what had happened. Over the past couple of months I’ve been sharing how God is helping me to understand that the presence of God is all that really matters. Being aware of his presence is becoming a natural part of my life. And now, even with a mild headache all day, I still felt it had been a great day because the presence of God had been evident throughout the day. It does make a difference!

For the past couple of months I have been writing about learning to wait on God and what it means to wait on God for direction. Many of you have responded that you find yourself in similar circumstances. It is a common issue many of us deal with.

To refresh your memory, Moses came to God in frustration seeking direction. But when God answered Moses, he did not give him any direction. Instead, he made him a promise. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14, ESV). What we learned last month is that when we focus on the presence of God in our daily lives, it changes how we respond to a lack of direction. When you’re waiting for direction, where you are going is less important than who is going with you.

The second part of the promise is also important. God said, “…and I will give you rest.” For me, that is a big deal. Often I find myself worn down from the work of ministry. Navigating airports and rental car counters can be tiresome. When I am speaking at a conference, often there are more opportunities for ministry off the platform than on. By the end of a week of meetings, I am completely spent. Multiply this out by 25 years of living on the road and you can understand why the phrase “I will give you rest” means a lot to me!

The problem is I tend to feel guilty if I take any time off. It is just the way I am wired. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to all who give to financially support the ministry. It is also deeply rooted in the North American culture that highly elevates work and diminishes the value of rest. But sometimes I wonder if I am stiff-arming God when he offers me the gift of rest, when I refuse and say, “Sorry, not right now. There is too much that needs to be taken care of.”

Meanwhile, the idea of rest is woven throughout Scripture. Consider these truths:

God rested after he worked at creating the world: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3, ESV).

Rest was institutionalized in the Old Testament law: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you” (Deuteronomy 5:13-14, ESV).

In the New Testament, even Jesus had moments when he pulled away from the work of ministry to be alone and pray: “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23, ESV).

Christ also told his followers to come to him, and he would give them rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, ESV).

In our need, we come to Christ. He is the one who gives us rest. Also, notice he did not say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will help you to work more effectively.” Rest refers to ceasing from labor, not working more efficiently. Scripture clearly teaches there is a time and place to work hard. But there is also a time to rest. Both are important. Anytime I do either one and neglect the other, I put myself in a dangerous position.

It is also important to understand that God’s promise of rest is not a promise to be free from trial or pain. Moses did not have it easy after God promised to be with him and to give him rest. Leading the nation of Israel was a non-stop challenge. Instead, God walks with us through the trial. Then, when we are aware that he is with us, we receive the gift of rest in the midst of the trial. As we walk through the journey, he walks with us and gives us rest along the way.

It is possible you are like me and find it difficult to rest. Your work ethic may be so ingrained that you feel guilty if you pull away, even for a moment. If that is you, I have good news! God has given us many gifts, one of which is the gift of rest. He stands before you today with outstretched arms with this gift of rest in his hands. His outstretched arms are an invitation to come to him and rest. Will you receive it?

I’ve been pretty transparent through the years about how weary I sometimes become with the work of ministry. At this time, I am learning to accept God’s gift of rest along the way. I look for those moments in the busy days of ministry when he speaks to me in that still small voice and says, “Tim, come to me and rest.” In those moments, I’m learning to set the work of ministry aside and simple wallow in his presence for a moment. When I do, I find peace and rest in the awareness that he is near. I am reminded of the two promises he made to Moses and claim them for my own.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

At the end of the day, regardless of what has transpired, may you find yourself pulling up the covers and smiling as you drift off to sleep with a single thought on your mind. “Lord, it has been a great day!”

This article was originally published in the September 2014 Newsletter.