In Praise of Rest

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Rest is a dirty word in our society these days. Self-care? Sure. Hobbies? Of course. Retreats? Why not. But rest? What are you, old or lazy? In the era of smart phones, instant messaging, and constant access the email the idea of “doing nothing” seems if not wrong, at least foreign.

But the thing is when you are resting, you are doing something. You are recovering and recharging and I think most importantly you are breaking routine. And you are doing something very biblical. Of course God rested on the 7th day (Gen 2:2), the Sabbath was commanded for Israel (Ex 20:8-11) and Jesus said the sabbath was decreed for the benefit of man (Mark 2:23-28). But I’m not a Sabbatarian; I do think there is tremendous wisdom in taking a weekly rest, but I don’t think it is commanded for New Testament believers. (In fact one of the greatest blights on humanity, baked beans, is a direct result of misguided sabatarianism. Really, look it up.)

But for me none of that is as compelling as when Jesus told the disciples to go get some rest.  They had just returned from when Jesus had sent them out two by two to proclaim the Kingdom. And He knew He was about to feed the five thousand. And Mark 6 tells us how Jesus greeted them.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” – Mark 6:30-31a

Rest is biblical. Period. Recently I was blessed to take a week off. Off, off. My wife and I spent a week in a guest cabin on a maple syrup farm in the highest and least populated county in Virginia. Other than a ½ fly fishing with a guide (that my wife gave me as an anniversary present) I did what those without a biblical understanding of rest as nothing. All week long.

I slept late (for me), I made and ate breakfast with my wife. And then settled in for a long day of reading and drinking coffee on the porch.  Sometime between 11:00 & 2:00 (depending on the weather) I made the taxing decision to switch from hot to iced coffee, but by and large I sat and read, occasionally pausing to gaze at or listen to the stream burbling by the cabin.

And the reading wasn’t heavy or deep, in fact it was mostly light fiction. I read a Clive Cussler adventure, a Louis L’Amour western, and part of a collection of essays about fly fishing by Thomas McGuane. And truth be told I found McGuane a little too demanding for vacation (I’m looking forward to digging in on my next day off though).

And here is the thing, this past Sunday was the first Sunday I preached since I returned and many people told me afterward told me it was clear that I and my preaching had greatly benefitted, including someone who said the sermon I preached the day before I left was one of the top 5 sermons he had ever heard.  While I tend to (or at least try to) take preaching atta’ boys with a huge grain of salt, when my wife tells me the same thing, I listen.

So I thought about it, I thought about how I benefitted from this time of rest, and I came up with a list, and I want to share a few of those items with you.

I cleared my mental cache

Most of what I do as a pastor is studying, reading and otherwise consuming information. A lot of information. As I look around my u-shaped desk I see a couple of hymnals, 3 heavy theology books, a church history book, 2 books on preaching, a book on pastoral ministry, a couple of books that I’m working through to help with counseling cases, the book I’m going through with two perspective elders, the new issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, a bad book I’m reading because it is popular in  wider evangelicalism and I want to be equipped to answer any questions I might get about it, and the latest message of the moth CD from Ligonier Ministries not to mention the commentaries I use in sermon prep. There is a reason I call it a study and not an office. 

There is a lot of information both going into and rattling around in my head. A week without any additional input helped me. I’m sure that I forgot some things, but those were likely things I didn’t need to remember. I feel sharper and more organized in my thinking.

I relaxed

I relaxed, not in the sense of taking it easy (although I certainly did) but in the sense of an easing of my everyday concerns. I’m someone who thinks about and does a lot of things. And even though all of those things (I hope) are good things the net effect over a period of time is that I get into a state of perpetually doing or thinking or thinking about doing something. Have you ever spent a day riding in a truck with an uncarpeted floor (like a moving truck) and when you stop and get out you can still feel the vibrations in your feet? I can kind of be like that.

There is a saying that comes to us from the world of watchmaking; it is so common and the world of mechanical watches is so remote to most of us that we have lost the original idea, but I think it is important and we need to recover it; the saying is “unwind.” The idea was that it was beneficial to allow a watch to stop occasionally, when the watch was allowed to unwind, that is to completely run through its power reserve, the mainspring was detensioned and allowed to “rest.”  And that occasional detentioning increased the longevity of the movement and helped to preserve the accuracy of the watch. We all need to unwind sometimes. And for the same reasons watches need to.

We misuse this term when we ask “what do you do to unwind?” Let me explain. When that question is asked what is really meant is “what hobbies do you enjoy?” And that is not the same thing. Even though I rarely get to do it any more it was a real treat to go fly fishing and the treat was heightened by the extravagance of having a guide. He picked my flies, tied them on, found likely haunts of fish, even helped me to avoid particularly soupy streamside mud. All I had to think about was what type of cast to make, what was in my back cast, the drift of the fly, watching the fly and for fish flashing to it, and being alert for an unseen take (not to mention why I could no longer single, let alone double haul). You get the idea; I loved every second of it, but I wasn’t at rest either physically or mentally. When I sat on the porch on the other hand, I was truly and completely at rest.

My sense of wonder was renewed

I have the unbelievable privilege of week in and week out deeply studying God’s Word. I probably spend an average, between prep for Sunday’s sermon, midweek Bible study and the men’s morning study, of about 50 hours a week in study. If today is a typical Wednesday, I’ll wrap up preparing for tonight’s New Testament survey, Prepare for tomorrow morning’s Old Testament Survey and translate the passage I’m Preaching this week. That is all remarkable stuff. And even though it is a typical Wednesday, it should never be a mundane Wednesday.

Sunday morning comes every week, so does Wednesday night, and the Morning Study comes twice a month like clockwork. Preparation is a glorious burden, it is something I get to do every week. Occasional rest helps me to keep the accent on glorious, and keeps me from allowing it to slide toward burden.

There is an awful lot more I could share, but these are a few highlights. And the thing is it is not just me who benefits from my having rested, I’m better for my wife, the church I serve and most importantly the God I seek to glorify. Your situation and vocation may be different from mine, but whatever it is you likely have daily cares and routines, and we all need an occasional break from those things. Take some friendly advice, get some rest.

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John Chester

About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.