An invitation to rest this year
Well, here we all are, starting a new year once again; so much potential; so many possibilities; so many unknowns await us. There may be challenges and pain, joy and wonder, laughter and tears, but whatever it includes, it will all be this thing we call “life”. No doubt there are many hopes and dreams for this year; much that we are to work hard for and to give ourselves to. Probably this will include lots of time and energy and it will probably have some intensely busy times; times where we feel like we are just trying to keep up, to stay afloat in all of life’s busyness. So right at the start of this year I want to give you an invitation to rest: real rest!
“Rest”- what a beautiful word. Just sounding this word seems to cause me to take a deep breath, to slow down; it is something so sweet, so longed for, and when you experience its presence it seems so precious, so healthy, so life-giving. But how do we get this rest, a rest that deeply satisfies, that brings restoration? It seems so often that it is the very thing that we truly need and yet can so easily slip away and evade us. How do we find it in the busyness of life?
Jesus said these words, “…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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
This rest is found in Jesus
You want to know where this rest is found? How to get a hold of it; a rest that deeply satisfies? So often we think that if we can just make it to our next holiday or even our next day off, we will get the rest we need. Yet, these words make clear that it is found in one place, or rather in one person: in Jesus, the one who says “Come to me…”. He is the place where we find this rest; he is the person who gives this rest. It is not for everyone, but for those who know they need it, those who are heavy- laden, for those who don’t have their lives all together, but know they need help to live the way they should. And it is for those (as the words in Matthew before this makes clear) who are like “little children”, meaning the ones who come to him just like a little child; dependant on their parent for food and shelter, love and warmth. Any who come to him, know that they don’t have their lives all together but desperately need him; these are the ones whom this rest is for.
This rest is in knowing God
In the words just before those, Jesus says that he is the one who reveals the Father to those to whom he chooses to reveal him. Then he says “Come to me…” He is the one who perfectly shows us what the Father is like, and when we get with Jesus he helps us to know God. There is an open invitation! And when we know what God is like, we find this is the very rest we need. It is like someone who has been anxious over a large debt that they had to pay, and then they get a notice to say that there was a mistake and there is no debt outstanding… that knowledge would bring such relief, such peace, and such rest. Well, in the same way, when we get together with Jesus and he reveals what God is really like (not what we thought he was like, but what he is really like) it brings rest to our souls; it is the rest so needed. So this rest is not just a feeling, but comes from knowing a person.
This rest is walking with Jesus
Jesus invites us to walk with him; to work with him; to learn from him. This is not a rest that comes from having nothing to do, or not having to answer to anyone, but is found in no other direction than in going his way. He invites us to come into ‘the yoke’ with him. Jesus is using a farming picture, like two oxen harnessed together, to walk with him as our leader. It will require us to yield to him, to surrender to him, in order to go his way rather than ours. And yet he says that this ‘yoke’ is easy and his burden is light. He actually says that in this process of being joined with him, giving our lives to him, that it is here that we find rest for our souls. But why should we trust him with our lives? Why should we give ourselves to him? Because he is truly good, he is gentle and lowly in heart, he is the one who knows how to care for us perfectly.
This rest leads to restoration
This kind of rest, this real rest, leads to restoration. Jesus is the one who showed us how to rest perfectly. He is the one who walked on the water in perfect peace in the midst of a raging storm. He knew what it was to find his rest in the Father. He lived perfectly at rest. In the next chapter of Matthew, he is accused by the religious people of the day, of not taking his rest on the Sabbath, but instead healing a man’s withered hand. He healed him completely; in fact, it says that the man’s hand was “restored”. This perfect kind of rest, in doing the Father’s work, leads to restoration: the restoration of our lives, as we see what God is really like; and the restoration of others as we let his life work through us.
So at the beginning of this new year we all have an invitation: an invitation of rest. It is found in coming to Jesus. Take time aside, open the book, talk to him, get with people who know and love him and experience the kind of rest that only he can bring. May we all have a truly rest- filled 2017.