I recently experienced a few months of physical incapacity due to a mysterious condition that caused sudden blood pressure drops, chest pains, dizziness and faintness. After visiting many doctors and having many tests run, I was still no closer to knowing the cause of my illness; in fact, every test proved that I was very healthy. And yet every day, about two hours after I got out of bed, I would suddenly have to sit down to prevent myself from keeling over, and then would fight exhaustion and dizziness for the rest of the day.
I am no stranger to dealing with a mysterious, debilitating condition. Three years ago I was healed after suffering for 25 years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. That’s a story for another post, but at least when these episodes started, I knew how to deal with living with a limit. I asked for prayer. I dropped out of all but essential activities. I cut down on caffeine. I exercised gently. I asked for more prayer. I took vitamins. I made sure I got enough sleep. I drank plenty of water. I ate right. This all helped, because anyone can benefit from doing good things for their body, but the episodes didn’t go away. The doctors kept scratching their heads; to their credit, they all agreed that there was something wrong and didn’t write me off as a hypochondriac. They just couldn’t figure out what it was.
In the middle of this trial, one phrase kept coming to me. It got to the point that any time I asked for prayer, I pretty much expected it to come out of the mouth of the person praying. That phrase was “Rest in Me.” So I started searching the Scriptures for passages about rest. The first one I came to was in the Psalms:
“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. … My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest– I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” Psalm 55:1, 6-8 (NIV)
That passage completely expressed the condition of my heart. I felt that if I could just go find a retreat center somewhere in the desert and stay there for a month, I would get better. I yearned for that rest with all of my being. With four kids to homeschool, I knew it was an impossibility, but I yearned for it just the same. It took a few days of mulling over that passage, of crying out to the Lord, “Yes, Lord! This is what I feel!” before I realized that this passage did not describe God’s idea of rest. This was man’s idea of rest — to escape the storm, to hide out somewhere and ride it out until it was over. To take a vacation.
God’s idea of rest is different from that.
Verse 22 of the same Psalm says “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” His rest is a sustaining rest. His rest does not require us to escape the storm; it’s a rest that comes in the middle of the storm. Psalm 23:5 says “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” It says nothing about the enemies going away. The sustaining help comes in the very presence of the enemies. I picture a table set with white linen and fine china in the middle of a battlefield. God doesn’t need to pull you out of the battle to sustain you — He can do it right there.
“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”(Isaiah 30:15 NIV). God wants us to enter His rest. He provided for it in His law, giving it prominence as one of the Ten Commandments, and He has promised to give it to us when we take on His yoke: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30 NIV)
The Israelites who were led out of Egypt missed entering His rest because they were afraid to cross over the Jordan and take possession of the land He had promised them; they were afraid of the giants. They trusted their own appraisal of the situation more than they trusted the God who had led them thus far.
We are no better, missing His rest because we refuse to trust Him with the giants in our own lives. We obey nine out of ten commandments, ignoring the one about the Sabbath in the name of “living under grace instead of the law.” (Taking that train of thought to its logical conclusion, living under grace must also mean it’s also okay to murder, covet, lie and worship idols.) Which is bad enough, disobeying God’s commandment, but the truth is it just doesn’t work. When we do not trust God to be our portion, thinking it is so important that we accomplish all the tasks to which we set our hands and not believing there is any other way to do it than to “rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2 ESV), we get so burned out we no longer have even adrenaline to fall back upon. We begin at that point to look for rest, only to find that we have scheduled it out of our lives.
The truth is, if the yoke you are carrying is that heavy, it can’t possibly be the one God has given you. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. You must be carrying someone else’s yoke. You must be fighting your own battles instead of stepping out of the way and allowing God to fight them as He had intended all along. You are missing His rest, and that has far worse consequences than we like to consider in the “grace-living, blinkers on, don’t tell me what the Word says because I’m doing my Christianity according to what is socially correct” mindset we so easily slip into. Missing His rest is a point of disobedience. An entire generation of Israelites died in the desert because they refused to take His rest. God is not shrugging and smiling indulgently when He watches us plow our lives into the ground, saying, “Oh yes, well, you should slow down a little there.” He is standing in our path, grabbing our faces in His hands, looking into our eyes and saying, “I can’t do what I want to do through you until you change the way you are living.”
Did you hear that?
I can’t do what I want to do through you until you change the way you are living.
It may not be WHAT we are doing that is the problem. It’s the way we are doing it, the attitude that it’s all up to me, that I should jump first and ask for direction later.
The second generation of desert-roaming Israelites learned, when they finally did enter the Promised Land, that God was fighting the battles. They just had to show up. Sometimes they didn’t even have to draw their swords. They learned that their salvation was in repentance and rest, that their strength was in quietness and trust.
The end of my own story is that after three months of enforced rest, I began to understand that I needed to change my attitude. I realized that I needed to take my fingers out of all the pies and let others take care of some things. I stopped volunteering for things simply because I was able to fill the position. Instead, I asked the Lord each day to show me what He was doing and what part He wanted me to play in it. Sometimes He told me His Kingdom lay in doing the laundry. Sometimes He “hijacked” my day and brought people to my house unexpectedly, sent me on missions of mercy or set up divine appointments for conversations where I would find myself telling a person the very thing they needed to hear.
I also began to schedule the Sabbath back into my life. It wasn’t a legalistic, sundown-on-Friday to sundown-on-Saturday, get the neighbors to come turn the lights on for me kind of a Sabbath. That’s where the living under grace comes into play; not in whether I bother to keep the Sabbath, but in how uptight I get about the details. Some weeks it was on a Saturday, some weeks it was on a Sunday, depending on ministry, activities and family schedules. But each week I would consciously put aside the day not just to take a break, but to worship, study the Word, enjoy the life He has given me and fellowship with His people. It began to occur to me that I could attend church each week, but if my heart and mind were not engaged before I got there, and if I did not carry home with me the things He had spoken through the pastor, I was not keeping the Sabbath at all. I was merely putting on a show.
And then one Sunday, after experiencing another episode as soon as I stood up to worship at church, I went to the prayer room and asked a pastor for prayer, not just for my health, but for a change in attitude, a letting go of the old way of doing things where the only time I gave myself permission to rest was when my feet were swept out from under me by illness.
And that was the end of that. The doctors are still scratching their heads, or perhaps heaving a sigh of relief that this is one mystery illness they don’t have to figure out.
And I am entering into His rest.