I have just returned from a sabbatical with my family and experienced a magnificent renewal in mind, body and rest in my soul in remarkable ways as never before.
A few things that God showed me during my time away were really helpful for me. Sleep experts say that human beings must experience rapid eye movement (REM) in order for your body to truly rest during a night’s sleep. I have reflected upon this and have come to realize that we all need “REM” of the soul on a regular basis to allow us to live a fruitful and joyous life that God desires and intends for us to live. We do not embrace rest for ourselves and just create short stints of rest and often times do not experience or feel rested. For instance, if we were to only take 7 or 8 one-hour naps in a 24 hour period, our body would not be rested because we would not experience REM sleep. In the same way, we need soul rest. It is true that we as western Christians have a hard time embracing and practicing Sabbath rest as we should. Whether on Sunday or a taking a season of rest (i.e., vacation) we still often emerge more restless and tired than when we began. Why is this? Perhaps it is because we are not creating space to allow our souls to rest in a way they were created to do. Soul rest is more than getting a lot of sleep and sunshine in a secluded destination.
What is soul rest? To me, it is allowing us to be free from the concern of what others think or expect from us and rest and reflect on the relentless love of Jesus Christ and His acceptance of us, despite the baggage and bruises we carry with us through life.
It is hard to escape the demands and expectations that others have on us. Our spouses, children, colleagues at the office, friends, or business associates all take from us. Perhaps sometimes our perception of other’s expectations is greater than the expectation that they truly have. At times, this is more of a burden we put on ourselves by our own insecurities. Further, technology hinders our ability to have soul rest when we can work anywhere and anytime we want with wireless capability to any mobile device.
Perhaps the greatest problem in allowing us to have deep soul rest is our constant demand of proving ourselves to others. If we are all honest, we care what others think of us and this creates anxiety and stress in ways that keep us from resting in God and experiencing deep rest of the soul.
When serenity is restored, new perspectives open to us and difficulty can begin to seem like an invitation to new growth and change. Jesus was a master at not allowing Himself to be stuck on the treadmill of stress but devoted time to allow His heart to be calmed by nature around Him and be awakened by the beauty of His father’s loving embrace and pursuit of Him. It makes anyone feel valued and loved when we are pursued by another person in a respectful and courteous way. Jesus is pursuing us more than we realize every day and being attentive and attuned to His pursuit is the challenge often times. But when we recognize this pursuit and then respond, transformation can occur.
Throughout each day, we should take time to stop, breathe deep, and still ourselves without distraction and noise to rest. We must embrace and experience a Sabbath day at least one day per week. Further, extended periods of time should be taken for several weeks to withdraw from our daily routine of work to find deep soul rest. The Sabbath was made for us as humans as a day of rest and refreshment for the body and of blessing to the soul. It comes from the Hebrew word, “shabbath”, meaning “to rest from labor”.
As you live out Sabbath soul rest on a daily and weekly basis, and even for an extended period of time, here are four reminders to reflect upon and think about:
1. Remember God Himself rested and created rest for our benefit and transformation. Jesus often took extended times away from the crowds to commune with his Father and experience soul rest.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:2-3)
2. Remember how God delivered you out of slavery to sin when you rest and give thanks for freedom in Christ.
God instructs Moses on Mt. Sinai and giving the ten commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Ex 20:8-9) He delivered the Israelites out of slavery and instructed them to remember the Sabbath and His provision for them.
3. Remember God is pleased with His work of making you for who you are.
God has created every person on Earth in His image and just as he said in Genesis after his creation, “He looked at what He created and saw that it was good.” In taking time to rest, reflect on how God is saying that about your life and future. He wants to empower and equip you to live your life with passion and abundance.
4. Remember that resting in Jesus Christ alone will bring true deep rest of the soul.
“The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus declared to the Pharisees in Luke 6:5. For Jesus it was not an issue of what you do or do not do on the Sabbath but are you free?
As J.S. Exell writes about what Jesus was saying in this passage, “We see from this narrative that Christ beholds the withered energies of the human soul with tender compassion. There is an intimate connection between the word of Christ and the restoration of the withered energies of the soul. The restoration of the withered energies of the soul is immediate, visible, and complete and the restoring of the withered energies of the soul can only be accomplished by Christ.”
May you experience deep soul rest in your journey of faith and life these coming days.