(Adapted from the book Rest: Experiencing God’s Peace in a Restless World by Dr. Siang-Yang Tan)
We are truly living in an age of anxiety. Anxiety has become the leading emotional problem of our day. Common responses to the questions, “How are you doing?” include: “I am really busy.” “I’m exhausted.” “There’s just too much to do.” “I’m tired. I need a vacation.” “I’m burned out.” “There’s too much going on.” “I’m so stressed out, I can’t keep up anymore!”
The buzzwords of our lives today are: Busyness. Stress. Overload. The demands of life have far outgrown the resources we have to meet them, leading to what has been termed, “The Overload Syndrome.” People are exhausted. People are stressed. People are overloaded. We need more time. We need more space. We need more reserves. We need more buffer.
Closely related to overwork and overload is our preoccupation with speed. In our embrace of speed, we are obsessed with efficiency and productivity. We are horrified at the thought of wasting any time. Bill Gates recently wrote a book entitled Business at the Speed of Thought. In trying to beat the clock, we walk faster, drive faster, work faster. But at a great cost. Levels of stress and anxiety are increased exponentially. Unrest is the result. Unrest is feeling fearful, anxious, panicked, scattered, harried, hurried, overwhelmed, exhausted, discontent, driven, stressed. It’s the opposite of what we most deeply long for: rest.
People are seeking rest today with a vengeance! They are doing things such as taking stress management classes, going on retreats, and trying hard to change their lifestyles so they can find some peace and rest again. Ironically, more and more people are stressed out trying to overcome stress. We try too hard to find rest, and the hard work of rest often leads to further unrest and restlessness. We need to have a deeper, more biblical understanding of rest and how to experience or enter into rest – God’s rest, in God’s way.
Rest can be described as a state of peace, contentment, serenity, refreshment, stillness, tranquility, or calm. The qualities of rest include: quietness of heart; a sober awareness of who we are and who God is; an ability to let go (and not try so hard, even at resting); an ability to enjoy leisure, nature, and things that do not involve performance; reflection; trust; an ability to live from our higher or true self -to determine our values and live by them, enjoying the moment, not living in the past or the future; breathing easily and deeply; waiting without impatience; not being impulsive or rash.
What is the difference between rest and leisure or amusement? Rest is found beyond leisure. It is God who instituted and commanded rest – true Sabbath rest – for humankind (see Ex 20:8-11; 34:21). He is also the first “rester” Himself (see Gen 2:2-3; Ex 31:17). This rest was not meant to be a luxury, but rather a necessity for those who want to have growth and maturity. Since we have not understood that rest is a necessity, we have perverted its meaning, substituting for the rest that God first demonstrated things called leisure or amusement. Leisure and amusement may be enjoyable, but they are to the private world of the individual like cotton candy to the digestive system. They provide momentary lift, but they will not last. The world and the church need genuinely rested Christians (and families): Those who are regularly refreshed by true Sabbath rest, not just leisure or time off. When godly rest is achieved, you will see just how tough and resilient Christians (and families) can actually be.
Taken from three main words that are used in the Old Testament to describe rest, we can conclude these terms paint us a rich and multifaceted picture. Rest involves something we do, something we experience and something God gives us. We see that we must regularly cease from our work and become still before God to gain a sense of tranquility and to loose the shackles of stress. God provides supernatural security and peace.
Also, we should not think of work versus rest but work and rest. God invented both at virtually the same time; they are meant to complement, not fight against each other. A godly life is a life of rest. A godly life is a life of work. Scripture places rest and work side by side and sees them both as good.
Despite our deep desire to experience true Sabbath rest, many of us, ironically, are afraid of rest. There may be various reasons. First, we may be addicted to the adrenaline rush of busyness. Second, we may be afraid of rest because we are fearful of facing our true state of being: our emptiness, our bad feelings, our painful memories. It is easier and more comfortable to keep busy, to keep going on without stopping to rest. Resting and reflecting may bring us face to face with painful inner feelings and struggles we would rather avoid or keep out of our consciousness. Third, we may be fearful of rest because we tend to define ourselves by what we produce or how we perform. We have a tendency to use external criteria of success to define our self-worth and the worth of our families. Many of us feel we must continue to produce, perform, excel, and keep up. We are afraid to slow down and rest because we may be left behind in our business, careers, and comparisons to others. Fourth, closely connected to the previous reason, many of us may feel that it’s all up to us to “make it” in life, believing that if we slow down or change, things will simply fall apart. Many of us are afraid of rest because we are afraid of losing speed, losing ground, and losing our lifestyles. Finally, we may be afraid of rest because we feel trapped in our ever-increasing cycle of activity and accelerated busyness. We can’t see a way out. The situation may appear so hopeless and helpless that we give up trying to rest at all. In fact, to stop and rest makes us feel more anxious about all the things we are leaving undone. We end up avoiding rest and trying to do even more in the time-starved days of our lives.
We continue to suffer from the disease of “hurry sickness.” As has been written, “hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well.” “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.” The enemy of our souls knows full well how hurry sickness or unrest can ultimately destroy us. He will do his best to keep us from God’s rest. He entices us to drive ourselves onward, create ever more activity, fill our emptiness with external stimuli to avoid the disquiet in our soul. Consequently, we often clutch at people and things that keep us engaged in the cycle of a hurried and harried life.
There are four aspects of rest that are necessary to understand:
Physical: Many of us suffer today from heart disease as well as other stress-related illnesses, including addictions, panic attacks, exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, muscle tension, and high blood pressure. Such physical suffering often stems from our inability to manage our lives and to learn how to rest.
Physical rest includes time for leisure and sleep, especially taking a Sabbath day off each week and sleeping at least eight hours a night. It also involves good nutrition, regular exercise, and practicing at least one good relaxation technique as part of stress management. We protect our physical rest by refusing to overwork and making sure we have enough of a time buffer.
Emotional: Many of us feel as if we can’t keep up with the demands and stresses of our lives. The results often include depression, anxiety, panic, fear, confusion, and feeling trapped or overwhelmed.
Emotional rest means experiencing peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment, serenity, and refreshment instead of anxiety, fear, panic, tension, discontent, depression, exhaustion, and fatigue. Intellectual or mental rest is part of emotional rest. If our minds are at rest, our emotions can relax. Emotional rest also comes from spiritual rest.
Relational: Many of us experience “restless relationships” or “fractured relationships.” Whether in the home, church, school, workplace, or the larger community of which we are a part, the presence of unresolved conflicts, broken relationships, misunderstanding, contention, bitterness, strife, and especially an unforgiving spirit can cause much unrest and pain.
Relational rest can be found in the context of our caring and loving relationships with other people. Such relationships don’t work without a heart of love and a soul that is experiencing some level of spiritual and emotional peace deep within. Our spiritual, emotional, and physical rest are all deepened when we receive the gifts of loving and caring relationships in a family of people who believe in Jesus Christ.
Spiritual: Many of us find it difficult to trust God, to hear His voice, to sense His presence. God seems far away, and the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. We may have an exaggerated sense of self, leading us t believe it is up to us alone to free ourselves from this burden. We may go through the motions of trusting in God but do not reap the rewards or blessing.
Spiritual rest is by far the most crucial type of rest, although many of us miss it. We need rest from our guilt, doubt, confusion, emptiness, dryness, and despair. We long for the peace of God that transcends all understanding (see Phil 4:7). Such supernatural peace comes when we learn to pray with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6) and to cast all our cares or anxiety upon Him because He cares for us (I Pet 5:7). The writer of the book of Hebrews specifically deals with spiritual rest – God’s rest – in Hebrews 4:1: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” The promise of entering into or experiencing God’s rest – true spiritual rest in Him – is still true for the people of God. God’s rest is available today to those of us who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and receive His rest by faith (Heb 4:2-3). We can still enter into His rest experientially now by maintaining an active faith relationship with the One who invented rest in the first place.
F. B. Meyers called the theme in Hebrews 4 the Gospel of Rest:
When we once learn to live by faith, believing that our Father loves us, and will not forget or forsake us, but is pledged to supply all our needs; when we acquire the holy habit of talking to Him about all, and handing all over to Him, at the moment that the tiniest shadow is cast upon the soul; when we accept insult, and annoyance, and interruption, coming to us from whatever quarter as being His permission, and therefore, as part of His dear will for us – then we have learned the secret of the Gospel of Rest.