It’s summer. I’ve been on holiday. It has been great.
I’ve visited friends, family, the beach, the hills, towns and villages, all in the name of my (now) good friend, rest. I’ve acquainted myself so wholeheartedly with this friend that, in fact, (and I hope), I have found a new perspective.
You see, I am aware, and have been for a time, that I find it hard to rest. Before I took my leave for the Pembrokeshire hills three weeks ago, I was far from at peace. I had worked a tireless 10 month rugby season with only sporadic breaks. I was worn out – fed up with the daily rigmarole. Even the free days I had were spent finding tasks to complete or burying my head in a serious and complex commentary on the book of Romans. I couldn’t sit still – unless asleep – and that was a challenge in itself.
“Woe to you!!” I hear you cry! Well, yes, somewhat. But really, my view of rest wasn’t high enough on my agenda. I hadn’t grasped the secret of the Sabbath, or even considered I should observe it. My opinion was always that Sabbath keeping was for the Old Testament guys, not for those of the 21st century. God knows we have different lives now, doesn’t he? He knows that we live in big cities and can’t afford to kick back all the time, life is busy, fast-paced and travel takes great bites out of our leisure-time; there just aren’t enough hours in the day…
Disagree? I do.
I am challenged to think more seriously about rest, and to treat it kindly, rather than to dismiss it as simply a practice of the lazy. In this immediate-age, being busy is something of which to boast. It’s the life of success and, dare I say it, power. If you’re busy, you’re usually in demand, and that means you’re worth something, and that makes you more in demand and so on. Anyway, I understand that life has peaks and troughs of quietness and rush, but I believe in those busy times, we can still know the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ by observing his teaching.
Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2v27 NLT)
A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to a Christian retreat up on a hill in Pembrokeshire – the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, we discovered that our mobile telephones were useless. No signal, no wifi, nope, not even a smidgen of connectivity. Initially, I was a little put out, but after an hour or two, I submitted to my situation: “I’ll roll with this” I thought. “Perhaps it will be a good exercise.”
Not having the distraction of my smart phone during that particular weekend was possibly the biggest blessing I received. The entire reason for embarking on the 6 hour journey to Pembrokeshire (yes, we drove at the speed limit and stopped often), was to spend some quality time with God. I wanted to be present with him and seek him with all my heart, and removing my link with the rest of the world, with Facebook, emails, whatsapp and the like, gave me that blessed opportunity. Oh the peace I knew. I can’t remember a time when I have been so tranquil in soul. So calm and quiet, eager to enjoy the time on my hands. I would sit in the little chapel on site, pray and wait. I wasn’t waiting for the thing to do next, the exciting answer to my prayers, or even for God to speak to me. I was just still, ever present in his presence.
Of course, our God being the kind God that he is, spoke abundantly to me. In fact, when I left, I felt as though I had learnt more in those few days in his presence than I would at a week-long conference. He really is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
As we embarked on the journey home. and as my phone picked up signal, I locked it in the glove box! I heard it pinging and pining for my attention, but I was adamant I would hold onto Jesus’ peace for as long as I could. I wanted to savour the moment, live in the now, enjoy every second. By switching off my distractions and tuning in to God, I realised what it means to lie down in green pastures, to be lead by still waters and to have my soul restored by the one and only God.
So what happened next? Well, in reality I flew to France, ate good food, drank good wine and mostly went to the beach, but, eventually one returned to work and to the responsibilities of life. The challenge then became how to continue enjoying God’s peace amidst the ‘stress’.
I can’t say I’ve mastered it, I’m on a journey into the rest of God. However, restoring a proper Sabbath into my week has so far granted me better replenishment and more of life in the fullness. The difference in my mood, my energy and my hope in God is incredible. Jesus said that the Sabbath was to fulfill a need in us, not to tick off the requirements of God. Jesus often withdrew to lonely/desolate places and prayed (Luke 5:16) and I want to follow his lead. Try it? Why not, I challenge you. Set aside time to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46v10) this week. And let’s just, well, taste and see.