People who know me easily can describe me as a type “a”, hard working, go getter. I like to stay busy, tackle challenges, and get things done. Recently, however, I have been learning how to rest. I have become more interested in effectiveness than mere activity in my life. In the Kingdom of God, activity does not necessarily equal accomplishment.
See, God works when we rest and rests when we work. No, we aren’t talking about laziness or irresponsibility. In fact, when you learn to truly rest, you will see plenty of things to act on. Rather, we are talking about foundations from which we can become aligned with God’s movement. “Rest” is the foundation from which God works in and through your life. “Work” is the foundation from which God rests from working in and through your life. In many ways, it really is that simple.
Many Christians make “faithfulness” and idol and their efforts foundational to their sense of self and significance. They may never say it like that nor admit to this reality, but it is true. I know so, because I was one of them. As the saying goes, “It takes one to know one.” Like I once did, they enjoy and feel a drug-like rush enter into the veins of their soul when people praise them for how hard they work and how much they seem to accomplish. Busy-ness is their bong, puffing themselves up, literally. What they don’t realize is how much effectiveness and sustainability is leaking out of all their efforts.
It really is true, God rests when we work, and works when we rest. We find this kingdom truth in the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible.
Luke 10:38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feetlistening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The Marthas of our Christian culture (and world at large) love to pridefully declare that without their hard work, nothing would get done. Even to the point of suggesting that people like Mary never get anything done. They wrongly interpret that Mary’s aren’t productive, go getters, who like to make things happen. We truly are living in the age of the performance-driven Christian.
At the heart, I believe this passage is about an issue of foundation, and what Jesus is teaching is for us to live from a foundation of rest. It’s amazing how much God can do in and through us when we rest. It’s amazing how much can’t be done in and through us until we learn to rest.
In fact, the Bible says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Notice the order, it is God who firsts works (initiates, prompts) and then we act. Not, we work and then God acts. Rest means coming in tune with God’s working. When we work, we produce a static that blocks our spiritual senses to God’s working. We end up doing a lot of things that don’t contribute to His purposes but ours. When we rest, we become completely in sync with God’s working in and around our lives waiting for His prompting and power to act.
For example, recently I felt God’s prompting to create an online prospectus for the Church I am starting. We will be presenting our ministry to people as a kindgom opportunity to which God may be calling them to contribute financially, and a website version of our prospectus could be a useful tool. I began designing and working on the website paying specific attention to making sure I followed God’s promptings. In fact, any moments I felt a kind of stress and “uphill-ness” strike my spirit, I would make sure to take my hands off. I wasn’t adverse to working hard, but wanted to be aware of the difference between that and “hard work.” When you are moving in the Spirit of God, working hard is a strong possibility, but having something become “hard work” should cause us to evaluate whether or not we are in fact, “in the Spirit of God.” This is a key awareness and distinction.
Every time I felt a sense of unrest and stress to my acting to complete the website, I stopped, trusting God to be at work. Yet, soon after I was willing to stop, I found myself being energized to move forward. Things that would and should be difficult were free flowing and smooth. I finished it without stress nor fatigue in a short time.
What was most enlightening was when afterward I received a comment from a person who reviewed the online prospectus I created. His comment suggested that based on what was accomplished it seemed like I must have had to work extremely hard on it. For sure, the website is thorough, involved, and created with excellence, but it was God who was at work to enable me to will and act according to His plan. There was nothing really extreme about anything that came from me towards the creation of the site.
It really is true, when we rest, God works. When we work, God rests.
Here are a few practical things that rest may mean for you…
1) Listening to when you become stressed. Stress is a product of our acting where God is not working.
2) Following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If God has not put it in you to do with a tangible power to do it, it may not be from Him.
3) Moving at the speed of God- Yes, you can get ahead of God and behind God. Never act where God has pulled the power plug out or put on the brakes, and never not act where God has given you the power and the “pressing” to do so.
4) Listening when things become “uphill”- There is a key difference between working hard and hard working. Be willing to work hard but be skeptical of hard working.
Looking forward to your thoughts.