Rest Easy?

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Deuteronomy 9:23-10:5, Hebrews 4:1-10, John 3:16-21


Rest requires a lot of work.

In the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, the evangelist compares the rest that waits for us in God’s presence to the rest experienced on the Sabbath. A first-century Jewish audience would have thought of a Sabbath very differently than we modern Christians think of a traditional Sunday. The command to honor the Sabbath was not merely a suggestion to take it easy – it was a command (actually a whole lot of them) about exactly what could and could not be done. Because so many types of activities were explicitly and implicitly forbidden, lots of things – such as meals, stove fires, and candles – had to be in place before sundown on Friday. Without proper preparation, one would spend the Sabbath hungry, cold, and in the dark.

That’s the difference between idleness and rest. Idleness is inactivity when and where there should be activity. Idleness now can actually make it almost impossible to rest comfortably later. Proper rest re-energizes our bodies, fuels our creativity, and focuses our spirits. When we don’t prepare time and space for such rest – when mundane demands creep into the space and gobble up the time – we end up more tired than when we began.

Just because we aren’t toiling doesn’t mean we’re resting; vacations can be exhausting! And rest isn’t necessarily unproductive. Jews observing the Sabbath can share festive meals together, take walks, read, sing, pray, play games, and make love. Each of our lists of restful activities may vary, but we still need to be intentional about them: cramming them into random spare moments reduces their benefit.

The author of Hebrews suggests that if we want to enter eternal rest with God, we ought to be preparing now. There’s no set checklist to accomplish before the time comes, nor a minimum number of brownie points to acquire. Through grace is given freely, the choices we make now prepare us to better receive it. Let’s prepare so as not to leave any unfinished business, any nagging worldly concerns, when that day of rest is finally offered to us.

Comfort: You are allowed to rest.

Challenge: Be deliberate about your periods of rest. Mark specific times/daysRest  for it on your calendar.

Prayer: Loving God, I look forward to the day when I rest in your presence. Amen.

Discussion: Are you able to rest/relax? If so, how? If not, why?

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Reset

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Leviticus 25:1-17, James 1:2-8, 16-18, Luke 12:13-21


If you know anything about agriculture, you probably know “fallow” earth is ground that has not been seeded for at least one growing season, for the purpose of letting the land recover moisture and reduce disease. In Leviticus, God commands the Jews to observe a Sabbath for the land, leaving it fallow one year of every seven.

God also commanded a Jubilee observation every fiftieth year. During this Jubilee year, debts were forgiven, property was restored, and slaves were returned to their families. The nation did not sow or reap, but lived off what the land produced on its own.

Every seven days a Sabbath. Every seven years a fallow year. Every seven times seven years a Jubilee. God’s command for rest was echoed and magnified in this pattern.

Fallow years have mostly been replaced by crop rotation. For varied theological and cultural reasons, the Jubilee year does not have a modern equivalent, even among the Jewish people. That sense of extended rest and replenishment has been all but lost.  While some professions such as ministry and academia allow for extended sabbaticals at regular intervals, and such periods are a relief from regular work, they often carry expectations of a different sort of productivity.

Inspired by Leviticus, the Roman Catholic church has developed a tradition of 25-year Jubilee celebrations for forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin. These Jubilees bring many people into reconciliation with the church.

Perhaps an advantage to not following the Jubilee schedule of Leviticus is the freedom to schedule our own. Keeping track of the financial, personal, and/or spiritual debts owed to us may be exhausting, so maybe we should consider scheduling one to begin soon. If it seems unfair to simply forgive such debt, ask whether holding onto it really serves your relationship with God or your neighbor. A Jubilee relieves us of the burden of having to work ourselves up to a state of forgiveness by giving our egos permission to unclench. God has given us an opportunity to “reset” our lives; let’s find a season to be fallow and forgiving.

Comfort: It’s ok to rest. God desires it for us.

Challenge: Forgive someone a spiritual or financial debt. Try to think of it as also relieving a burden from yourself.

Prayer: God of renewal, thank you for the new life offered to me through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Discussion: Where in your life do you most need a reset? How could you arrange for that to happen?

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Give It A Rest

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Exodus 16:23-36, 1 Peter 3:13-4:6, John 16:1-15


The first Sabbath (except maybe for the day God rested) occurred shortly after the Israelites fled Egypt. The people began to complain because they were thirsty, so God provided water. They complained because they were hungry, so God provided manna on the ground each morning. They complained because they weren’t eating meat, so God sent quail in the evenings. All that complaining was a lot of work. Moses told the people that on the sixth day of the week, God would provide twice as much food as normal so they could rest on the seventh day; no one was to go looking for food. Of course some people went looking, so God asked Moses: “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions?”

We might cluck at the disobedient nature of the Israelites, but these were a people traumatized by centuries of oppression. They barely knew God and had not yet learned to trust Him again, so each step toward freedom seemed to be a step toward annihilation. Over the next forty years of wandering, the Sabbath became essential to their national and religious identity. For Jews a Sabbath is more than a day of rest – it is a day of holiness set apart from ordinary days. Christians have mostly lost that sense of Sabbath holiness. We may go to church, but we also prepare family dinners, mow the lawn, and crowd the mall. For many, Sunday is a day to accomplish tasks left undone earlier in the week. Businesses cater to our demand for convenient hours, but “convenience” has robbed us of any excuse to rest.

Paradoxically, preparing for a day of rest and holiness is hard work. It requires planning and little extra push just as we are hoping to wind down for the weekend. But what value might we find in actually observing a Sabbath? Is there anyone who couldn’t use more rest? Imagine how our lives might change if once a week we devoted an entire day to re-energizing our relationship to God and the world. Jesus observed the Sabbath. Maybe we should consider it.

Comfort: The Sabbath does not exist to deny people, but to replenish them.

Challenge: Create space in your life for a Sabbath.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the gift of rest. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think would be most likely to distract you from a Sabbath? What benefits might you find?

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Just five more minutes, Jesus…

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, 1 Kings 5:1-6:1, 6:7, Acts 28:1-16, Mark 14:27-42


Are you a fan of the snooze button? Do you crave those precious extra minutes under the covers after the alarm goes off? Or maybe you are the snooze alarm when your children or spouse make it your responsibility to get them moving by asking for “just five more minutes.” Perhaps you belong to that increasingly rare breed who wake up refreshed and – miracle of miracles – don’t need an alarm.

Whatever your situation, research shows that using the snooze alarm leaves you feeling less rested. Once you’ve been jolted awake, the sleep cycle doesn’t continue, it reboots.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and John did some notorious snoozing. As Jesus remained resigned to God’s will but prayed desperately that the cup of the crucifixion might pass him by, his friends couldn’t manage to stay awake. Three times he woke them, and they didn’t know what to say to him.

Only hours earlier he had predicted that in the hour of his death they would desert him, and Peter declared “Not me!” Yet even in this matter of sleep the disciple’s weak flesh overrode his willing spirit, a foreshadowing of the greater desertion to come. Jesus, fatigued and frightened, had to rouse them to accompany him in his last moments of freedom.

The trick to avoiding the snooze button is to develop healthy sleep patterns. If you don’t have them, you have to work at retraining your body and mind – or flesh and spirit, if you will. Developing healthy spiritual patterns can be similar. If we don’t have them, when life’s alarms go off – alarms like death, illness, betrayal, and tragedy – leaning  on faith may seem more an effort than a comfort.

Despite Christ’s warnings, Peter wasn’t ready in the garden. He wasn’t ready at the crucifixion. But after Christ returned from death? Reboot. His flesh and spirit finally knew true rest in the embrace of Christ. We too can find that strength-building rest if our faith is not merely a series of reactions to alarms, but a healthy, regular pattern of renewal that helps us stay spiritually awake.


Comfort: You can find rest in Christ. 

Challenge: Read this article on improving your sleep, and see if you can make any changes that might help.

Prayer: Merciful God, let me rest in your arms and find strength for my days. Amen. 

Discussion: Do you get all the sleep you need? Why or why not?

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Take Time for Renewal

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Joshua 3:14-4:7, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 26:1-16


Like all relationships, our relationship with Christ needs tending. We can become so focused on doing the work we feel Christ calls us to do, that we neglect the source of that call. Our periods of relationship-building may not always look productive to others, but in the long run they renew us for continued service. In today’s reading from Matthew, Judas chastises a woman for pouring an extravagant amount of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, and complains it could have been sold to feed the poor. Jesus tells Judas the poor will always be around, but he would only be with them a little longer. The woman’s action was a needed moment of preparation for both her and Jesus. Relentlessly monitoring each “unproductive” moment and “wasted” penny does not bring us closer to Christ, but it does bring us closer to burnout.

Isn’t a conscious effort at restoration and renewal – be it physical or spiritual – a form of gratitude to God? If we used a car only in the service of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, it would still need regular maintenance. Otherwise it would break down too soon and be good for nothing. Yet we are often willing to risk letting our own engines seize rather than take the time for self-care. Do we believe God wants us to drive ourselves non-stop only to be junked before our time? Of course not. Our physical, mental and spiritual health are gifts from God. Gratitude includes caring for them as they deserve.

The sad truth is, the poor (and the sick, and the imprisoned) always will be around, at least until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. The work is never ending, but our endurance isn’t. Even Jesus needed and sought periods of solitude and rest – why would we expect more of ourselves? The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a drunkard and a glutton. Yet we are often afraid of the criticism we might receive for saying “no” to a request for our time or talents. We answer only to God, and God knows we could use a break.

Comfort: You can rest without guilt.

Challenge: Look at your weekly and monthly schedules. Is there anything you could let go in order to find more time to rest in the presence of God?

Prayer: God of Renewal, thank you for the talents you have given me to serve your people, and the time you have given me to spend with you. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have trouble saying “No?” Why?

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Peace as Preparation

Today’s readings: Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Zechariah 4:1-14, Revelation 4:9-5:5, Matthew 25:1-13

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In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus relates a parable about ten bridesmaids – five foolish and five wise. They all take lamps to meet the bridegroom, but only the wise ones take supplies to keep the lamps burning when the bridegroom is delayed. The foolish bridesmaids ask the other for oil, but the wise ones are wise enough to say no because they’d all be unprepared. The foolish bridesmaids leave to buy oil and return to find the bridegroom and wise bridesmaids have left them behind.

It’s not difficult to imagine the foolish bridesmaids thought of themselves as unlucky, or victims of the wise bridesmaids’ stingy nature. Very often what we call poor luck or unfairness is our own lack of preparation. How do we properly prepare for the kingdom of God?

By not giving away more oil than we can spare. That doesn’t mean a lack of generosity; we should be generous of spirit and wallet. The oil we need to keep topped off is the energy to stay vigilant for the presence of Christ in the world. Many things conspire to steal this energy if we allow them: demanding jobs,  busy social schedules, housekeeping, and so on. None of these things is inherently problematic – they are  mostly good! – but neither is any of them our true purpose. If we don’t learn to say “no more oil for you, foolish bridesmaid” the energy left over for worship, charity, and our relationship with God can quickly dwindle to nothing. And by the way, if we think of those as “left overs” the reserves are already below acceptable levels. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Preparation means laying the groundwork for our whole lives, not just our spare time, to serve God. When we carefully steward our resources, we have enough energy to seek Christ and our peace in him. We must fill and refill our own lamps through prayer, service, rest, and worship.The wise will not save us from ourselves. Have you checked your oil lately? Tomorrow could be too late.

Comfort: It’s okay to do less so you can be more.

Challenge: Take an inventory of your obligations and eliminate the ones that drain your oil.