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How to Follow Jesus' Example of Rest

How to Follow Jesus' Example of Rest

Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace


I’m a huge proponent of it, in theory. I see its value for other people. I just can’t seem to figure out how to do it myself.

What’s undone weighs heavily on me. I can’t escape the feeling I’m not doing enough. My to-do list looms before me daily.

Draft a blog post. Call a struggling friend. Write a thank you note. Schedule a doctor’s appointment. Work on a talk. Figure out how to use Evernote. Plan a graduation party. Purge the file cabinets. Finish the girls’ scrapbooks (from 10 years ago).

I’m ashamed to admit it, but a good day to me is defined by getting things accomplished on my list. Not the people I’ve touched. Not the time I’ve spent with God. Not the things I’ve learned. Just what I’ve done.

But what am I accomplishing with all my busyness?

I had been sitting with this question for months, when a friend mentioned Jesus’ rhythm of life. He changed the world in His three years of public ministry. Yet He also knew when to rest.

So I started looking at the life of Jesus, how He spent His days, as detailed in the Gospels.

Jesus never seemed hurried, though He was inundated by people with urgent needs. Much of the time He was surrounded by crowds, with barely enough time to catch His breath. Events happened quickly, tumbling one after the other. He went from preaching in a synagogue to casting out a demon to healing a sick friend to ministering to the whole city gathered at His door at sundown. And this was just one day! (Mark 1:21-34)

But after this one day, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

After ministering to others, and before pouring Himself out again, Jesus left everyone and spent time with God. This pattern is repeated throughout the Gospels.

After John the Baptist’s death, Jesus said to the disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31-32italics mine)

Jesus knew that when the disciples were physically and mentally exhausted, too busy even to attend to their own physical needs, it was time to withdraw and rest.

Jesus understood the importance of balance.  And so He incorporated rhythms of rest into His life. The Message translates Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I’ll show you how to take a real rest…watch how I do it.

Jesus doesn’t just offer rest. He shows us how to do it. It is necessity, not a luxury. An act of worship, not a sign of laziness.

In His earthly life, Jesus displayed many facets of rest. Spiritual rest. Physical rest. Mental rest.

First and foremost, Jesus modeled spiritual rest. He took time to be alone with God. This was the highest priority of His life as He knew He needed to hear God’s voice, understand God’s direction, and rest in God’s presence.

Spiritual rest is the type of rest I understand best. I see its importance. It requires discipline. And it looks godly. For a recovering Pharisee, that makes it easy.

But beyond that, I truly enjoy spending time with God alone. Whether it be in the early morning or for a few days on a silent retreat, I am renewed as I am quiet in the Lord’s presence. He knows my deepest needs. He fills me when I’m empty. He knows what is best for me. And it is only when I am still that I can hear His voice above the din of my life.

Jesus also modeled physical rest. He fell asleep in a boat with the disciples in the midst of a raging storm (Mark 4:35-41). Even when others frantically wanted His help, Jesus was willing to take a nap. He knew when His body needed physical rest and was unapologetic about taking it.

I too need physical rest, but I often feel almost ashamed of this need. I rarely nap. Sleep seems like a luxury in the middle of the day, even when I’m exhausted. It feels irresponsible. Even lazy. Sleeping in feels slothful as well, while pushing myself with little sleep almost earns a badge of honor.

But the truth is, denying myself physical rest is not a virtue. It is a form of pride. I’m impatient when I’m tired. I can’t enjoy what’s in front of me. I don’t treasure people. God is inviting me to care for and pay attention to the physical body that He has entrusted to me.

Lastly, Jesus modeled mental rest. He was unafraid to pull away and leave the crowds, even when they desperately wanted Him. He would get into a boat with the disciples and go to the other side, away from the multitudes. It was often in the midst of chaos, when people were clamoring for Him. But Jesus was clear on what God was calling Him to do, so other people’s pressing needs and their desire for His presence didn’t drive His activity.

Honestly, I constantly struggle with this type of rest. The urgent often drives my activity and I let others’ demands and felt needs determine what I do. Because in my mind, if I don’t do it, it won’t get done. It’s all up to me.

But in actuality, nothing is ultimately up to me. It’s all up to God. And He doesn’t need my exhausted, frenzied help to accomplish His purposes. He is inviting me to slow my pace, savor His gifts and enjoy the present moment without worrying about what’s not done. And as I do that, I make space for the things that are life-giving to me. I feel energized, creative, and open to new ideas. And my soul feels more at rest.

Jesus’ example is profoundly changing my idea of rest. I see the value of an unhurried heart and body. And how that impacts all aspects of my life.

Most of us are able to achieve at least one facet of rest. But few of us know how to embrace them all.

Yet God is calling all of us to fully rest in Him. To enjoy spiritual, physical and mental rest. When we do, we will recover our lives. And then we will learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I encourage you to ask the Lord what aspect of His rest you need to lean into this summer. I’m praying that you will find your abundant rest in Him.

This article originally appeared on DanceintheRain.com. Used with permission.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is passionate about helping others find hope and joy in the midst of suffering. Her story includes contracting polio as a child, losing an infant son unexpectedly, developing post-polio syndrome, and going through an unwanted divorce, all of which have forced her to deal with issues of loss. She and her husband, Joel, live in North Carolina and have four daughters between them. She is the author of the book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and is a regular contributor to Desiring God. She blogs at Dance in the Rain although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm.

Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com

Publication date: May 20, 2016