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Rest for the Storms of Life

The following is the intro to a class Rick Hunt is writing relating to spiritual rest.  We thought it might be helpful to the congregation amid the current crisis.

Rest for the Storms of Life

By Rick Hunt

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Rest testifies to the depth of our relationship with Christ more effectively than works, evangelism, hardship, or even martyrdom; and yet, unlike those activities, rest is harder to define.  Rest is not an activity as such, but a heart condition reflecting our total surrender to the will of God.  The evidence of this total surrender is a peace that passeth all understanding.

You might think that understanding this word is easy, but don’t be fooled; rest has depths far deeper than you might imagine, and plumbing those depths is not for the faint of heart.  However, don’t worry.  We’ll walk this road together taking in the sights along the way.

The first thing we must understand is there’s more than one kind of rest.  One type has a lowercase “r” while the other has an uppercase “R”.  Understanding the difference between the two is foundational to this study, so let’s start by describing lowercase rest.

Understanding this type of rest requires a story, a touchstone we can understand.  This story takes me back to my youth when I was graduating from college.  Visualize what’s going on as I describe the scene.

My graduation party’s over; everyone’s gone and it’s time to decompress.

Frankly, I’m tired, tired in mind, tired in body, and maybe tired in spirit as well.  Its been four long years of balancing college, job, and a growing family with three children, all born during my college years.  Four years of long days, sleepless nights, and punishing work.

However, for this moment, I can rest.  No more classes, papers or tests.  No more trying to balance three lives at once: school, work, and family.  The weight drops from my shoulders, allowing me to finally breathe and enjoy the scenery.  So, I do just that as I sit on a bench near our apartment playground.  I watch the children play, smell the lilac blooms, and bask in the afternoon sun as it approaches the horizon, wishing this feeling of peace could last forever.

I hope this vignette evokes a time when you too laid down your burdens, rested from your work, and enjoyed a time of complete peace and freedom.  If it does, then we’ve just shared an experience of lowercase rest.

Lowercase rest occurs when we cease activity after completing a hard task.  It can be as simple as surviving a tough work week or as significant as reaching a goal we’ve focused on for years.  This type of rest is the downtime all humans need to rejuvenate their physical and mental resources.  However, these times of inactivity are temporary at best.  We can’t rest on our laurels because life waits for no one.  It’s always asking, “What have you done for me lately?”  My graduation party was on a Saturday, but on Monday I would pick up a whole new set of tasks and responsibilities including starting a new job, finding a new place to live, figuring out how to eat while waiting for my first check, bringing my newborn daughter home from the hospital, etc. etc. etc.  The stresses and strains of life would begin again.

At the end of the day, lowercase rest provides respite for our physical selves but not for our souls, which brings me to Rest with an uppercase “R”.

There is a familiar Bible story that provides a clear description of this type of Rest.

Matthew 8:23-27 New International Version (NIV)

23 Then he (Jesus) got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

For our purposes, the key element of this story is not that Jesus calmed the sea, but that He was asleep.  Jesus was resting at two levels.  He was resting his body and mind by sleeping i.e. lowercase rest; but the fact that he was sleeping during a life-threatening situation, demonstrates that he was also at Rest on the inside i.e. uppercase Rest.

The Bible tells us about this type of Rest and calls us to it, indicating that God is the source. The following scriptures testify to this:

Philippians 4:6 New International Version (NIV)

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30 New International Version (NIV) 28

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Let’s return to what was happening on the Sea of Galilee.  There were actually two storms going on that day.  The first storm was on the water while the other was in the hearts of the disciples.  They experienced an external storm with wind and waves and an internal storm comprised of fear and anxiety.

Both Jesus and the disciples experienced the storm on the water.  However, internally there was no storm in Jesus’ heart, no fear or anxiety.  He was at peace and sleeping.

Over time, I’ve observed that two people, situated side by side, can participate in the same event and yet experience that event in completely different ways.  Two individuals ride a roller coaster and, as they corkscrew through the air, one is laughing with delight while the other is screaming in terror.  They both experience the external event equally, but their internal weather couldn’t be more different.

Externally, Jesus and the disciples were in the same boat but internally they might as well have been in two completely different dimensions, which is closer to the truth than you might think.

It wasn’t the wind and the waves that created the storm inside the disciples; the storm only revealed what was already there.  Like us, their hearts were already filled with a reservoir of doubt and fear.  The floodgate to that reservoir opened every time they experienced danger, and in this case, the source of that danger was the physical environment that surrounded them – their earthly reality.

Jesus, on the other hand, lived in a kingdom that was not of this world.  That kingdom was his primary reality and it controlled his emotional response to the blustering storms of this world.  Like anyone else, Jesus suffered fatigue, pain, and hunger, but those experiences didn’t control his internal peace, which was forever flowing from His father.  So, Jesus was tapped into a different dimension than His disciples were.

The disciples, rather than seeking to tap into what Jesus had, just wanted the danger to go away.   Like us, they asked Jesus to still the storms of life so they wouldn’t be afraid, rather than asking how they might sleep in the midst of them.  How many of our prayers relate to stilling the storms rather than having peace as the storms rage around us?

So, we see that lowercase rest provides rest for our body and mind, but uppercase Rest provides continuous Rest for our souls.

Now we know about the 2 types of rest, so what?

We need uppercase Rest.  It’s one of the greatest treasures of the Christian life.  However, it’s a treasure that we often overlook.  I’m not saying we’re not searching for it.  We’ll try almost anything to find Rest, expending significant quantities of effort in that search.  However, no amount of effort can give us what Jesus had in the boat.  To sleep, when the wind and waves of life swirl around us, is not simply an act of the intellect or will.  It requires that we grasp reality like Jesus did and see the storm through His eyes.  That ability necessitates that we become a new creation, whose focus has shifted from this world to the kingdom of God.  However, shifting focus is not an event; it’s a journey, a spiritual one no doubt, but a journey just the same.

This class is about that journey as well as the very real barriers that hinder our progress.  I hope the following lessons prepare you to launch out boldly on an expedition to find Rest for your souls; only then, will you be able to sleep while the storms of this world rage around you.

Let’s review what we learned in this chapter:

  1. There are two types of rest, lowercase rest and uppercase Rest.
  2. Lowercase rest provides rest for our body and mind, while uppercase Rest grants continuous Rest for our souls.
  3. Finding “Rest” requires that we shift our focus from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.

Things to consider before proceeding:

  1. Do one or both types of rest elude you?
  2. Do you fear situations where you are not in control?
  3. Do you panic even when you know God’s is with you?
  4. Are you experiencing a storm right now? How are you reacting to it?

It might be good to journal your thoughts for future reference.