Rest: A Vital Spiritual Discipline

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

January 13, 2019


Mark 6:31


31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.


Matthew 11:29


29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.


Psalm 127:2


It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.



It is clear from our scriptures this morning that God is concerned about rest.  Actually, Jim Smith author of The Good and Beautiful God says, “The number one enemy to our spiritual formation is exhaustion.”  As one who has studied in depth spiritual formation from a variety of perspectives that bold proclamation got my attention.  Exhaustion is an enemy to our soul.  Let that sink in for a moment.


I think we have to start by admitting it. We are an exhausted people. And we live in exhausting times.


I hear it all too often.


“I am exhausted by listening to the news.” 

“I am exhausted by politics.”

“I am exhausted by this weather.”

“I am exhausted by my kids.” 

“I am exhausted by my work.”

“I am exhausted by other people’s issues and problems.”

“I am exhausted by my relatives.”

“I am exhausted by my medical condition.”


And the list goes on.  How do you fill in the blank…I am exhausted by ______________.



Honestly, in my tenure as a pastor I have even heard people say “I am exhausted by the church.”  Usually because of over-programming, abuse or lack of volunteers, and lack of vision for the future.


Many, especially in the helping professions, suffer from exhaustion and lack of rest.  Technology and social media have added to this exhaustion.  Today, we have to set limits for “screen time, reminders to exercise, interaction with human people to avoid isolation, and some are now suggesting to schedule naps into our work day. 


This is not something new for many cultures outside of the US.  People actually head home from work in Spain for a siesta. And in Italy they take a riposo. And in China workers break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap (it is a protected right by their constitution).  Some major corporations in America have realized the benefit and have added Nap Rooms to their office space and tech companies like Google and Zappos have introduced what are called Nap Pods (just Google it and you probably will want to order one for your home or office).     


Sadly, I don’t think the need for rest is something new in our world, and it is evident from a simple glance at our bibles. Even people 2000+ years ago dealt with the lack of rest.  As I did my research for this sermon, I couldn’t believe how many times the bible talks about people needing rest.


Even when drafting the original 10 Commandments – rest was a key component.  “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20:9-10).


When I was in my doctoral work, I was challenged to find what our Jewish sisters and brothers consider sabbath rest.  Sabbath comes from the word shavat which means to “cease” or “desist.”  The main observance of shavat was from sunset on Friday to nightfall of the following day.


Now, Quakers consider all days equal which can mess with this needed opportunity to rest.  Thus, I like to consider rest not about a day but about a discipline.      


Richella Parham, in an article posted by Renovaré titled, “The Spiritual Discipline of Rest” points out,


“…the way the human body functions has not changed much in the years since God commanded his people to observe a day of rest. The amount of time generally set aside for sleep has shrunk, but the need for it has not. In these days filled with artificial light and late-night opportunities for work and play, we must now be very purposeful in the pursuit of physical rest.  

I think we often fail to consider that we must choose to rest or else we’re likely to have rest forced upon us when we are exhausted to the point of physical, mental, or emotional distress.”

Ask yourself this morning, Have I ever found myslef forced to my bed after pushing myself too hard?

I had a friend once who would say, “My getting sick is God’s way of slowing me down.”  I don’t think we need to blame this on God, but rather become more aware of our life, our body’s needs, and about how much we are able or trying to do. 

As followers of Christ, we look to Jesus as an example and there are plenty of places in scripture that show us his discipline of rest. Often, we get so caught up with other aspects of the stories that we quickly read over or completely miss the more human aspects to which we can relate that often speak directly to his need for down time. For example:

Mark 1:35 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.”  


In this moment Jesus secluded himself so much that his disciples could not find him and they had actually formed a search party. 


Or after John the Baptist’s death, Jesus said to the disciples,


’Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” 


And in Matthew 11:28-30 it clearly shows that Jesus understood the importance of rest.  He incorporated rest into his life and his teaching.  I love how 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.”


That is one of my favorite phrases: We need to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.


But probably the story I love the most is found in Mark 4.  Most of us are probably familiar with this story.  Jesus and his closest followers set out across the Sea of Galilee by boat. Exhausted and spent from his day of ministry and teaching, Jesus falls fast asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. While Jesus is “sawing logs,” major storms blow in and fear sets in on everyone else  aboard the boat.  Mark 4:38 finds everyone a bit upset at Jesus and they shake him awake saying angerly, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”


Now, you must remember that many of Jesus’ disciples were fisherman and knew just how dangerous the Sea of Galilee could get. So if they were frantic during a squall or storm of this nature – that was a big problem. Yet Jesus shows us that even in the literal storms of life, rest is vital to building our trust, confidence, and definitely our peace.


The reason I love this story so much is because it is just how it seems to be. You finally decide to nap, rest, take a day off, or make some time in your schedule and then someone comes and says, “What are you doing? You don’t have time to rest.” 


Folks, there will always be another emergency, more work to do, someone to help, something to fix, but sometimes to help us be better people in our world, more understanding, more clear about our decisions, we are going to need to say, “I am taking a rest, because that is more important at this time.”   


And when you and I are in the thick of the storms of life, do we take Jesus’ advice or simply push on.  Do we find a quiet place to rest?  Do we intentionally find time to recover and renew our life?  Do we, while everyone else is frantic around us, have the personal awareness and fortitude it takes to find a place stop the madness around us and really rest? 


Are you in need of rest, today? Would your week start better if you rested today? If you allowed yourself to slow down and pause for a while might you be able to center down and worship in a more meaningful way?   


To help us begin to process our need for the discipline of rest.  I want to offer you  some queries to ponder this morning (you will find them on the back of the bulletin):


·        What exhausts you or keeps you working past your limits?

·        When and where do you most deeply rest?

·        Who helps you rest?

·        What is it like for you to set aside time to rest and recharge?

·        How regular and inviolable is that time?


After you have had a moment to look at those queries, Eric will come up and share a song to help lead us into waiting worship.  This morning, I hope our waiting worship will also be restful worship.  Imagine God saying to you this morning, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest” and then allow yourself to center down and enter into that space this morning.