Lately, I have been feeling extremely tired, endlessly invaded by a variety of cold symptoms. This tiredness is not a general body fatigue (though that is there), but a deep, unsettling exhaustion from every front of my life: work, living in NYC, relationships, exercising, eating, adventures, fun, weather, you name it! I feel confused because I strategically set up rhythms of rest and balance in my life in order to prevent tiredness and sickness, but the fruit of my labor is proving otherwise.
Recently, I went back home to California for some long overdue family time, and like clock-work, I sank into another bad cold which paralyzed me to my bed and couch for more than half of my vacation. I was sick of being sick. I felt fearful and worried that something was wrong with me because I get sick so often. My attitude was sour, I had several spiritual temper tantrums like a toddler in defiance against the discipline of a loving parent. I had things I wanted to accomplish while home, yet nothing came to fruition due to my state.
The morning before I returned to the city, I sat at my kitchen table, with natural light from sunny California streaming in, my Bible was open and I started crying. I cried because the life-changing word of God was not changing my life. At least I didn’t feel it. My mom was standing in the kitchen as well, making her daily morning smoothie. She sensed exactly the place of my spirit. I told her how frustrated I was with the frequency of sickness in my life, how I thought I had balance, and how I was trying to be positive and have a good attitude, but I was still so tired. I told her that I loved living and working in the city, I sensed a personal calling here at this time in my life, but it sometimes felt like too much to handle. I couldn’t figure out how bring these things into a redemptive light.
Jesus hand-delivered a precious word to my mother to share with me. She sweetly urged me to ask God to show me the truth in my lifestyle, then ask Him to change my underlying motivations. Once the motivations are redeemed, habits of living will follow suit.
My theme verse for the year 2014 (which makes me chuckle because there is great irony in God’s faithfulness) has been Isaiah 30:15, 21-22:
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust is your strength…Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left. And you will defile your graven images overlaid with silver, and your molten images plated with gold. You will scatter them as an impure thing, and say to them, ‘BE GONE.’”
Sometimes, we are plowing through life, but the Still Small Voice of our Shepherd is behind, and we must stop, get quiet, and listen to hear truth. It is at that place of stopping that we have the divine strength to discern idols and scatter them as meaningless, powerless excess. Satan may be “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), but he doesn’t have authority over us once we accept Jesus Christ into our lives. With the Holy Spirit in us, we have that authority; Satan is a mere ego-distended bully.
While talking with my mom, I recalled a sermon Tim Keller gave about the deep, underlying purpose of the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or rest, was not only about resting from the work itself, but about resting from the work beneath the work: people-pleasing, identity building, justifying ourselves, overcompensating for insecurities, and whatever else it is that motivates our habits to work. In other words, God was not necessarily tired on the seventh day following creation, but He chose to rest because it was enough. He rested from the action of creating more in order to enjoy the work of which was already made. On that first Sabbath, God neither used it to evaluate or critique his work–which brings condemnation–nor did he strive to improve it or make it even more perfect–which would induce further work anxiety rather than rest. Therefore, at the heart of the Sabbath, there is joy, fulfilment, satisfaction, celebration. This is the rhythm I want.
Fast forward to first century middle east, this man Jesus Christ makes bold, outrageous statements such as “come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). Jesus offends others by declaring Himself as Lord of the Sabbath. When Jesus is dying on the cross, his last words are, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The work beneath the work is over. Jesus not only gives rest, He is rest. We no longer have to earn our salvation; we receive the salvation given to us. We no longer have to work to make ourselves important, valuable, worthy; we receive the value Jesus Christ branded onto us. We are sinners whom God chose as His holy people and whom Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, made as saints. He says we are the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinth 5:21), made right in Him not by our work, but by Christ’s work on the cross. We don’t have to do the work beneath the work because it is already done. All we have to do is our daily portion of work in freedom, security, and deep, abiding rest.
I am a long way from making this truth a habit in my life. In fact, I am experiencing further refinement, sanctification and unearthing disruptions in the process, but God is faithful and good. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in [all of us] will perfect it until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And for that, I celebrate the Sabbath of the soul.