It’s a curious word, rest. It means a lot of things. Sleep, relaxation, entertainment, Sabbath, zoning out the way a college student does in his dorm after a day of classes, you know. But I’ve found that while a lot of people know what rest looks like in the dictionary, few actually know what it is in its essentials.
Growing up in church, I heard the term “rest” quite a bit. Going to a Christian university, even more so. It wasn’t until I was 20, spending a year at camp working on who I am, that I actually understood what it is. And it wasn’t until a year later that I really understood how it’s done. That’s appalling. Because to spend that much time at church and learning, but not learning this core thing, is not good at all.
We have things we do to chill out. Most college students take naps, play video games, or watch Netflix. Hours are devoted to vegetable-like experiences like these. (I got Netflix a few weeks ago. Guilty as charged.) But I discovered an interesting trend when it comes to these things.
They don’t make you feel rested.
Which is weird, because our understanding of rest is decidedly simple: a situation where you do nothing. Aside from naps, we often view rest as sleeping while awake – something where your brain doesn’t work hard and your body doesn’t move, where you feel good because you are being entertained or are because you’re blocking everything out.
That’s not rest.
It struck me when I thought of the term “well-rested”. That doesn’t mean that someone sat in front of a TV or an Xbox, it doesn’t even mean someone slept a lot. I’ve got plenty of friends that sleep six hours a night and qualify for the term “well-rested.” That’s because “well-rested” means rejuvenation.
Here’s the defining difference between what we commonly think about as rest and what God calls rest: one kind rejuvenates, the other continues to drain us.
Okay, so when I was growing up, I heard all the time that I should “rest in the Lord”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Biblical. Spiritual. Churchy. And empty. Because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t mean much. People who say it don’t really know what they’re talking about. It just sounds good and makes them look wise.
What are you supposed to do when someone tells you to “rest in the knowledge that Jesus loves you” when you’re weighed down with work and school and relationships pulling a Titanic? Cross your legs and hum because Jesus has your back? The whole reason you’re floundering is because you feel like you can’t handle it. How do you even “rest in how much God loves you” anyway?
I don’t have a solid answer for you. I’ve heard this said for a decade, so this ought to be a red flag for anyone reading this who says it. (Nobody knows what you mean, lady.) “Spiritual” sayings don’t do anything but confuse people.
But I will tell you what works. And it’s not some catchy floofy saying.
God made each of us uniquely, but everyone has a craving for intimacy. Intimacy is essential to rest. That’s why you notice that even though you and your best friend are sitting in the same room and neither of you have spoken for four hours, you still feel safe and secure. You feel at ease.
The same is true with God. God created us for intimacy, and He commands rest, so it’s logical that those must work together. The rest that we seek is contentment. And we find that in doing the things God created us for: intimacy and worship.
This is why reading Scripture and being in community with others isn’t essential. It’s not like those are magical things and that somehow reading the Bible makes you a good Christian. It’s what you learn – who you see – when you read. God isn’t here in the flesh next to each one of us, but He gave us a history of what He’s done and how He wants us to see Him.
God wants us to know Him. When we know Him, we rely on Him. When we rely on Him, we stop worrying. When we stop worrying, we have rest.