The lost discipline of rest part one

Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”.  Ok, stop right there … my hand is up and I’m jumping up and down like some Price is Right contestant yelling “pick me, pick me”.  If I had to honestly answer in one word my present condition, the word would be weary.  Look it up, the synonyms for it are “tired, worn out, exhausted, fatigued, spent, drained, burnt-out”  Any of these would fit me, and I’m guessing, if we are honest, far too many of us would identify with one or all of these.

The longer I walk this journey, the more I am convinced that the most overlooked, under appreciated, contextually justified and tragically misplaced spiritual discipline is the call to rest. The Old Testament calls it sabbath.  I’ll admit to a Western culture bias as this has been the vast majority of my experience.  So my reflections on this are specific to the toxicity that my culture has been guilt of perpetuating … and by my culture, let me more specifically call out my USA predominantly Evangelical culture.  With a few rare exceptions, we are the worst polluters of the pool.  We speak of being freed from sin, and yet the unspoken place that we often go is from the freedom that Jesus offers to the slavery of the modern church.  Our model has been built with the church as the central focus of all things faith related.  We are the distributor of goods and services.  We are the machine that needs to be fueled and fed.  It takes people, it takes programs, it takes resources, and it takes the most precious commodity of all … it takes time.  The one thing that never increases and never really replenishes itself, once spent, is time.  There is only so much of it in a day and a week and a year and a life time.

I was examining my calendar this morning when I was reminded that I could change it’s layout from where I have it, with the week ending on Sunday, to actually have it formatted so that the week ends on Saturday.  I could be crazy, but it seems to me that I and so many others, have been programmed to see the week as ending on Sunday.  Why is this important?  It’s important because we have been conditioned, in general, to begin our work, school, whatever, week to begin on Monday.  Work matters, school matters, they are responsibilities, they are formational, they are not really optional.  We careen through the week, accumulating to-do lists, responsibilities, family obligations.  Saturday is the catch all overflow day and then we slide into Sunday exhausted.  But wait, there’s one more place to go … one more thing to do if you are a good person of faith.  After all, its where we shop for our religious goods and services, and this is where we have implied that we are to enjoy our sabbath rest.  Don’t believe me, sound too cynical?

We are living in a unique day in Christendom where, to be considered an active person of faith in a church, the average attendance has dropped to about 1.8 times per month.  In my experience, that is an “if nothing better comes along, and something better is probably going to come along” version of church attendance.  The real tragedy is that this is happening as the Church has spent countless resources marketing, programming, and staffing itself to attract people to come and get their faith bolstered.  The more that is invested, the lower the return.  Am I the only one who sees the madness in this?

You may call me a pessimist, I like to think of myself as a realist.  I am of the opinion that the general habits of people in our culture and context are on a trajectory that is not going to change.  The way in which we over schedule and over commit ourselves has no end in sight.  Church attendance in this culture and our continuing attitude of being the central focus of faith expression is a terrible combination.  Perhaps, a wiser and more biblical strategy would be one that equips people on their faith journey to live into their faith expressions where they spend the other 6 days of the week.  Could we lead people towards disciplines like rest that bring wholeness and listening to the whisper of the holy spirit?  Could we validate that real community might be better experienced across the table, looking at a face than sitting in rows, looking at the backs of heads? Could we embrace the truth that God can be experienced in the beauty of creation by guiding people to experience it in community and as worship, rather than dismissing them as lame and unmotivated new age pantheists?  Could we guide people into the experience of living as Jesus in the everyday that they’ve been called to instead of the Sunday that we demand?  Could we inspire people to grow in the discipline of giving so that they would invest sacrificially in the kingdom based on their love for the God’s mission rather than a guilty pang when the offering plate is passed on the rare occasion that they are in the building?  And can we all just admit that the average Pastor is the least qualified in the church to model the discipline of rest?  I am guessing, with every bit of optimism that I can muster, that if the church could accomplish those things, if would could teach and lead from an honest point of release and confidence in the spirits work within our people, then we would have a hard time keeping people away.  Perhaps they’d even adjust the formatting on their calendars to begin their week in a “communion of the saints”, not to have more demanded, but to be released, rested, and refreshed into the reality of faith in the everyday.  I’ll begin to explore that hope in the next post … after I’ve rested

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