We avoid rest. Often we find ourselves tired and in need of rest. We need reprieve from the world. So we seek rest in passivity, or entertainment, or even just sleep. Our work makes us tired, both physically and mentally and we seek to refresh ourselves by “resting.” The trouble is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of rest. We think “rest” means “doing nothing.” We think “rest” means escaping reality. Rest is so much more.
In my first church position I served as the janitor/youth pastor/set-up team/technical ministries head. It was my first position and I worked hard to learn how to do ministry. A pastor had taken a chance on me as a 22 year-old fresh out of college and I am forever grateful. Well, now I’m grateful. I grew into that.
As part of my job, each Sunday I would set up the church starting around 5:00 am. Church started at 10, the band arrived between 8 and 8:30 to practice. Our building doubled as a dance academy each week, so set up could be rather extensive. I would set up 100 chairs, a full sound system, and anything else that was necessary. During my near 2 year tenure at the church I had several volunteers come and help on occasion. They would help for a season and then might be too busy or too tired to continue and they would drift off. For the last year I was there, one man stood out as more faithful than the rest… Will
Will was a man who was basically homeless. He lived in a trailer/camper that most people would claim condemned. He smoked like a chimney in winter and looked as though he did not know how to shave. What most people would never have guessed is that Will was dying of cancer. He had a hole in his back shoulder blade and you could literally put your hand inside the hole and pull it out clean. At some point in my time as all things “setter-upper,” Will became a believer in Jesus (through conversations with my pastor) and began to show up every Sunday morning.
Each morning I would begrudgingly open the church, complaining about how early it was and how no one ever saw the work that was done before church started. Will would arrive just before or just after I unlocked and would go to the back room, clean and re-dress his cancerous wound, then he’d come out and start to set up the chairs. Often he would begin to cough up blood and have to go to the restroom to clean himself up again. Nothing was ever said. Often it was just Will and myself. Sometimes others would join us. The pastor was kind and would occasionally join us, if he knew I was tired. We set the church up in near silence.
One particular morning Will had a coughing attack and covered his mouth with a white rag that slowly turned red. He went to the restroom to clean up and came back a few minutes later. I wondered why this man, dying of cancer, would arrive at church 5 hours early to set up chairs and be at church. Why would someone who was so tired and who seemed to struggle to stay upright consistently arrive at church early, wear himself out, and subject his body to such pain when he could sleep an additional 4 hours and arrive at church rested.
Setting out the last chair, I turned to see him stumble back into the room with a fresh rag hanging from his pocket. I asked, “Will, why are you here? You could easily show up at 10:00 and enjoy the service and get more rest at home!?” A moment of silence followed. Then his gravelly voice responded, “I’m here because I need the rest.”
“Rest?” What? Didn’t I just ask him why he was depriving himself of rest? Will knew something I had yet to learn – rest is not found in sleeping or doing nothing. Rest is found in Jesus. Will knew that his soul needed the rest of service. He knew that his mind and heart needed the rest of community. He knew what rest was and he knew where to find it. So he arrived early each Sunday to serve, to engage, to rejoice… to rest. He came each week, setting up chairs, running wires, setting up screens, moving speakers, and coughing up blood, all in order to rest.
Cancer would take his life two years later and usher him to true rest with Christ. It took me a long time to understand what Will meant. In fact, I’m not sure I completely grasp the depths of that simple man’s response. But I do understand a little more now. I know that when I am physically and mentally exhausted, I need to put in the effort to go to the Bible Study and find rest in the community’s study. I know I need to push through and do my personal devotions to find rest in study. I know I need to make that food for the sick brother or invite the needy one to talk in order to find rest in service. I know I need to attend church or go to visit that brother or sister and delight in the rest of community. I know that sleep or mindless entertainment will not answer my need for rest. Jesus is where we find rest. We find Jesus in two places, the Word of God and the community of faith (1 John 4:12). Seek out rest.
Some basic things you can do to find rest:
- Read your Bible instead of your phone.
- Attend church and Bible Study.
- Read other good books.
- Take time to talk with other believers.
When you are tired, seek rest in these things. Don’t waste the time you are given, seek out true rest.