Digging Deeper into Rest

by John Beeson

We have been navigating a sermon series that has been a while in the making here at New Life. It is called Rest. If you’re interested in digging into the sermon series, you can find it here. Sabbath has been an interest of Greg’s for years. In fact, growing up Jewish, understanding a Christian perspective on Sabbath was a stumbling block to Greg’s conversion.

As a type-A overachiever, rest has been a very personal challenge to me. The do’s of Christianity come more naturally than the invitation to rest. Our culture struggles with rest. What passes for rest is usually recreation and entertainment. Good things, but not rest.

If you want to dig deeper into rest, here are some books that have helped me in growing in what it means to follow the way of Christ. I hope they help you as well.

John Mark Comer was on the ascent. In his early 30’s he already was pastoring a megachurch in Portland and living an incredibly successful life, but a life where the sheer pace was choking out his joy and peace. This is the “hypermodern world” a world where we are constantly tethered to our devices, bombarded by information. This is a world where we are “bone-deep” tired in our souls.

To this world Jesus speaks, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is an invitation not just to receiving the gift of salvation through Christ, it is an invitation to walk in Jesus’ way. This Jesus way of living stands is an upstream way of living, calling us to fight against the current of this world. It requires The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.

John Mark Comer draws that phrase from Dallas Willard, who counseled John Ortberg, “You must ruthlesslessly eliminate hurry from your life.” In the words of Walter Adams, the spiritual director to CS Lewis, “To walk with Jesus is to walk with a slow, unhurried pace. Hurry is the death of prayer and only impedes and spoils our work. It never advances it.” Or, in the words of Jesus to Martha, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”

Comer takes us on an historical tour of how our lives came to be lived as the pace that we accept as normal. The church bell and light bulb and internet all are culprits. We tell ourselves that “if only I just had more time, more hours in the day…” but it’s a lie. Our hurry swallows up everything in its path. What have we gained? Who are we becoming as a result of these disordered lives?

Comer invites us to experience what it looks like to walk with Jesus, to learn his pace, and to kill the ache this hyper-modern world has implanted in us to fill every corner of our lives with information and doing. Comer examines Jesus’ life and shows us the unhurried pace he lives at. He is never in a rush. He always creates margin for intimacy with the Father. He is always present to those who are with him. Isn’t this the life we want to live? Yes!

Comer then transitions into the final four chapters, where examines four practices for un-hurrying our lives. Those are silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. In each of these chapters, Comer begins to offer practical wisdom for battling the world of distraction and walking in the way of Jesus.

My favorite of these final four chapters was Comer’s reflection on Sabbath. Happily, my wife and I read this book together, and this is where we felt most convicted and where the book has already begun to make some practical changes in our life together. Comer explains that “Sabbath is more than just a day; it is a way of being in the world. It’s a spirit of restfulness that comes from abiding, from living in the Father’s loving presence all week long.”

Comer reminds us that Sabbath came into being because God first practiced Sabbath. GOD rested! Whoa. If God rested, what does that say about our need for rest? HH Farmer says, “If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.” Comer reminds us that in the ancient world those who were forbidden from taking sabbath were slaves. To refuse the Sabbath is to live as a slave; it is to live in the clutches of Egypt. Comer invites us in Sabbath to stop and delight, to rest and worship.

I’m so grateful for Comer’s book. It is convicting and encouraging, providing hope for this weary reader. As Comer reminds us, “Aim at an easy life and your actual life will be marked by a gnawing angst and frustration; aim at an easy yoke and, as John Ortberg once said, ‘Your capacity for tackling hard assignments will actually grow.’ What’s hard isn’t following Jesus. What’s hard is following myself.”

I did have a few minor quibbles with Comer’s book. At times, Comer can overstate his case, or misinterpret texts. For this reader, those hurdles could be lept because of how good the vast majority of the content was.

Take up The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and be blessed by this breath of fresh air. Better yet, if you’re married, pick it up with your spouse. I hope it continues to change me and I hope God uses it to broadly change his church. May we walk Jesus’ way at Jesus’ pace and would the world watch and desire our grace-filled unhurried lives.

Jefferson Bethke believes that Americans have bought a lie: work has become where “we derive our ultimate value and meaning.” Work is the great American idol and we are its slaves. We celebrate those who hustle, who are grinders.

Bethke explains this kind of hustling: “When I say the word hustle in this book, I do not mean hustle as in working hard, diligently, and with focus (i.e., your coach telling you to hustle for the ball, which is a good thing!). I mean hustle as it has culturally been adapted to mean in our online conversational lexicon: a mind-set of do more, grind more, be more, accomplish more, #neversleep, and all that the word tends to tell us to do right now.” Bethke urges us to say To Hell with the Hustle.

All the while, the idol of hustle is chewing us up and spitting us out.
• 7 in 10 millennials would say they are currently experiencing some level of burnout.
• 54 percent of us (millennials) would say we are chronically lonely and say that we “always or sometimes feel that no one knows [us] well.”
• 30 percent of millennials and Gen Z currently say they experience disruptive anxiety or depression.

There has been a massive transformation in the nature of work over the past hundred years. “Derek Thompson noted one large change no one saw coming: how work itself and our view of it evolved. Work jumped from being a means of “material production” to being much more about ‘identity production.’ In other words, work used to be about making things. Then all of a sudden, work was about making us.”

Bethke believes there is a better way: Jesus’ way. He reminds us that, “Jesus was never in a hurry. Jesus was the fully human one. The prototype of all humanity. And I think we can pretty easily see that he was someone actively resisting cultural pressures, on many levels. Hustle isn’t him. And if hustle isn’t him, there’s only one other place it could come from. Hell. The curse. The source of death.”

Bethke believes that we’ve become goal-obsessed when we ought to be concerned about our formation. Formation is the result of habituated practices and the result isn’t tangible: it is the health of our soul. “Humans aren’t made,” Bethke asserts, “We are formed.” What that means is that Jesus isn’t just a repository of truth, a giver of goals, but rather that his way shows us how to be human. In Bethke’s words, “To follow Jesus we need to not just follow his teaching, but also follow his way. His process. His cadence. His demeanor. His spirit. His very essence.”

In the midst of wonderful technological innovation, from the light bulb to modern farming, to the internet, we have been promised health and happiness. But is that what we’ve received? Levels of depression have skyrocketed, our health has deteriorated. How much we sleep has shrunk.
We’ve tried to fix our souls with information and found information wanting. But information won’t fix us. We live in the age of information and of soul sickness: “Every two days we develop as much information as we did between the dawn of civilization and 2003.”

Bethke takes us back to Augustine, who teaches us that, “We do not become just what we think. We become what we desire. We are not shaped by facts. We are shaped by what we love.” We change when what we love changes.

Christ’s final question to Peter, “Do you love me?” then, is the question.

In addition to information, our world offers freedom. But freedom isn’t free. Instead, it can be a cancer. When our freedom is not from or for Christ, it shackles us. Bethke asserts that “self-discovery in our culture is just another way to self-destruction.”

Many of these re-forming practices are revolutionary in today’s world. How do we incorporate silence and solitude into our lives in a world of constant noise? Bethke says, “Silence today is so rare, so undervalued, that it is an act of resistance.”

Do we trust God with our time? Do we trust God enough to stop being busy and rest? Have we given God space to speak to us? Do we dare risk the quiet and face boredom? Maybe that is the very thing God needs.

“America’s mantra is, ‘I produce, therefore I am.’” But God calls us to, like Mary, stop and sit at his feel. There is no better thing we could choose than this.

Bethke has taken his time digesting some heavy-duty thinkers: Augustine, Charles Smith, James KA Smith, and others, and has delivered them on the bottom shelf. Are you weary? I encourage you to pick up this book and consider why that might be.

I have a few quibbles along the way: I think Bethke tends to have a vision with the individual and nuclear family inhabiting too much of the space and the church too little, and Bethke’s unusual life (he’s a writer and YouTuber) is probably hard for many of us to translate into our own lives. Bethke’s vision of what a godly life of formation looks like might look very different from yours, but overall his wisdom is helpful for every one of us. We all ought to stop and consider what it looks like to care more about being formed into the image of Christ than into the image of success we are presented.


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