I Need a Rest – NOT

A friend said something on FB yesterday that seemed a little off. He loves Jesus a lot and has been a blessing to me in many ways so I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just not as precise as he could have been.

Men w small kids:Your wife really needs a 4-hour block of time weekly to herself. Time to “be”not just grocery shop. Will u do this for her?

All I said was “We should be careful about using the word “need” for things God does not call a need. Things can be advantageous or beneficial without being a need.” It brought the predictable response that rest is needed and even the Bible supports the idea of taking a break. (The reality is that it seems like most of the time the Bible talks about “rest” it is referring to heaven either literally or allegorically.) These things have some truth to them but in a leisure soaked society it is useful to filter them through the Scriptures with some questions.

Am I spending and being spent for the Gospel?

Paul said his goal was to spend and be spent for the gospel (2 Cor 2:15). He said he did it gladly. This is a guy who was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten with whips, hunted and abandoned over and over. Was he looking for rest? No, he was looking to give every ounce of his being over to the cause of Christ and he was joyful in doing it.

A lot of people I meet who “need” a break are spending and being spent chasing the middle class, white American dream of a nice house, two or more cars, educational achievement, soccer camps, and whatever else they see on TV or Amazon Prime. People like this don’t “need” a rest in any biblical sense of the word. They need to use that same level of ambition on pursuing Jesus before they can claim any biblical basis for rest.

Am I seeking refreshment in the ways God has provided?

John 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. The basic idea is that Jesus is supposed to be the vine that provides us nourishment, life, and purpose. The way to access that is to abide in, or remain connected to, him. People who are exhausted because they are not abiding in Jesus should try that first before they start demanding rest.

Or consider Hebrews 12:3, Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Here, the author of Hebrews says that one key to not growing weary (needing a rest) is to actively consider what Jesus endured as a fuel and motivation for further gospel centered action on our part. The verse before this says that Jesus endured dying on a cross for the joy he got from it. It’s hard for me to reconcile this with the “need” for resting from things like a job in an air conditioned office, caring for kids that love you, or even building up the body of Christ.

Is the rest I am seeking drawing me closer to Jesus or my creature comforts?

I’ve heard many people talk about how Jesus took times by himself to rest and that is certainly true. The overwhelming evidence of the New Testament is that when Jesus did this it was to get alone with his Father. For example in John 6:15 we read “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Here Jesus got away not because he was focusing on himself but because he was focused on the Father’s mission for him. In Luke 6,  Jesus spends the entire night alone praying before calling the Apostles. His “me time” deprived himself of sleep before he deprived others of his presence. Even in the well known Psalm 23, David enjoyed the green pastures and still waters but he enjoyed the God who provided them much more.

What happens when my rest is interrupted?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Gospels and one thing that is impossible to miss is that Jesus almost never actually rested. Even when people notice how much he “needs” a rest and make provision for him, it is often interrupted. So in Mark 6, when people are convinced Jesus needs a rest and shuffle him off in a boat, how is he going to respond when the crowd literally runs along to shore to intercept him again at the other end? Is he going to pout or retaliate or whine about not getting his “me time?” No, he sees this crowd so hopeless and lost and gives up any idea of rest because of the great compassion he has for them. Rather than rest, he teaches them late into the night then organizes the biggest buffet in history feeding something like 20,000 people.

Am I letting God determine the right rest?

One of the concerns I had over the way my friend phrased his post was that he was dictating a particular type of rest that would be uniformly applied to all moms of young kids. Not only is this “need” impossible for any single mom to ever achieve, it just isn’t right to declare one particular type of rest like this because even if the Bible does say rest can be a good thing, it never gets very precise about what that looks like. God seems to know the right kind of rest and can supernaturally intervene to provide it. One comment from a dear sister made it seem like unless her husband had chipped in and helped her when she had four kids under four, God would have been utterly helpless to meet her needs. While I’m grateful this man cared for her well, I have to lovingly say her God is far too small if she can only imagine one way that he is able to provide for her well being.

If I believe in rest, what am I doing to make it possible for others?

I hinted at this above, but my friend’s comment is very  white, middle class. In my church context, very few moms of young kids have this option. I wonder for those that do, are you finding ways to use your blessing to be a blessing? Parachuting into a poor community is generally a bad way to minister, so are you going to find a semi-permanent way to serve these moms who almost certainly need a rest more than you do?

What I’m not saying…

I’m not saying rest cannot be helpful or that husbands should never look after their wives in this way. Looking after the well being of your wife is one obvious way husbands can love their wives as Christ loves his church. But doing that well means you will study your wife to see what it would look like to care for her in particular. Maybe my friend’s post is a helpful starting point, but it should not be an ending point. Based on the marriage counseling I’ve done, many stay at home moms would prefer a reliable 30 – 60 minute break when their husband gets home from work more than a single four hour block of time once per week. This is an issue that a married couple should discuss themselves rather than follow a well meaning but ultimately arbitrary mandate. And while you are having that discussion, talk about how you can serve those moms with young kids who may be divorced, abandoned, or widowed and have no husband to help them.

Five Questions for Christians

Seems like every true Christian should be able to answer most of these questions…

  • What is the name of a hungry person you recently fed?
  • What is the name of a thirsty person you recently gave a drink?
  • What is the name of an outcast or stranger you recently welcomed?
  • What is the name of a sick person (not in your family) you recently tended?
  • What is the name of a prisoner you recently visited in jail?

Immediately many of my friends who love to study the bible and learn the Greek root words of things will be outraged that I have set this as the standard for true Christianity rather than adherence to some doctrinal position like the “good church” they are a part of. The problem is, I didn’t set this standard, Jesus did. Let’s read what He says in Matthew 25 without explaining it away. What is the simple sense of this simple text?

[31] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. [33] And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. [34] Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ [37] Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? [38] And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? [39] And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ [40] And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ [41] “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. [42] For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and  you did not visit me.’ [44] Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ [45] Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ [46] And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)

You don’t need to go to seminary to understand what Jesus is saying. He is saying that 100% of the righteous people he will joyfully invite into the eternal kingdom of blessing will have done these things in His name.  Matthew Henry puts it this way “Good works done for God’s sake, through Jesus Christ, are here noticed as marking the character of believers made holy by the Spirit of Christ, and as the effects of grace bestowed on those who do them.”

It’s easy to debate the main and clear point Jesus is making by arguing over who the “these” are or how many of the five things are necessary to meet Jesus’ standard. If your first inclination is to do this then I would be very concerned for the state of your soul. I don’t say that in a mean way, I’m just reading verses 45-46.

Genuine Christianity gave us orphanages, an end to the slave trade, disaster relief and mass care, medical care for the poor, workplace safety and all sorts of other kindness to the materially poor and socially outcast. Jesus Himself set this example showing earthly kindness to people who He knew would never believe on Him. These five questions, taken literally from the standard Jesus says He will use at the final judgment, are a great diagnostic for whether your theology is made worthwhile by getting to your hands and feet.