The meaning of rest

Tony Horsfall writes about the importance of rest in the first of a new series of articles to mark the publication of the second edition of his classic BRF title: Working from a Place of Rest: Jesus and the key to sustaining ministry.

23 July 2023

Learning how to rest well

For many of us, rest is an elusive thing, isn’t it?

We stop for a morning coffee break, but our minds continue to whirr, and we do not rest. We plan a weekend trip to get away from it all, but when we arrive in our location, however idyllic, our bodies are restless, still geared for action, and refuse to slow down. Even when we take a longer holiday it takes days for us to unwind and when eventually we start to relax, it is already time to plan for our return and the mountain of responsibilities waiting for us!

Night time often brings little respite. After another adrenaline-fuelled day, we simply can’t switch off. Either we can’t fall asleep because are still buzzing, or we wake abruptly in the early hours anticipating what is ahead. We are continually over-committed, pushing ourselves to the limit and paying a high price for the pace at which we live. Tiredness is our constant companion, exhaustion never far away. We learn to live with tension headaches, upset stomachs and a degree of edginess as normal.

But is this how God intends us to live? This does not sound like the abundant life Jesus promised us (John 10:10); this is more like the exhausted life. Something inside us says, ‘There must be a better way to live than this.’ And there is. It is seen in the way Jesus himself lived, and we are invited to learn from him and follow his example.

Permission to stop

In John 4 we read these startling words: ‘Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon’ (v. 6).

What strikes us is that Jesus was tired. Even he had limited resources, and when he expended energy, he had to stop and be refreshed. Realising that we too are human and easily get tired, and that this is normal and not a weakness, can make a difference. It is perfectly fine to sit and take a breather. Jesus did.

‘Even Jesus had limited resources, and when he expended energy, he had to stop and be refreshed.’

Jesus gave himself permission to stop, and so must we. We do not need to live on the treadmill of endless activity and non-stop availability. We can establish boundaries and build into our lives times when we stop – coffee breaks, meal-times and rest periods – even in the busiest of days. Regular days off and sabbath rest are essential.

Jesus sat by the well, and when a Samaritan woman came to draw water, he asked her for a drink. He knew he needed refreshment and was not afraid to ask for help. If we are constantly giving out to others, we must make sure that we take in for ourselves, otherwise we will wear out physically and dry up spiritually.

What refreshes your soul? What re-energises you? How can you ensure that you are looking after your own well-being so that you can sustain yourself over the long haul of life, work and ministry?

‘If we are constantly giving out to others, we must make sure that we take in for ourselves, otherwise we will wear out.

A different pace

Jesus lived in a world very different from ours. He walked everywhere, and although that was tiring, there was a gentle pace to it, and he was never rushed or in a hurry. Nowadays we are more prone to do everything at speed, and haste is considered normal. This is why we are always so hyped-up and find slowing down to normal speed a challenge. Why not practice doing things more slowly – breathe more slowly, talk more slowly, drive more slowly, eat more slowly?

When we look more closely at the life of Jesus, we see that he had a regular pattern of busy ministry followed by withdrawal and personal space.

He was never afraid to say ‘No’ to the demands of others and in fact sometimes hid himself away (John 12:36). He followed a regular pattern of sabbath and lived with the realisation that it was the Father, working in him, who was doing the work and meant he would do a good job (John 14:10).

‘Jesus was never afraid to say “No” to the demands of others and in fact sometimes hid himself away.’

Come to me

I remember well my own battle with tiredness and exhaustion, holding down a busy job during the day and planting a new church in my spare time. I longed to find a better way to live, and at just the right time discovered some life-giving words from The Message, a relatively new translation at the time:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Matthew 11:28–30

Everything within me leapt in recognition as I read these words of Jesus. It described my state exactly and gave me hope of finding the better way to live that I yearned for by working in harmony with him.

Slowly, as I discovered more about the contemplative tradition, I began to learn more about the rhythms of grace that Jesus speaks about here, and gradually to live freely (no longer under constraint) and lightly (not overburdened by too much to do).

‘These words of Jesus described my state exactly and gave me hope of finding the better way to live.’

It took time, and required some new behaviours and thought patterns, but my life is now much more in balance, and I know what it is to work hard and yet be at rest.

Tony Horsfall

People around the world have been inspired and refreshed by Tony Horsfall’s teaching and mentoring. As well as working as an international freelance trainer and retreat leader, he has written a number of other books for BRF, including Deep Calls to Deep, Rhythms of Grace and Mentoring for Spiritual Growth. He also contributes to BRF’s New Daylight Bible reading notes.

Working from a Place of Rest cover image

Working from a Place of Rest

Exhaustion, burnout, tiredness, even breakdown… sadly, such conditions are all too common these days, not least among those involved in some kind of Christian ministry, whether full-time, part-time or voluntary.

In striving to do our utmost for God, we can easily forget that there were many times when Jesus himself was willing to rest, to do nothing except wait for the Spirit’s prompting, so that he demonstrated the vital principle of ‘working from a place of rest’.

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