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The meaning of rest – reducing the load

What does it mean for Jesus to give us rest? It is easy to spiritualise his words – that what he means is that we can carry on in our busy lives, and feel at peace within them. It almost seems wrong to suggest that it means anything else. Peace within the storm, not peace without a storm, and all that. God can’t possibly mean actual physical peace, can he? So he must mean spiritual peace; a spiritual overlay of calmness, serenity and tranquillity as the children throw Lego bricks at one another, your spouse is late home from work and the ready-meal has boiled dry in the microwave. An almost zen-like or hypnotic state in which all the usual stresses, temptations and cravings of life hit a spiritual force-field and bounce back without you ever being aware of them. You float through life, happy and serene, blissfully unaware of the struggles and strife experienced by the lesser mortals around you who haven’t ‘come to Jesus for rest’.

Does that sound right? Is that what you instinctively think of – an assumption that you will feel rested without resting; feel peaceful in conflict and chaos; feel burden-free as you clean the house, all the while mentally going over your store cupboards planning what to cook, and counting down the minutes to when the children need picking up from school? Is this what God does – provide a sense of wellbeing at conflict with your situation? As you sit in an unsheltered boat on a storm-tossed sea, holding Jesus’ hand, the waves and the rain do not touch you and the wind magically stills around you; even the floorboards below your feet maintain a gyroscopically level footing whilst the rest of the boat is tossed up and down and back and forth and round about. The storm goes on, but for all you feel, it might as well not be there, because you have ‘come to Jesus for rest’.

I find I am not comfortable with that belief. To be fair, it’s not necessarily something that anyone ever has meant when they have advocated going to Jesus for rest during a time of significant emotional and practical strain. But it is what it sounds like, particularly when it is not coupled with any offers to lighten the load or reduce the storm. Is Christianity something we just throw on over the top, to look peaceful when we’re not? Is it smiling sweetly at others, saying we are at rest in Jesus, as we slowly break under the strength of the forces that are battering us down? Is it a magic wand, transforming our toil and strife into a sensation of rest even as we toil and strive? Is it unlimited energy and strength and willpower and patience to handle whatever the day throws at us like a weight-builder swatting away a fly?

Jesus doesn’t say he gives us unlimited energy. He says he gives us a light burden.

When Jesus came to see his close friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, there was a strong social duty upon Mary and Martha to provide food and drinks for the company. You certainly wouldn’t, as a woman, leave guests hungry and thirsty whilst you listened to your most honoured guest speak. It was unacceptable and shameful and dishonouring to the family. But Jesus said it did not matter. Not only that, it was in fact better to commit a social solecism in order to be with Jesus than it was to fulfil one’s (socially imposed) responsibility to others. It was better to sit with Jesus and listen to him than to prepare food for him and other guests. Listening to Jesus was in that context the right thing to do when preparing food was the wrong thing.

What are we doing that we should not be doing? It may be something very worthwhile, even in most contexts seen as necessary, but in the context of being with Jesus it is the wrong thing. Are we fussing unnecessarily about how clean and tidy our house is; how home-made our food is; how well-ironed our clothes are? Let these things go. Don’t look at them and then make your choice between them and Jesus; look at Jesus, and make your choice as you look at him. Whatever you look at as you choose will loom larger in your mind, so do as Paul says and fill your mind with God and with good things of God.

I think this is, to some extent at least, part of the rest that Jesus gives us. It is the rest that reminds us that all the cares and worries of this world that we so deeply concern ourselves with are not for us to worry about. Some of them, when we actually look away from them, just aren’t that important. It is our pride that makes them seem large to us, but when we look at Jesus that pride and the standards it dictates start to drain away. You have Jesus. Does it really matter if your house isn’t as clean as a hospital? Let things go; let them slide into their proper place. Rest in the surety that ultimately, these things do not matter; they are so much dead straw and wood when you could be holding jewels and precious stones.

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