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Little Sabbath: A Reflection on Rest

It’s kind of like a short deep sleep. The kind where you wake up feeling like your body is in peace. A wakeful rest.

Opposed to this, however, the first half of Isaiah 49:4 regularly defines how I feel about life:

“In spite of my hard work, I feel as if I haven’t accomplished anything. I’ve used up all of my strength. It seems as if everything I’ve done is worthless.”

Life seems like a never ending fight. The finish line just as tangible as fog. I want more but I can’t grasp it. I can’t attain it. But I strive to. I run the race. I scratch at success.

There’s something I’ve found that contradicts all of that. Something pulls me out. Each morning there’s a moment. It’s defined by a discipline but it’s made up of a thing called grace. And there, a little bit each day, the verse I mentioned above is finished:

“But the Lord will give me what I should receive. My God will reward me.”

Do I practice this time with Jesus every single day? Nope. (I wish I did). Do I sometimes avoid it? Yes. Is it always amazing and delightful? Nope.

But there’s something hidden inside the little daily Sabbaths. Rest. A reminder that it’s not just my strength that’s not nearly sufficient, it’s not just my striving for success that’s undeniably inadequate. In fact, I actually have a strength that doesn’t come from me at all. And if I am weak, that strength never dissipates. In fact, success and failure were both demolished on my behalf by a helpless death followed by a triumphant resurrection.

In fact, the finish line is broken behind me. And, I find I was not the runner, but the cherished prize.

Jessica Fleck, New City Stories Guest Writer

Being is More Important than Doing

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Matthew 6:26 NRSV

For the majority of my adolescence, I thought I had the answer to the meaning of life. I thought it was logical, biblical, and honestly, kind of easy. When someone at youth group or at school would begin to discuss why we were created, I pulled my answer out of my holster of ready-made Sunday School answers, throwing Matthew 28:19-20 at them with a sure smile.

Obviously, I thought, we were created for the Great Commission, to go and make disciples of all nations. We were created for missions. We were created to do things for God. I lived through that paradigm for a long time. I did as many things for God as I could, whether at church, with nonprofits, or even at school. My life became a scrapbook of all the activities I thought were giving me purpose, a resume rapidly lengthening.

I didn’t think anything compared to the importance of doing things for God, even pursuit of relationships. All my works came from a genuine place of loving and wanting to serve God, so I assumed the tiredness that snowballed over time was normal. I thought it was probably just part of the experience of being a Christian. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was striving to give God reasons to love me.

When God called me to seminary, I thought he was giving me the chance to go to a perfect place to do even more things for him. I was surprised to find God’s expectations were a little less stringent than mine. After arriving at seminary, I started to question the paradigm I had trusted for so long. I felt uncomfortable and a little disoriented as I traversed readings about concepts like rest and love. In the short time I had spent attending New City, the preaching and teaching there had simultaneously pressed me and pulled me in, like both sides of a magnet, always giving an appealing yet perplexing perspective on how to live for God through love and rest. I didn’t know what to do with the magnitude of God’s love I was beginning to glimpse.

Then, one Sunday, Zach challenged us to pray a bold prayer for God to wreck us. In my desperation, I did. In his love, God agreed.

God had begun to deconstruct my paradigm of doing to earn love. Piece by piece, realization by realization, He was breaking me down until all that was left was a vague idea of who I was and no real reason for my own existence. However, God used my blank canvas to paint a more comforting and freeing paradigm than I could have imagined. This is what I learned.

When God created the world, it was sinless. At the time, there was no need for missions. He created everything, including humans, and for a while, everything was good. No one needed to be evangelized. This wrecked my Sunday school answer. Without having things to do for God, I had no purpose. I had no way to measure up or earn his love. I had nothing to strive for. I had no reason to exist. In the midst of all my seminarian pondering of the things of the deep, I realized the way I had always framed my purpose had placed undue pressure on my life. It was too self-centered. It was too complicated.

I realized my real purpose belonged not in my doing, but in my being.

Before creation of the earth, people, or even the construct of time, God existed relationally in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who love better and more deeply than we can fathom. God alone defines love. God is love, and love existed before the world was created. Love created the world. Love created us. We were created because of a love so strong it wouldn’t keep to itself, so it overflowed and manifested itself in the creation of you, me, your best friend, my mom, that guy on the bus, and everybody else. To put it simply, God created us to hang out. Seriously, God created us for relationship. He created us out of love and for love, so he could love us and so we could love Him back. He created us, even knowing ahead of time about all the messed up stuff we would do, because even then He thought we were worth it.

Even now, He continues to create. He still thinks we’re worth it. Love existed before mission was even necessary, and love will outlast its necessity. Worship will outlast it. We were made for worship. We were made for love. In the meantime, God does call us to do many things, and we shouldn’t ignore those calls, but our purpose is greater than the fulfillment of a checklist.

As these pieces came together, I realized all the things I did for God over the years seemed meager when overshadowed by the immense amount of love God has for me. I realized that simply being is more important than doing. God wants us to be with him—in love, in kindness, in patience, in joy, and in all the good things to which He calls us. I used to think these things were what I needed to do for God to pay attention to me, but I realize now those things are what God invites us to be, with him and through him. Love is not a thing we do, a place we visit occasionally, or our day job; rather, it is the house we’re called to live in.

Ultimately, life is not about anything we can do for God. It’s about what He’s already done for us. The way He lived out love allows us to simply be redeemed, be rested, be fulfilled, and be His. Ultimately, the point of our lives is to be loved, and that can start right now, before we can do anything about it.

 

Rachel Smith, New City Stories Contributor

We are Not Asking You to be Lazy

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV)

I have a confession to make…I lived for Homecoming court, Student Council elections, and senior superlatives. I hated tryouts, but loved making the team and wearing the coveted gear. I was a pro at being “impressive” and if I wasn’t looking put together, I tried to woo people with my vulnerability and authenticity.  In Christian college I loved sharing stories of my unique experiences and sounding edgy in my Bible classes. When I graduated college I landed a cool job at a mega-church in an “only God can” way. Nothing besides my deep love for naps communicated that I was a man marked by rest…

Now, I am not saying everyone who wins homecoming king or student council is striving too much, BUT I do know that I had a whole lot of identity caught up in it all. Through a long and difficult season, the Lord absolutely blindsided me with this concept of rest.  Not only did He personally wreck my life (in a great way) by this Truth, but He asked me to plant a church marked by it. The difficulty in this is that church planters have a great number of temptations and concerns that come against this conviction of REST. Here are just a few:

  • We need to do more for the community
  • We need more impressive gatherings so we can grow
  • We are too Spirit-led and not organized or structured enough
  • We are too organized and structured, we need to be more Spirit-led
  • We need a better social media presence
  • We are trying too hard on social media
  • I need to do more so we see growth faster

Now rest is a funny thing—really any core value is—because you can’t just say it, put it on your website and printed materials, and then put it on the shelf. When you’ve discerned a part of your church’s God-given DNA, you have to live it out. Not only as a leader do you have to live it out but you’ll be tested on it. Bill Hybels, planter and pastor, says, “if you want your people to bleed something, you must hemorrhage it.” As our church has begun to bleed this conviction of rest, we have received lots of questions and even heard serious concerns.  This post will dive into some of these, but first, I want to offer us a working definition of rest in this context. Rest is security in God’s finished work, and living in rest means being marked by divine expectation and engagement. Christ is satisfied so we rest, and we do so with expectation that the Spirit will move, create, and invite. In this way we stay ready to engage in what He is stirring up.

Now that we’ve established the definition of rest, here are some common questions and concerns:

So, you’re against work? No, we are not asking you to be lazy. We just desire to be faithful. Being faithful sometimes requires waiting and listening and sometimes requires working our butts off.  This ultimately has to do with our motive. People who are pursuing a life marked by rest do not get out of showing up, working hard, and sacrificing. Their main aim is to prioritize listening to God’s voice and being faithful to what He says, even when it’s unpopular.

How do I know if I’m marked by rest, or just being lazy? I’ve heard this from many people in our church family but I particularly remember asking this question myself to my mentor. His answer was simple: “Are you being faithful to what God is asking of you?” I believe if we have a ready “yes,” if we are continually engaged in listening for the voice of God, and if we are expectant for the invitation to participate in what God is creating, we won’t be lazy or miss out. Those around us, in and out of the church, might think we are being lazy; however, if we are being attentive to the Spirit and always willing to follow, we won’t be. In all actuality just the act of being attentive to the Spirit requires action and sometimes that’s all God wants…our attentiveness and eagerness to say, “Yes.”

People are dying and going to hell, how can we rest!? I live in a pretty consistent state of heartbreak for those around me that are not yet living in intimacy with Jesus. Early in my life as a Christ follower, I had to accept the reality that there are people so near and dear to my heart that the Holy Spirit is pursuing continually, and His act of drawing them in is so much more compelling than anything I can or will ever be able to do. In that, I have received freedom to really trust God. He is in control—all of those people, those close to me and those I do not know, are so much more on God’s radar than mine (He is omniscient, omnipresent, all-loving, and way better at all of this than me). I believe that this question is very valid BUT my response is usually one that goes directly to or quickly towards intercession EXCEPT if God prompts me to go. If He tells me to go, I desire to be faithful, to speak up, to share, to do anything He asks. My prayer is that those who live aware of this reality and want to live marked by rest let that broken heart, urgency, and love for the lost drive them to be passionate intercessors for the world. When God says go for it, then you go for it. Rest in the fact that the Holy Spirit is REALLY good at His job and won’t leave us out.

Why does this matter so much right now? I remember when I realized Matthew 11:28-30 was so much more of an evangelistic passage than I understood. I believe we live in an exhausted world full of striving, competing, and comparing. Whether through job reviews, Facebook posts, high school reunions, or the number of likes or followers we have, we live in a culture that combats security and rest. I believe that we can look into someone’s eyes and tell them they can rest because of what Christ did for them. We will see people come to know the Lord and live under His freedom and Kingship.

If you wanted to wrestle with this concept more, I (Zach at zach@newcitylex.com) would love to chat with you. What’s even better than coffee with me is some of these scriptures that have touched me during this journey of rest. Here are some of those passages…

  • Exodus 16- I have seen through this that God is not against effort but He doesn’t want us trying to earn. In Exodus 16 God provides the manna and the people harvest because He asked so. Harvesting is out of obedience and faithfulness but the manna, His provision, comes from Him.
  • John 14 and 15- This passage speaks of our comforter and advocate and it invites us to be vine-focused instead of fruit-focused. I believe that these two chapters are key for rest. We are called to be relying on the Spirit and abiding and remaining well.
  • Matthew 11:28-30- His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Are we experiencing that? Are we living out the Gospel in a way that communicates that? The yoke does indicate work but it’s what we are yoked to that impacts our rest or striving.
  • Hebrews 4:1-11- This passage wrestles with Sabbath and not missing out on real REST.
  • Hebrews 10- Christ is satisfied and our standing is set…take a deep breath.

My prayer is that this encourages you and you learn from me, a recovering competitive striver.

 

Zach Meerkreebs, New City Church Head Planter