Do you struggle to find rest? Do you feel disconnected from God or unable to slow down long enough to enter His presence? These four steps will help.
Spiritual rest—like so many aspects of our faith: salvation, grace, love, mercy—can be a difficult concept for us to grasp. It is somehow both readily available and elusive. Although God has made these gifts available to each of us and gives them freely, there are choices we need to make to experience them.
The choices themselves are not necessarily difficult; we choose to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and saviour of the world, and then we choose to accept the gifts that He offers us.
The gifts are always there, for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), but to experience the joy and peace that surpass understanding, we have to accept those gifts He offers.
How Do We Accept His Gift of Rest?
First, He awakens within us an understanding of our need for the gift being offered (in this case, rest), then once we choose to accept it, He lavishes it upon us.
But how do you take that step of acceptance? Is it enough to just say, “Lord, I need your rest,” or is there more to it than that? Like grace, our receipt of real rest is not by works.
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6).
But I do believe that once we choose to accept His gift of real rest, there are steps we must take to actually rest in Him.
These steps can be summed up with the appropriately titled acronym R.E.S.T.
Jesus often went away to other places to be alone so that he could pray (Luke 5:16).
When I think of the word Retreat, the first thing that comes to mind is one of those images you see everywhere of a woman in a spa with her hair wrapped in a white towel and sliced cucumbers covering her gently closed eyes. As nice as that sounds, it’s not exactly what we’re talking about here.
Retreat can be used both as a verb and as a noun, both of which are applicable to resting in God.
Retreat as a Verb: To Step Away From, Draw Back From
This is the type of retreat that I have written about here and here. So many of us are prone to doing way too much. Whether it’s because we want to (we thrive under pressure!) or because we have to (we’ll lose our home if we don’t find extra money to pay the rent this month), we never run out of things that we ‘need to be doing.’
Unfortunately, we cannot experience the rest of God if we don’t make space for Him to give it to us. There have to be periods of time where we draw back from our activities so that His peace can wash over us.
Think of it this way: sometimes life can feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. There’s always more to do than we’re able to get done. There are always more fires to fight than we’re able to put out by ourselves. We are on the frontlines of a battle that doesn’t end. Sometimes, we need to retreat from the frontlines. Not surrender, but retreat. We recognize that we can’t win the battle today, so we pull back, regroup, refuel, restrategize. Nobody can stay on the offensive all the time—everybody needs to take a break.
A good starting point would be practicing Sabbath if you are not already doing that, and I will discuss this in more detail below. But there may also need to be an overall drawing back from your activities. If your daily life is so crammed full of things to do, taking Sabbath rests will not be enough. You may need to evaluate whether you are doing too much.
Retreat as a Noun: Shelter, a Place Set Aside, a Refuge from the Elements
Retreat can also be a noun, meaning shelter, a dwelling place, or home considered a refuge from the elements. We retreat to the Lord, and there we also find our retreat, our shelter, our shade.
“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:5).
“He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” (Revelations 7:15).
Sometimes we just need protection from the elements—the winds, and fires, and raging seas of our lives. These could be our financial crises, our marital strife, our family feuds, our job stress.
Jesus promises us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
God doesn’t say that we will not face these trials, but that we can take shelter in the one who has overcome the world. When we draw near to Him, He covers us from the danger of these elements, and though we walk through the darkest valleys, we will not be afraid, for He is with us. (Psalm 23:4). He comforts us, shades us, shelters us so that we, too, can overcome these trials.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and bless His name. (Psalm 100:4).
Once we have heeded God’s call to seek His divine rest and retreated from our works, we need to enter into His presence. ‘Enter into’ implies that we not only go into His presence, but that we consider it, engage in it, and develop an intuitive understanding of it.
This is the type of retreat modeled by Jesus in Luke 5:16 and several other verses. He regularly pulled away from the crowds (though it was difficult for Him to get away, so consumed by compassion for them was He) to be alone and pray.
- Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).
- Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself (John 6:15).
- After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23).
In our quiet place, as we enter His gates, let us praise Him in words and in song, for all His grace and mercies. Let us remember all of the good things that He has done—both in our own lives and throughout history—as well as the magnitude of the promises He has given us.
Soak in His presence, invite Him into your present circumstances, and ask Him to pour His rest over you. You will notice an immediate lightening of your spirit.
Putting Him First
When we come to Him and spend the majority of our time in His presence focusing on who He is, how He is, and what He has done, and less time dwelling on our anxieties and challenges, the scope of our problems decreases. When they are juxtaposed against His greatness, we cannot help but experience His rest, for we remember that He is Lord over all, and that includes every issue in our life that is threatening our ability to rest.
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11). When we enter into His presence in this way, we not only receive His rest, but also the fullness of His joy.
I love how the Matthew Henry Commentary expresses this:
“The covenant of grace set down in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, with so many rich promises, to strengthen the faith of every weak believer, makes the matter of God’s praise and of his people’s joys so sure, that how sad soever our spirits may be when we look to ourselves, yet we shall have reason to praise the Lord when we look to his goodness and mercy, and to what he has said in his word for our comfort.”
‘Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.’ (Ezekiel 20:20).
Once you have tasted the joy and the rest that comes from retreating to a quiet place to pray and enter His presence with a thankful heart, you’re probably going to want more of them. They are the antidote to the addiction to the busyness that too many of us suffer from. Unfortunately, if you aren’t intentional about it, this sacred time can become just another blip on your radar that disappears from your view when your sights get too crowded again.
We need to sanctify this time and give it the reverence it deserves.
Commit to the times you will spend seeking His presence and His rest, and set them apart as holy. Try to set aside one day per week that is consecrated to God, that He may bless it. A day where you step back from your work and acknowledge the hand of God in your life. A day to rest and refuel and bask in the goodness of His gifts.
What you do with your Sabbath day is up to you, but I would caution you against either of two extremes: becoming legalistic about it and holding yourself to standards that are not life-giving, or filling your time up with too many ‘leisure’ activities that can a) inhibit your ability to receive physical rest, or b) allow you to spend the time so passively that you never make the space to dwell in His presence.
Further, we benefit greatly when we can also set aside an hour a day and a week per year for this type of rest. The more we can let go of our perception that things are in our control and instead lean on Him as the source of all things, the greater rest we will receive.
As much as you are able, seek to eliminate distractions or interruptions that may get in the way of this sanctified time.
Give Him the Best of Your Time
I am reminded of a preacher who once visited the first church I attended. He admonished us to spend the first minutes (or hours) of each day in God’s presence. Period. No excuses. One brave young man called out, “But I already get up at five to go to work. How can this work for me?”
Without missing a beat, the preacher replied, “Get up at four.”
I know, that’s probably not realistic for most people. The preacher was, at the time, an elderly gentleman who probably didn’t have young children in his house demanding his attention all day. Perhaps he was also someone who could afford to nap in the afternoon if his early morning prayers left him a little too tired; if so, I would certainly relate to him.
But he had a point. Giving God the firstfruits of our time (the first minutes or hour of our day, the first day of our week) is a demonstration to Him that we trust Him with our time and that we know He will redeem any time ‘lost’ through this act of communion.
Finally, recall the words of Martin Luther: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid, For the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2)
Ultimately, resting in God is about knowing and trusting Him. Do you believe that He is who He says He is? That He will do what He says He will do? That He loves you deeply?
Do you trust that He is intimately acquainted with your unique needs, desires, and dreams? Do you trust that He will provide for your needs, even if you lighten up on your striving for an hour to praise Him? Do you trust that He wants to lavish good gifts on you if you’ll allow Him?
If you’re uncertain about any of these things, it will be hard to find rest in Him. True rest comes from our reliance on Him, our confidence that He is who He claims to be and does what He says He will. If you are certain of the hope you have in Him, you can find rest, no matter how turbulent the seas around you may be.
This cycle of retreating, entering, sanctifying, and trusting is not a one-time process, but an iterative one—we will do it continuously throughout our lives. On one level, we can (and should) move through each of these four steps on a daily basis. On another, perhaps deeper, level, we move through it in sweeping waves, each iteration taking seasons or years to pass through. This is one of the great mysteries and wonders of His gifts: even though they are never-changing, they are also new every morning. We can always retreat further into His presence; our trust can always go deeper. Each new day and season is a new opportunity to know and rest in Him more.
And as you move through this cycle, it’s important to note that the trust you develop does not just remain with you while you’re in “retreat-mode.” Yes, you’re learning to trust that He will continue to work His plans for your good while you are resting. But just as importantly, you bring that trust with you back into your works. You resume your busyness—albeit, maybe not to the same extent—but you actually do so from a place of real rest because you have learned to trust in Him.
If you’re not there yet, though, don’t give up! The way that we learn to trust Him is to follow the other three steps above: retreat from your works; find a quiet place to enter His presence with prayer and thanksgiving, remember His endless mercies; and sanctify the time you spend with Him. As you do each of these things more and more, your trust in Him will grow, and so too will your experience of His rest and the fullness of His joy.