I often hear Christians ask for prayer that they would use their time wisely. That’s all very well, but we’ve all had days full of time but empty of energy to get things done. When we’re lethargic, unmotivated, or procrastinating, we realise we don’t need just time. Like a web page that is unresponsive and really slow, we need to be refreshed.
How are we refreshed? In some respects, the answer is easy – we need to sleep. This could be the shortest blog post ever! And the Bible does teach us that sleep is part of what it means to rest. Unlike the way that boxsets portray high powered executives who seem unlimited in their capacity to party ‘til late and rise early, we are created as dependent creatures. We need rest, an expression of our utter reliance on our God. He is the only One who does not faint or grow weary (Isa. 40:28).
As someone currently doing sleep therapy for insomnia, I’m no expert in sleep; in fact, I seem to be an expert in not being able to sleep. So, you’ll be glad to know that I’m not passing on any tips and tricks in that department! In this article, we’ll explore the way that our dependence is not just expressed in our need for bodily rest, but soul rest. See how Jesus describes it in Matthew 11:25-30:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Whilst many people search for soul rest in techniques like mindfulness, or in achievement and success, their lack of satisfaction is well documented. For example, the incredibly successful author Leo Tolstoy, describes how his soul was tortured by the thought: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” His book, A Confession, describes how he tries everything from science to philosophy, religion to distraction, to find meaning.
Why could Tolstoy not find meaning? Look again at Jesus’ words. God has hidden this rest from the wise and the learned. No one will find it by self-help but rather by coming to Christ. In my own journey I have explored mindfulness and one of the drawbacks is that it is too hard for those really sick and struggling. The beauty of the soul rest Jesus offers is that no one is too weak, too sick, too weary, or too much of a failure to receive it. Rather, these are the qualifications. We come like little children, knowing our need, willing to admit our inability.
Another attraction of the meditation route is the promise of an empty mind. Empty sounds attractive to our culture—decluttering our homes, lives, and work—but actually, as the empty shelves early in the pandemic showed us, empty is a terrifying prospect. Jesus hasn’t come to empty our lives but to fill them full of him. A life that is light. Easy. Rest-full.
To understand why, we need to unpack Jesus’ yoke metaphor. Oxen carried yokes—the burden of their load, which Jesus likens to our lives. Jesus’ yoke—his life—was perfect. He lived in the light of perfect obedience to God. He never turned from God but always lived under God’s loving rule. God describes him earlier in Matthew 3:17 as “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” He didn’t deserve to die. He chose to go to the cross so he could take our heavy-laden yoke of sin and death, and he invites us to take up his yoke—his perfect life lived under God’s rule.
Jesus’ yoke is not a decluttered life, empty of relationships and responsibilities. It is a life full of love—love for God and love for others—as summed up by Jesus in Matthew 22:36-39. True soul rest is found in relationship with God and his people. “It is not good that the man should be alone,” said God in Genesis 2:18. And so, it’s no surprise as we trace the other verses where this word rest (also translated “refreshed”) is found, to find that this light and easy life is lived in relationship with others.
…for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people (1 Cor. 16:18, emphasis added).
Therefore, we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all (2 Cor. 7:13, emphasis added).
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you (Phil. 1:7, emphasis added).
Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ (Phil. 1:20, emphasis added).
Do you see? We refresh one another. That is how we were created to live. As those who fear the Lord speak with one another (Mal. 3:16), we find our hearts refreshed. We find comfort, benefit, and joy.
There is much about life right now that is wearying: the turmoil of the pandemic, politics, prejudice, and pressure surround us. “Come to me”, cries the sofa. Bolt the door, tune in to church online, and keep away from others. Gently, Christ calls the weary to something better: “Come to me…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Rest for our souls is not found alone on the couch, but in coming to Christ and, together with others, enjoying the light and easy yoke that he gives us.