Allow me to set the stage. Jesus’ ministry is in full swing. An unspecified amount of time before Jesus had sent out the twelve apostles to go and proclaim the kingdom in nearby cities, giving them authority over demons and sickness and telling them to take nothing with them. A bold move, sending out twelve untested dudes to do unsupervised warfare with Satan. That in and of itself could be a post on how different Jesus’ method of training for ministry is from our safe, institutional methods, but we’ll save that for another time.
Apparently things go pretty well for the guys. “They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” (Mark 6:13) Talk about a thrilling experience for a bunch fishermen, tax collectors, and men who had led pretty normal lives thus far. It’s one thing to see your leader do the miraculous; it’s another to see God do the miraculous through you. They return to Jesus “and told him all that they had done and taught.”
Here’s where it gets interesting. We expect Jesus to give a rousing speech to the disciples and point out how God was at work through them and now get back out there and continue the work, there are more people who need what you’ve been given! But instead Jesus does the unexpected. He recognizes his disciples’ need for time to rest and process what’s taken place. They may be excited at the power of the Spirit at work in them and raring to continue, but they are human. Jesus tells them “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”
They take a boat in an attempt to escape the crowds that have been following them, but people recognize Jesus and his band as they’re travelling and run to catch them. Despite the fact that they’re attempting to have a “staff retreat” Jesus sees the crowds when they come ashore and feels compassion on them and spends the evening teaching and eventually miraculously feeding them all.
Cool story, huh? There’s two things I want us to see draw out of this story and apply to our lives. First, we need to develop rhythms of labor and rest. Second, we need to willing to let God disturb our rhythms when he has something greater planned.
Develop a Rhythm
God placed in the very fabric of creation the rhythm of labor and rest. Labor, rest. Labor, rest. Create, rest and enjoy. For the disciples, do ministry, sneak away to rest. Rhythms need both on and off beats. Remove one and you don’t really have rhythm, you just have sound.
We all tend in one direction or the other. If we had the choice, some of us would be leaning full on the rest side. Others would be all labor all the time, but Jesus leaves no room for this. We’re called to both, in the appropriate order. First we labor, then we rest.
For those who are like me and tend towards constant labor and have time sitting still, being silent, focusing on one thing at a time, and the like, we need to consciously set apart times of rest. It wasn’t until Kelly and I were married that I realized just how “on” I was all the time. Even my rest time was something to be checked off the list. She’s teaching me how to chill.
For those who are more like my beautiful wife and tend toward the rest side of the rhythm, be intentional about doing work first and not letting the introspection, comfort, and ease keep you from the work God has given you.
Get this rhythm right and it will sustain you through a lifetime. Labor, then rest.
Don’t Fear Disturbance
Lest we get paranoid about keeping our rhythm of labor and rest on beat, Mark demonstrates how Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit and allows the Spirit-fruit of compassion to cancel the moment of rest for him and his team when he sees the needs of those around him.
As we develop healthy patterns of work and relaxation there will be times that we will be interrupted. Like Jesus, we need to be more attentive to the Holy Spirit that to our habits. If we idolize our rhythms and begin to treat them as functional saviors we will miss supernatural ministry opportunities.
Since we got engaged Kelly and I have made a practice of taking Sundays off from work and homework, setting them aside as one day a week to enjoy Jesus and each other. It’s a large part of what has kept our relationships solid for the (short) time we’ve been together. However, there has been several times where we’ve felt like God has placed before us opportunities that could only happen on that day and required us to give up our day of rest for that week. The times where we’ve gone along with the Lord’s leading have been pretty sweet. The times we’ve selfishly chosen to keep to ourselves and rest we have invariably been led into sin and even the rest that we attempted to take was no true rest at all.
Yes, God has created this world and we humans to follow the patterns of labor and rest. But more importantly he has given us his son Jesus as an example of what a true human is meant to live like. Want to learn how to live your life well? Look to Jesus. He knows what’s up.