When We Strive God Waits, When We Rest God Acts
How do we break free from a performance driven lifestyle?
I have struggled with the inability to rest and enjoy myself for most of my life.
I could be on vacation on the lake, water skiing with my family, but if someone did not keep the boat “ship shape,” restlessness would grip me. I was restless not only on vacation but while trying to instruct my children in sports, school work, playing games or working in the yard. People who were late agitated me. Everything had to be done precisely and in order. I desperately needed to learn how to become a resting place for God’s love and His presence. I needed to understand rest.
Restlessness is the feeling that there is something more that I have to do or put in order to feel valued. It is wired to the unmet need of a child to feel secure in love. In my childhood I never felt enveloped with loving affirmation that left me feeling secure and accepted. My parents were hyper-competitive athletes who insisted that I perform well in sports, at school, and at home, but I rarely felt that I matched up to their rigid interpretation of a winner. As I write about it now, I can still feel the tension of being on the tennis courts with my dad or doing homework with my mom.
"People who live in rest offend the restless."
In 1980 I was radically saved and delivered from drug and porn addictions, but I still had a distorted view of rest. In 1984 I was filled with the Holy Spirit but still found very little rest. In the late 1980’s, I went through many hours of deliverance and prayer counseling, but I still had the feeling that I needed to pray more, study more, be more disciplined, serve more, do better as a Christian. In 1995 God revealed to me that He is my loving Father. My wife, Trisha, said, about that encounter, “Jack was transformed more in 45 minutes than 15 years combined of walking with God.” But in the years that followed, the moment something was out of order, I would be pulled back into restlessness.
A Competitive Culture
I received a revelation of sonship and our ministry exploded in visibility. Many people began to seek out ministry through us. I began saying yes to too many good things and soon found myself overwhelmed. I quickly learned that restlessness can threaten an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your life by stealing from you a profound sense of God’s rest.
People who live in rest offend the restless who believe that those living in rest are unproductive and idle.Our competitive culture draws people out of rest by over-affirming achievement, directly implying that we must have more, do better and keep order. It can subtly invade the way we think God feels about us, the way we feel about Him, and the way we treat others. When we are restless, we stray away from living life like we have a home in God’s love, and we start seeking to perform to earn it.
"Rest is a place where mankind will be drawn to us - everyone is searching for rest."
Biblical rest is an attitude of heart that feels so sheltered in God’s love that it does not allow itself to be pulled into a place of strife in order to obtain God’s approval. Rest is a place where mankind will be drawn to us because everyone is searching for rest.
When I went on an expedition to Antarctica last year, I was amazed at the innocence of the penguins. They seemed to want to get to know me as much as I wanted to know more about them. As I sat still on a rock among one of their colonies free from fear and striving, they would slowly make their way over to me, stand a couple of feet away, and check me out from head to toe. God’s creatures were drawn to the rest within me. But any sudden movements or loud noises would startle them, even causing the penguin parents to forget their young and trample them in the snow as they sought to escape.
All of God’s creation is drawn to rest, but it is repelled by restlessness. A recent survey of 10 and 11 year old children asked what they liked most and least about their parents. Answers varied about what they liked most; but almost everyone responded the same with what they liked least, “When my mom or dad get upset or yell.” Is our restlessness endangering the emotional health of the emerging generation? I think so.
There are a number of passages in the New Testament about entering into God’s rest. The Greek definition for “rest” means “to cease, to be refreshed, to settle down, and to abide.” God’s rest causes you to live life rejuvenated and at peace. But restlessness is about living life with a feeling that there is something more you have to get right in order to relax and have a sense of self worth.
In February this year, after a few months of generally feeling bad physically, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. One doctor inferred that I would not make it to the end of the year and to get my affairs in order. When given the news, I smiled. The doctor said, “Do you not understand what I have just told you?”
My response was, “I understand very well, but you do not understand who my Dad is. I am a beloved child of the Creator of all things... He knows what I am in need of, and He will not forsake me.” The doctors were surprised that I did not respond with fear or despair. I was a little shocked myself.
"Restlessness and faith cannot coexist."
Since the bad report, in order for my body to receive quality rest, I have set aside further traveling in ministry this year and have turned it over to others. I have seen my physical strength diminish while spiritual strength increases. At times my body has been too weak to pray or read my Bible. There have been a few nights when the fluid on my lung (pleural effusion) caused such pain and shortness of breath that I lay in bed weeping. I could only receive comfort by groaning, “Lord Jesus, full of grace, have mercy upon me!” In spite of the circumstances, I am at rest in the faith that spiritual realities will eventually supersede the earthly ones. I have little strength left to try to help God control my destiny.
Rest is a foundational truth of God’s Kingdom. (See Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:1-12; Psalm 46:10). It is a place of surrender and submission that creates an atmosphere for faith to grow. It cannot grow in an atmosphere of restlessness.
Restlessness and faith cannot coexist because they work against each other. Restlessness is rooted in insecurity and fear while rest is active and grabs hold of the kingdom and pulls it into the natural realm, causing the natural to give way to the spiritual. In these past few months, I have discovered that I need only a mustard seed of faith in order for God’s love to dispel the restless need to be in control.
I never want to go back to the way things were before the doctor’s negative report. I have not arrived where I would like to be; but I have begun to enter into a depth of rest that I did not know was possible before. I am not afraid or angry with God. I’ve not once questioned, “Why me!” I no longer strive while playing games or even when I am following a slow driver in the left hand lane. I even feel relaxed when someone is late. Many of the little things that used to so easily irritate me are just too temporal to risk losing peace.
God is in control, and I have resigned from helping Him manage the universe.
Entering Into Rest
Now people ask me, “Jack, if you can be suffering as you have been and are at rest, tell me how I can enter that rest, too, where I am no longer pulled back into the striving!”
Take ownership of your need for rest and stop blaming God, circumstances, or people. If rest is difficult for you, somehow you are still trying to perform or control something.
Without rest you eventually become worn out spiritually, emotionally, and physically. You may begin to isolate yourself and start denying your physical and emotional needs. You may find yourself too busy to spend time with family, friends, or hobbies. You may start becoming more critical and judgmental of others as you work harder to prove to yourself through your work, spiritual disciplines, or ‘got it all together’ image that you have value or self-worth.
"The secret to Jesus' life and ministry was the rest He found in His Father's love."
The inner emptiness increases your restlessness and in time may lead to depression. Eventually you are left in a state of agitation or apathy where life and relationships seem to lose their meaning. The unrest compromises your immune system and you may find yourself succumbing to increased “disease” and sickness.
See yourself at rest in Father’s embrace. From the position of being God’s beloved child Jesus invites you into the same relationship with His Father that He enjoyed. The only place you cease from striving is entering into this community of love.
The secret of Jesus’ life and ministry was the rest He found in His Father’s love. “The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.” (John 5:19-20)
Because of Jesus’ relationship with His Father, He did not have to strive to make things happen. He did not fear anything or become anxious. Because you have entered into this community of love, you have the potential to do greater works than Jesus did. You can enjoy the same place of rest in Father’s embrace where you do not have to strive to make anything happen. (See John 14-17).
Discovering rest does not happen by just slowing down or stopping. It is found in believing that God wants to continually demonstrate His love to you in the same way He did to Jesus. Your labor is simply to enter into that rest as Jesus did.
God is waiting on you to be at rest in Him so that He can pour out His compassion on you and reveal His kingdom to you in ways you could never before have perceived or imagined. Years ago Bob Mumford said it this way, “When we act, God waits. When we wait, God acts.” Waiting on God and entering into His rest are the most productive moments of your life. (See Isaiah 30:18; 64:4)
Realize How Jesus’ Finished Work on the cross made it easy for you to enter into God’s rest. When you cry out, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” How long does it take for Jesus to find you? Every time you cry out His name, Jesus will always lead you into Father’s embrace. Even if you have found yourself in a pigpen, Father is waiting for you with outstretched arms and a heart full of love and compassion (see Luke 15:20). Jesus made it easy for you to find rest.
"Are you tired, ...Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG)