Finding Your Soul Rest
Can you believe it is that time of year where the days of summer will soon transition into a new school year? Soon the roads that so many travel each morning to work will be filled with school busses, parents driving their kids to school, and the oh so dreaded high school student drivers. Even parents who had grown accustomed to a summer routine will find themselves suddenly overwhelmed at the word, taxi driver is added to their job description. Practices, games, clubs, organizations, church activities, parent conferences, etc. are added to their already busy schedule. And somewhere in there, we are supposed to find time to spend in communing with God and helping people.
Sadly, in the coming months, many Christians will sacrifice the things God has called them to do on the altar of their busy schedules. They will first let some of the little things slide and no one will blame them because they too feel the strain and stress of a saturated schedule. They will forfeit their time with God just this one morning on the guise that a few moments of more sleep will benefit them just this one day. They can always catch up with their God time later in the day or perhaps the next.
For many, the god of weekend football or soccer games demands an offering of the occasional absence from the Sunday worship service. This is soon followed by the shrine of their own sanity requiring them to skip their small group gatherings to try to just stay afloat in the tossing sea of turmoil.
Before long, that one morning missed with God, that one Sunday of skipped church, and that one small group meeting not attended, opens the door a few weeks later for another. Then another. And before long, missing that integral glue that binds our hearts to the ways of God becomes the norm.
Unfortunately, this is a pattern repeated in Christians more often than it is not. Between work, family, and other commitments, life has become just too busy. Yet throughout Scriptures, we are repeatedly told to rest in the Lord. But quite simply, the demands on our lives are so full that we do not have the time to rest in the Lord, much less minister to others.
I’ll be honest, this was a quandary I was in. The past month or so, my church has been doing a series on resting in God. However, it was a concept that I simply could not grasp. Oh, theologically I believed in it. I knew it was important to rest in the Lord, but what I never could understand was what that really means. I know it could not simply mean sitting back and basking in God’s glory and how wonderful and deep His love for me is. If that is all we did as Christians, then who would evangelize the world, feed the hungry, reach out to the hurting, teach the children, guide the youth, disciple the men, and mentor the women. In other words, if everyone rested in the Lord, then how would ministry ever take place? In fact, if resting in the Lord means not doing anything for His kingdom, then why not go straight to Heaven now! There is no better place than Heaven to rest in the Lord. Therefore, I simply could not match the concept of people and ministry with the idea of rest.
However, this past Sunday night as I sat discussing with my small group a verse that had been read earlier in the day during the worship service, things began to crystalize a bit more in my mind. As we read and discussed Jeremiah 6:16, I began to see that our soul finding rest in God is not really inactivity, but is best described as a progression of things we do.
This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jeremiah 6:16 (NLT)
In our small group discussion, we focused on the verbs in this verse. As you probably remember from school, the most common definition of a verb was to say that it was an action word. And action usually means doing something. As I read this verse, it immediately began to resonate with me because I saw the soul’s rest is not simply a choice we make to rest, but it is the natural result of taking action.
The first action we are told to take is to Stop. Any time we hear that command, we automatically know that there is a reason that such a statement was made. Those who are followers of Christ know that when God tells us to stop, it is probably for our own good because we are about to step into something we shouldn’t. I started this blog post by describing the busy schedule so many of keep and how especially in the next few months we are going to be tempted to temporarily (at least we tell ourselves it is only a temporary thing) step away from something we know God wants us to do.
I do not, nor will I ever, claim to be a prophet. However, it does not take a prophetic word to say that on the eve of the busyness that will soon engulf us, God wants us to take a deep breath and STOP. We are, just like the people of Judah we read about in Jeremiah 6:16, at a crossroads. We will have decisions to make. On the one hand, God is calling us in the middle of our busy schedule to be the light to our world, to reach out to those who are hurting, and to encourage those whom God has put in our spiritual circle of influence. On the other hand, the demands of life scream at us to go above and beyond the call of duty for our careers, to push and push to better ourselves and our families, and then just before we hit exhaustion, to step away from God’s provisions (time with God, commitment to church, and the fellowship of a small group, to name a few) to take care of our own needs.
These are some of the crossroads we will be facing and Jeremiah 6:16 tells us that as we approach one of these crossroads we are to stop.
And then we are to Look. Just as it when we were children when we learned to look both ways before we crossed the street, when we are at one of these crossroads in our lives, when the pressures of life are tugging at our hearts to compromise what deep down we know to be right, we need to take time to look. Look both directions. However, notice that this passage does not say when you come to a fork in the road. It says when you come to a crossroad. If it were merely a fork in the road, then you would have two choices – left or right. Presumably, one way would be the right way and one would be the wrong way.
I suggest that in the case of a crossroad, there are at least three possible directions to take – right, left, or straight. This is an important distinction to make from a fork in the road because when we are at crossroads in our lives, there are often more than two choices. There is, of course, the wrong choice, the one that will lead us into pain, heartache, and perhaps destruction. Most of us are good about avoiding that obvious turn. When we see what is down that path, we are smart enough to know that there are no good results. The good things is that we have no intention of doing those things we know are wrong. We are not going to cheat on our spouse, stop going to church, drop our accountability with our small group, or throw the idea of prayer out the window. Turning down that path is not even a consideration for us.
However, we sometimes think about turning down the second path. This is the path of small compromise. We aren’t going to sin. We aren’t going to cheat on our spouse. We are only going to flirt with someone who is not our spouse. We aren’t going to stop going to church. We are just going to miss occasional Sundays when we are too tired to go. We aren’t going to drop out of our home group. We are just not going to go when it is not convenient. We aren’t going to stop reading the Bible. We are simply going to read it when a better time arises. It is especially important to look down this path, past the initial scenery and search for all the possible outcomes if you choose this path. As you look down the path, ask yourself one simple question – are there truly any long term benefits of choosing this path?
We might think this path of compromise will lead our soul to rest. We will get more sleep, we will take things off of our plate to free up more time, and we may even convince ourselves that this path will help our lives spiritually. However, nowhere in Scripture does it even hint that compromise of any kind will have positive results. In fact, there are stories after stories of Bible characters who prove the opposite is true.
Finally, there is the path that leads to our rest. This is the path of righteousness that leads to peace, joy, and love. However, the challenging part of this path is that at first glance, it might not look as pleasing as the second path. It may not seem as fun. Often times, when we stand at the crossroads, we cannot see the greatness that lies down this path. At the moment, we might not be able to focus on the benefits that will come when we choose to do act in according to God’s ways.
That is where the all-important next step comes in. We are told to ask for the old and godly ways. The natural mind of man cannot always see down the right path, but God promises in James 1:5 that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it and He will generously give it to us. As we stand at our daily crossroads, not sure which way to go, God tells us to ask Him for wisdom. Ask for Him to show you the old ways, the ways that have been written not only in the Word of God, but also in our very spirits. These ways are not hidden nor are they a secret, for they are always in view of those who ask for them.
For many of us, the wisdom of the old ways, those ways of God recorded in Scripture are not really in question. When we are at the crossroads, looking down every possible path, we usually know which path to choose. However, so often we still fall because we decide to walk just a few steps down the road of compromise, never intending to journey too far before turning back to walk the right road. Just one more step down that path leads to another and then another and before long, we are far away from the path we should have chosen. Perhaps we are even too far down the path of compromise to find our way back to the crossroads. We then find ourselves in a mess and we ask why and how we got there. What could we have done to avoid going down the path so far? Why is there no rest for our souls?
Jeremiah 6:16 gives us those answers. We fell short in following the principles outlined in that verse. Yes, we stopped, we looked, and perhaps we even asked, but we did not immediately follow through with the next progression on the road to soul rest. Instead of flirting with the wrong path, we should have taken the steps to walk in the old ways. That is so often the mistake Christian young people make when they take their first few steps into independence away from their parents and the church they grew up in. They intend to walk in the old ways, but their first few weeks of college are not marked by following Christ. Instead of immediately getting involved in a church, they desire to see and experience the fullness of college life. So they take those first few steps of compromise instead of immediately walking in God’s ways.
I encourage each of you, no matter where you are on your journey of faith, that the very instant you know the right path to take in any circumstances, begin to walk in that path. If you choose to wait to walk in it, then the short amount of time you planned to wait will turn into a length of time that you never intended.
This verse goes on to tell us that once we take those first steps to walk in the right path, we then need to travel in it. There is a difference between walking and traveling. Walking is something you might casually do. However, when you travel, you commit to the journey. You aren’t going to turn around and go try another path. You have committed in this particular area of your life to follow God’s plan and His ways.
And finally, we see the exciting part. We find rest. There is an important distinction I want to point out in this last phrase. Remember, we have been looking at the verbs in this verse. When I first read this verse, I misinterpreted it. I did see the progression that we have talked about, but the way I first saw it, I read it with the following verbs: Stop, Look, Ask, Walk, Travel, and then you will rest. WRONG! In our small group discussion last Sunday, my wife pointed out that the rest was not the end result of the progression. The verse is actually telling us that as we travel on the right path, we will FIND rest. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. The soul rest does not come at the end of the journey down God’s path. Our soul finds rest because we are traveling down God’s path, doing the things He wants us to do. Rest does not mean getting away from doing the things God has called us to do. Soul Rest actually takes place when we are actively doing the things of God.