Discipline, Sabbath, and Rest
As I sit here on a Sunday afternoon writing a blog to share with you, my flesh is tempted towards providing it instant gratification in the form of Facebook, Netflix (yes, we have this in Kenya), TV shows, movies, and numerous other distractions that allow me to not think and take it easy. In some ways, it seems that these forms of instant gratification offer “rest.” They allow us to not have to use our minds too much. Casey and I got home from church this afternoon and feel exhausted physically and emotionally, so we ate some lunch and watched a show on Netflix. This was not a bad use of time because it allows my wife and I a little downtime together, but I am continually wrestling through the temptation I face towards media because of how it distracts me.
I am currently rereading Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The thesis comes from 1 Timothy 4:7, which states, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (NASB). Whitney shows that people experience little growth in godliness (a major goal of the Christian life) because of a lack of discipline. Early in the book, Whitney says,
This book is hard to read in some ways because it pushes against my flesh. Later in the book, Whitney says, “It’s a lot easier to be an accidental learner and a convenience learner than an intentional learner. We’re born that way. And television spoon-feeds that inclination in megadoses. Watching TV or video is so much easier than choosing a good book, reading words, creating your own mental images, and relating it to your life. Television decides for you what will be presented, speaks the words to you, shows you its own images, and tells you what impact it wants to have on your life, if any. Compared to that, books often appear too demanding for the contemporary mind.” (p. 279) Distractions exist all around us, whether we live in the United States or Kenya or somewhere else.
Our 95 days in Kenya has been a rollercoaster ride emotionally and physically. The first month, I was totally exhausted because we didn’t stop and constantly had people around. The second month, we were trying to find our place and there was a lot of downtime with some public holidays. Now we are taking on more responsibility and enjoying the opportunities to serve and get to know people, but I am also realizing the importance of disciplining myself to rest. I specifically wanted to write this blog post to highlight some of Whitney’s insights as it relates to how I have been processing through Sabbath and rest over the last few months.
For me, true rest is not watching the sports games on the weekend or binge watching a TV show, but true rest is time spent intentionally with our God. I have to realize my great need for taking 3-4 hours (and maybe more) each week to spend with my Savior so that I am rejuvenated with the good news of the gospel and what Christ has done for me in order to be able to pour myself out the rest of the week.
In another of my seminary classes, Dr. Jim Shaddix challenged the class that as Christians, we need to experience deep communion with the Father. He took us to Mark 1. Jesus spent much time one day healing many people who were sick and oppressed. Verse 35 describes what He did the next morning: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to desolate place, and there he prayed.” (ESV) If anyone was capable of not spending time in prayer and finding true rest with the Father, it was Jesus, and yet, in the midst of amazing ministry, Jesus found time for
as Dr. Shaddix described it.
In order to grow in godliness, in order to grow as a disciple, in order to make much of Christ, we must be disciplined, but this discipline only comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. This necessitates true rest each week where I read the Scriptures, pray, memorize Scripture, and meditate on the nature of God. I need time with God each day, but I am also becoming more aware of the importance of the Sabbath. Maybe the Sabbath involves a nap or a TV show or a sports game, but what I most need is unhurried and undistracted time with my Creator. He is the only One who offers true joy and true rest. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Just as the abundant life is found in Christ and not in what the world offers, true rest is found in coming to Christ. Join me in turning the TV off, sitting with your Bible and reading, meditating, and praying on the greatness of God. The infinite and eternal God will reveal Himself to you through His Son and through His Scripture. There is nothing greater than truly knowing and communing with the One who created you.