Reflections on Labor and Rest

Friends,

As “Labor Day” draws to a close, I encourage you to reflect a bit on ReOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAst and Labor, perhaps beginning simply with the contemplation of this image and Merriam-Webster’s definition of “reflection” as “something that shows the effect, existence, or character of something else” (www.M-W.com). Perhaps you have caught a more spectacular reflection with your own camera, but I want to address not so much a visual reflection as to contemplate the effect, existence, or character of labor in light of rest.

Jesus spoke of the relationship between labor and rest in a place not far from where this picture was taken, when He offered Himself as the source of rest to those who were weary and heavy laden. Although He was speaking there of a spiritual rest, we should not ignore the connection of physical & emotional weariness and labor. For many of us, the end of a three-day weekend finds us more spent than when we began. Our “pace of life” seems, at times, exhausting—we embody the expression “work hard, play hard” but we should add “constantly” (or, “over and over”). We might attribute that pace to “modern times,” but I think that is a mistake. Even Jesus and His disciples experienced unrelenting demands on their time, for we are told that “there were so many people coming and going that they did not even have time to eat.” (Mk. 6:31) Sound familiar? Yet amid that pressing need and opportunity, Jesus—the One sent not to be served but to serve—says “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest up.” I think He makes that same call to us today, but most of us ignore Him!

I know, for a number of you I’ve now “gone from preaching and started meddling.” If you feel that way, you need to hear this more than most!

Our culture does not value rest. In fact, some of us are not only busy, we like to impress people with how busy we are! Think about it: How often, when someone asks how you are, do you reply: “Busy!” (or some equivalent)? Truth be told, some of us have pretty much welcomed conformity to the world’s standard as our “normal”—like the world, we believe busy people are important people. We manifest this when we can’t enjoy a meal out without succumbing to the urge to check our emails, text messages, or make a post to FaceBook or Twitter. We consider ourselves courteous if we ask consent (sort of) of those we are “with” by explaining, “I need to take this.” I don’t mean to imply there is never a situation where that urgency is not true, but for many of us we only wish it were true—and we want the people around to be aware of our importance.

Pressed on every side, unable to pause even to eat, He gets away for a few hours on the water en route to an afternoon of compassionate service to a crowd of perhaps 15,000 (read again Mark 6:30-44). But I think we often miss the point! If rest is important (and it is), if Jesus’ promise of rest is true (and it is), and if the disciples really needed to rest up (and they did), where is that rest in the story? They were exhausted from service and looking forward to some privacy (hadn’t Jesus said “by yourselves”?), only to be swarmed again on the other side of the lake. No wonder the disciples wanted to “send them away!”

Without diminishing for a moment the importance of substantial time away for rest, I suggest that this time Jesus intended them to rest en route. On the water, amid the sunshine and breeze, they were indeed by themselves. They did have opportunity to rest up. But I suspect they missed it because their expectation was that rest awaited them on shore when, in fact, it was offered them in the boat. As much as I would like to encourage you each to “get away by yourselves and rest up,” for most of you the “desolate place” will only become another place of frenetic activity. But most of you, perhaps all of you, have times en route when you could turn off the radio and commune with The Ageless One. I encourage you to do just that: Allow Him to refresh you and give you rest, even as you travel. Indeed, this can be practiced in such short times as a walk from your office to the copier amid an otherwise pressing meeting. I know. He has granted me rest in such times, and what He does for one of His Beloved He is ready to do for each, if we are willing. While reflecting on that you might also talk to Him about what to say the next time someone asks, “How are you?”

May you enjoy His grace in abundance and His peace beyond measure.

John