School is out for summer and for many, summer is the season for family vacations, and slowing the pace of life down. As a kid, I loved my annual two month sabbatical. My summers were filled with epic bike rides, camping, exploring the forests and orchard, building forts and pear fights with my buddies. Days were filled with building homemade push carts, baseball games, and swimming. There was rarely a shortage of things to do and yet in spite of all the busyness, I found it refreshing and restful!
I am older now with all the realities of adult life, and I have learned that work and activity can be a real gift from God (as can times of restful inactivity). However, I am learning how to rest, how to Sabbath even in the busyness that is often my life now. Work can be very satisfying when we can be creative, can contribute to something worthwhile, and can provide for our family, but sometimes life can take on a sense of toil. Toil for me is unceasing work that produces very little satisfaction or lacks purpose or meaning. When we speak of our faith life, toil is when we find ourselves working like mad to earn something we already have - in Jesus.
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." - Dallas Willard
For many, we can find ourselves on the hamster wheel of religious obligation trying subtly and not so subtly, to earn Gods love and favor. When we do spiritual activities in an effort to get God to do something for us, to appease or be more acceptable to God, it can produce an insidious kind of toil that can drain the energy, joy and peace from all of life.
A number of years ago, I was feeling fairly burnt out from an unrelenting ministry schedule and the tyranny of religious obligation. During my quiet time I was praying with the scripture from Matthew 11:30, where Jesus says that His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. As I meditated upon this piece of scripture, I imagined that I was walking with Jesus. As we walked I was whining to Jesus about how the burden wasn't so light, and the yoke wasn't easy. In my prayerful imagination, I saw Jesus stop and look at me with a compassionate smile on His face. He said, "Michael, do want to know what my easy yoke and light burden is?" And with that He simply put His arm around my shoulder, and we continued to walk together. The yoke and burden was not religious toil but simply walking with Him in relationship. This brought great relief and helped me see work, ministry and life in a new way.
During the Exodus (33:14), the people were encouraged to rest because God was going with them. The Father presence was the source of their rest in the midst of an often difficult journey. The rest we have in Christ is in our reconciled relationship with our loving God and the promise of His abiding presence in all of life. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mt.12:8) and in Him we can rest because there is nothing left to toil after. In Jesus, it is finished! Genuine Sabbath is not observing a specific day, or even the absence of work or activity. Sabbath flows from the experience of knowing that we are loved. When all our labors find their source in the source of divine love Himself, we can experience Sabbath even in our work and busyness.