Matthew 6.24-34; cf. II Corinthians 12.1-10
Introduction: Why a Series on Rest?
This year for our annual Advent series we chose the theme of “REST.” We did this for a few reasons. First, the series is not some pretentious hipster thing or an attempt to be different just to be different. We are spending this Christmas season deeply exploring one phrase in Luke 2.14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Second, we are the people with whom God is pleased, so we need to consider what it means for us to be a people of peace in the present age. Third, in our western American culture we are surrounded by people who have no idea how to rest before God. We have systems, structures, employers, spouses, and kids encouraging us to forsake God’s helpful mandate to rest. And we embrace their encouragement thinking we don’t need rest. We adopt the worldview of our taskmasters, and live as if we are slaves.
The series was broken up into 2 parts. First, what does the Bible say about rest and why it is important? Second, what does it look like to rest? We are now in part 1, examining 3 key spaces for rest: our church, our lives, and our world. Today is about personal and I would say our aim for personal rest is…
Theme: Personal rest comes through habits of worship that resist false gods.
1. The Source of Unrest—Matthew 6.24-34.
In this section of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is on a mountain giving several mini sermons about various issues. Matthew 6 Jesus has been talking about restful habits that will help foster joyful intimacy with God. At the end of Matthew 6 Jesus reveals the enemy of rest—READ Matthew 6.24. The word translated “MONEY” here can mean money but it also has a broader meaning. The word can also mean “POSSESIONS.” The reason this is important to note is because it will help us better understand what Jesus is saying about anxiety. Jesus tell us not to be anxious (Matt 6.31, 34). For almost anyone that could seem unrealistic. In fact the famous author Frederick Buechner said this about telling someone to not be anxious:
“In one sense it is like telling a woman with a bad head cold not to sniffle and sneeze so much or a lame man to stop dragging his feet.”—Frederick Buechner
Anxiety is a part of natural human experience. The seasoned counselor Ed Welch says when something or someone that we love is under threat that will be the source of our anxiety. I do not believe Jesus is telling us to not be anxious or fearful because He recognizes it as a natural human experience—READ Matthew 6.34. Jesus himself was anxious; therefore, it is not necessarily sinful to be anxious. We are not disobeying God just because we are anxious. Jesus wants us to consider the source or motivation for our anxiety. What are you “POSSESSED” with? If we possessed with the things of this world it will result in deep anxiety, stress, UNREST.
Jesus understands God gives emotions to us. Anxiety is an emotion that can be used to clue us into real threats. God gave us this anxiety emotion to reveal our true source of worship and identity. What we worship shapes who we are and how we live. Jesus wants us to be clued into the real threats that would destroy our faith, our relationship with God, our very selves. This is why Jesus opened this section with, “No one can serve two masters.” Jesus understands the true source of our unrest is the master we serve. If our master is not Jesus, then they are “false gods.” All false gods are fickle, apathetic, wrathful, and powerless. When those are the attributes of your god then you will be extremely anxious and fearful.
2. The Source of Rest—II Corinthians 12.7-10.
Anxiety is up in our current western American culture. There are many reasons for this but what some scholars have noticed is its rapid rise with the popularity of social media. Social media can really bring some cool things into our lives, but two major disadvantages are clearly happening: (1) increased anxiety and (2) self-absorption. What these scholars are noticing is social media presenting partial truth, namely, everything in my life is awesome. What happens with those who are seeking their intimacy in social media is they are dissatisfied. They see what seems to be a “better” life of people online and their life fails in comparison. They become consumed with self-absorption, or “self-worship.” And when we worship something other than Jesus then our souls will become deeply anxious.
Paul shows us how to spot the root of our anxiety in II Corinthians 12—READ II Corinthians 12.7-10. There are 3 key things to notice about Paul’s anxiety: it is (1) Painful, (2) Chronic, and (3) Demonic. The threat Paul is facing hurts deeply. He is constantly facing it. And this threat wants Him to be self-absorbed and distracted from glorifying God in Christ. But let’s take note that the most common word throughout these verses is “BOAST.” The reason Paul’s anxiety is demonic is it wants him to boast about himself, but God-focused anxiety will result in boasting in God. Paul was given a covenantal mantra to help with his anxiety, “My grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I say this is covenantal because all throughout Scripture we see God using weak people to display His power. The very foundation the Christian faith is built on this idea. The Cross is height of deep anxiety and stress, yet is also the place where the power of God is put on display.
Paul understands what we worship is the source of our rest or unrest. If we go back and look at all the instructions before the command on Sabbath rest, then we quickly see they are all about WORSHIP. The instruction was to have no other gods, not to worship images, and do not allow God’s name to become meaningless. After those we are encouraged to take intentional time to remember, reflect, and enjoy the One true, rescuing, providing, God of the Bible. True Christian rest is about intentional time to resist self-absorption and to dwell richly on the majesty of God.
3. Practicing Personal Rest.
The past few weeks have spoken about there is an aspect of rest that feels like a paradox, because there is a STRIVING to rest. In his book The Art of Rest, Adam Mabry, gives us 3 regular strivings for personal rest: (1) Daily, (2), Weekly, and (3) Yearly. Throughout the Bible we see these 3 types of strivings help us with personal rest.
Daily restful habits might include: prayer, reading, sleeping, reflecting and eating. Some of those habits are self-explanatory, so I will focus on the challenging ones. When consider the type of reading we are doing today it consist of short, rapid reading. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blogs are the mechanism for this. I would suggest we consider reading habits that will help us slow down and reduce the amount. In our Refuge Communities we are trying to teach everyone how to meditate on one short passage a week. If we spend 10-15 minutes on that passage for 4-5 days using the 4A’s then you have developed a meditative reading habit. If you journal during these 4-5 days then you should be able to spend time in reflection as well. As for prayer consider the tradition of called, “The Daily Office.” An example of this is The Book of Common Prayer, which encourages you to breathe, pray, reflect and worship for short periods throughout the day. I read about one man who would schedule 5 minutes between meetings each day to pause, breathe, and pray to simply rest throughout his day. This man was resting in God all day everyday.
Weekly habits would include things like: reflecting, singing, and celebrating. When you read the Mosaic Laws and the wisdom of the Puritans you see instructions on how to PREPARE for your weekly Sabbath rest. As NT Christians we do not share the same strict view of the Sabbath as them, but we do see the wisdom. Therefore, personally I have benefited in learning how to PREPARE for my weekly rest. Some the preparations the day before would include: making sure you finish the majority of your work around mid-afternoon, being careful with what I dwell on, making sure I get good sleep night.
Yearly restful habits would include vacations, annual spiritual retreats, or scheduled breaks after long projects are completed. I highly encourage us all to consider retreats, if even for a day, to spend intentional time praying, reading, reflecting, journaling on our relationship with Jesus.
I want to close with a few suggestions to the leaders in our church. Leaders, we need to be striving to make sure the spaces we have created are actually restful. That begins with us. I see far too many leaders who are NOT resting in our church rhythms, so why would our church see them as restful? I think the key for us is make sure we know the why and how of our habits. Leaders make sure you understand the theological and practical “why’s” of our restful habits. Finally, we need to be always willing to reevaluate our rhythms based on the feedback we get from our people. This does not mean we will change them, but we should always listen and reflect on what is best for God’s people.
For all of us to experience more rest, to practice these small habitual changes, it might require RESISTING the enemy of rest—POSSESSIONS. Our status, success or any other idols will have to be resisted. This may mean an older car, fewer lattes, reducing what your kids do, less money, out of date clothing, and so much more. What is God calling you to give up personally this Christmas season so you can experience more rest in Him?