A sabbath rest still remains for the people of God…Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest. Hebrews 4:10,11
“We stay busy so that the truth of our lives can’t catch up.”~ Brene Brown
Two of the top prescribed medications in America are Valium and Tagamet. The former is a muscle relaxant to help people deal with stress. The latter stops the flow of hydrocholoric acid to ease a churning stomach plagued with ulcers. If pharmaceuticals are any barometer to where our culture is at emotionally, we’re the most uptight, stressed-out, anxiety-ridden culture on the face of the earth.
Because we’ve never understood what it really means to rest. We tend to equate rest with sleeping in on a rainy morning…with basking on the beach, while pouring on the sunscreen and reading the latest best-seller…with an afternoon snooze on the couch to the soothing T.V. background music of marching bands and half-time activities.
The American devotional writer Lettie Cowman wrote about a traveler visiting Africa and engaging a group of carriers and guides. Hoping to make her journey a swift one, she was pleased with the progress of the many miles they covered that first day. On the second day, though, all the carriers she had hired remained seated and refused to move. She was greatly frustrated and asked the leader of her hired hands why they would not continue the journey. He told her that on the first day they had traveled too far too fast, and now they were waiting for their souls to catch up to their bodies.
In the summer of 2013 I met with a young church planting pastor at a Mexican restaurant in the Seattle area. I had been meeting with him regularly for a couple of years. We got our basket of chips and salsa, diet drinks and began to small talk.
I love this guy. He is handsome, intelligent, and fearless. He has a lovely wife and three delightful young girls. He was trying to plant a church in the heart of downtown Seattle. Perhaps the single most secular city in the country. Rent for a modest apartment is somewhere around $4,000 per month.
We talked about his family, his calling, and his soul. At one point, I invited him to join me on my trip to hike the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon. He said he couldn’t do it. Didn’t have time. I said, “How about you just come for a week and not the entire 34 days?” He said he didn’t have time. Couldn’t justify it.
I asked him if it were a leadership conference to help him grow his church would he go?
He said yes.
“But,” I said, ‘Spending that time in silence and solitude will grow and strengthen your soul.”
“Joe, I can’t justify it to my partnership churches who are funding me and I can’t justify it to my planting team,” he said.
“It’s an open invitation,” I said.
The next morning, I got an email from him thanking me for loving him and inviting him to go on the trip with me. Then he said, “Joe, I’ve decided to go with you. Not for a week, but for the entire 460 miles.” I was delighted. We had the time of our lives.
About day fifteen of our trip, we took a break and sat on a gray log and he asked me what was the most important driving value of my life.
I told him, I wanted to live a life so compelling that people who know me would want to walk closer with God.
He stared at me. I could see that he was thinking about something, but I couldn’t tell if the thoughts swirling in his head had anything to do with my statement. He looked down and his chin began to quiver. He stood up and walked a few feet and began to cry.
At first just a few tears came, then a few more. No sound; then heavy sighs and inaudible moans, and soon with a full-on lament worthy of Jeremiah. I have witnessed a man weep like that about three times in my life. This went on for about five minutes—wailing.
Instantly my pastor’s heart was aroused to offer some comfort.
I opened my mouth wanting to say: What’s going on inside you? What are you feeling? Do you want to talk about the pain? How can I help you? Do you want to pray? I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
“Shut up,” God said.
So, I kept my mouth shut. In time, he wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his brown shirt, blew his nose, cleared his throat, and apologized to me for his emotions.
I said nothing.
To this day I have no idea what was going on in that moment. What I do know is that I was to give him space—sacred space—to let that moment happen between him and God.
This summer on the four-year anniversary of our meeting at the Mexican Restaurant he sent me a message that said:
This was a pivotal moment for me. Joe, thank you for being there for me and for inviting me to go along on the journey for my soul. Bless you my friend.
You and I need to do whatever it takes to position ourselves to rest in the presence of God.
When I was in high school I worked on a cattle ranch every summer and we cooked on a wood burning stove. My girlfriend and I exchanged letters and in one letter she said, “I love the smell of your letters. They smell like wood smoke.” When we enter into a rhythm of practicing Sabbath we take that aroma into our world so that others might say, “I love your life. It smells like rest.”
And so, dear friend, may you slow down so your souls can catch up with Jesus.