Numbers 9: They camped at God’s command and they marched at God’s command.
It’s pretty straightforward. There’s a big cloud that glows like fire at night. All they have to do is follow it. When it moves, they move. When it stands still, they stand still. That’s the one that catches my attention: “stand still.” I do a lot better job of moving. After all, I’m a valuable part of the Kingdom of God and I’m sure the Lord needs for me to be in the game from start to finish. Other players might get a break but no bench time for me! Well, seriously, I know there’s always something else to be done. I need to take note that even as the Lord leads the Israelites in this clear and unmistakable way that sometimes he leads them to stop. For one thing that means taking time out. God built a day off into the very fabric of Creation. A minimum of one day out of seven is a day for the Pillar of Cloud in our lives to stand still. Another thing that comes to mind is that I don’t listen to God very well when I’m on the move. His Voice is precious, but it’s often so quiet that I won’t hear it at all unless I still my life and pay attention. Every day needs to have times when the Pillar of Cloud stands still for a while and I focus my attention entirely on the Lord.
Take Away: Taking time out is not only a good thing to do, it’s actually a requirement.
The “rest” for the people of God
Hebrews 4: The promise of “arrival” and “rest” are still there for God’s people.
In the Old Testament story of the people of God we read of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. By God’s hand they triumph at the Red Sea and not long after that come to the Jordan River with the promise that this is to be their land of rest. Once they possess Canaan they’ll be home at last. However it doesn’t work out. The people refuse to trust God and, because of that, are sentenced to a lifetime of wilderness wandering. The writer of Hebrews uses that sad story to tell his readers that the Lord calls his people to a “rest experience” in their relationship with him. After deliverance from sin, there’s a “Jordan River” crisis in which believers are to trust God to give them rest from the inner struggle and freedom to love him with all their heart and soul and mind. The failure of the people of Israel is a real possibility for the believer: to doubt the extent to which the Lord can deliver his people from the bondage of sin. To fail here is to turn back to the wilderness and to experience the spiritual journey as a constant struggle with failure and sin. To believe God and trust him with all of one’s life is to cross the Jordan and enter into a deeper spiritual life of freedom and liberty. “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ are still there for God’s people.”
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives our sins – he also delivers us from that sin.
The best laid plans…
Mark 6: Let’s take a break and get a little rest.
These are busy days for Jesus and his disciples. They’ve just returned from preaching/healing expeditions. The possessed have been set free, the sick have been healed, and the Good News has been proclaimed. Upon their return, Jesus calls a time out for a retreat of sorts. They head for a wilderness spot where he can debrief them and they can be refreshed. In this case it doesn’t work out. People find out where they’re going and there’s a big, needy, crowd waiting for them when they arrive. Jesus’ heart is stirred by their need and he abandons the retreat idea in favor of ministering to these poor, lost sheep. I know, first hand, of the need to unplug and get away from the day to day responsibilities of life. In my case, as a pastor, I guess I get just a very small taste of what it is that has zapped the energy of the disciples in this incident. However, I think the concern is similar for just about everyone who goes out to face the world each day. There’s a time for unplugging from the stuff of everyday and letting body, soul, and spirit be refreshed. Still, in light of the entirety of this passage, I’m also reminded that when I love people and have a chance to minister to their need I’m to respond as best I’m able. In this situation, the opportunity to minister to people trumps the desire of Jesus that the disciples get some rest. Life is a balancing act. Here we see Jesus changing his priorities because he’s presented with a great need and opportunity.
Take Away: If we’re to properly represent Jesus in this world we have to remain flexible and responsive to opportunities that come our way.
The sweetest invitation
Matthew 11: Come to me.
There’s no sweeter invitation than what we hear from the Lord: “Come to me.” This invitation is directed to people who are weary and beaten down by life. It’s for people who’ve tried to find satisfaction in sometimes self-destructive ways and, in the end, realize that all they have is a handful of sand. Specifically, this invitation is for people who’ve tried religion and been hurt, maybe even abused, there. To all who are hurting, disappointed, tired, and empty Jesus says, “Come to me.” It’s not about church rituals and rules; although such things have been found by many to be helpful. It’s not about turning over a new leaf, making a New Year’s resolution, or simply trying harder; although there’s room here for self-improvement. Beyond all that, though, is Jesus. I respond to his sweet invitation by giving up my own claims to righteousness and reordering all other relationships to something less than number one. In response to this invitation to “come” I turn my attention to Jesus and lay all else, including myself, at his feet. From that point on, I walk with him and learn from him, how to really live.
Take Away: Jesus is the only one who can truly make this offer, and he does make it to all who will come.
Take it easy
Psalm 127: Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Wise King Solomon is credited with writing both this psalm and the 72nd as well, and there’s considerable wisdom here. He reminds us that unless God is the builder a project will produce nothing worthwhile and unless God guards a city all other efforts at defense are a waste of time. It’s the next phrase that gets my attention today, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” Since it’s true that God is the One who builds things that last perhaps we can relax a bit. Without the hand of God all that we accomplish by working 16 hours a day will be exhaustion. It isn’t that we have nothing worthwhile to do. The Lord graciously invites us to labor in his fields and be coworkers with him. He goes with us out into our daily lives with an agenda of his own. The reminder of this psalm is that our Master also enjoys giving us time off for rest and, especially, to enjoy our families. As we’ve heard many times, no one, at the end of life says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office and less with those I love.” Remember, the direction given in this psalm is from the wisest man who ever lived!
Take Away: Life is a gift of God to be appreciated and enjoyed.