December 30, 2018
A Forgotten Discipline: Rest & Solitude
As strange as this may feel, we want you to try something. Are you ready? Ok, here it goes: imagine youare Jesus and you’ve just started your public ministry (we told you this might feel strange).
There are more needy people around you than you can count. This person needs to be healed, that person needs a demon exercised, this religious leader is being a jerk, and to top it at all off your disciples don’t seem to have a clue what’s going on. Needless to say, you’re a busy person with lots of high-level responsibilities.
And yet, when we read about Jesus’ life, we discover an interesting practice many of us in the West seem to have forgotten:
But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed. — Luke 15:15–16 CSB
Ask yourself this question: as a follower of Jesus, are you following Jesus in the area of rest and solitude? If you’re like most—especially in the crazy-busy pace of the Permian Basin—the answer is a resounding no. It may be safe to say this is one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines to practice in today’s society. We think we need to “do it all” for ourselves, for our families, for our kids, for our employers. And yet, Jesusdidn’t do it all. Kevin DeYoung explains:
Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, He did everything God asked him to do.
If Jesus is our example, then we should be people who are not constantly burned out, burned up, or burning the candle at both ends. No doubt, we should work hard and be productive. But we must remember that hard work and rest are not contradictions. Rather, they are two necessary ingredients to a wholesome life. One without the other creates problems—rest without work is laziness, but work without rest is burnout. Both are bad. Balance is needed.
But you may be asking: Why does this matter? What does this even look like?
First, rest and solitude matter for the Christian because Jesus set us an example for how to live the most powerful and satisfying human life. Even Hetook time away to rest and devote undistracted time to be with the Father. Moreover, when God gave the 10 commandments, He commanded His people to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
Why would God command this? Because we are not Him—we don’t have an unlimited supply of energy, power, or resources. Every time we sleep, we participate in a declaration of human limitation. We need rest because we are not God. But its not just unconscious, bed-time rest that we need. We need times tobe awake and rest—times when we focus our minds upon the truths of God, sit quietly in His presence, and listen to His Spirit speak to our hearts.
There’s a story in Luke’s Gospel that illustrates this well:
While they were traveling, he entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha,you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has madethe right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 11:38–42 CSB
Did you catch that? Martha was busy working aroundJesus and taking care of all the work in the house, while Mary was content to just bewithJesus and hear his instruction. No question, we need to work hard and take care of our commitments (more on this below), but we also need to be people who make rest and solitude with Jesus a priority.
Somewhere in the matrix of work, family, and obligations, we need to prioritize the discipline of rest and solitude. Especially in the information age where so many distractions abound, we must make diligent efforts to unplug and say with the Psalmist, “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7). As two authors have put it:
One of the key benefits of solitude is that when we unhook from our support systems, our defective strategies of coping with life and our negative feelings that lie just beneath the surface manifest themselves. Then we have a chance to feel and think about them and invite Jesus to give wisdom and support in developing healthier habits and strategies.
This is why rest and solitude matter. We need temporary breaks from the pursuits that occupy our minds in order to honestly feel and respond to the deeper needs of transformation Jesus wants to work in us. John Ortberg says, “Solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us.”
Now, an important disclaimer: we’re not talking about a life free from responsibilities, commitments, or even busy-ness. That’s just life and the Scriptures make it clear that we should be people who have strong work ethics and take care of our priorities:
These passages make it clear that hard work and faithfulness to Jesus are hand in glove. One of the ways we evidence our faithfulness to Jesus is by working hard, providing for our families, and taking on the commitments that come with that.
When we talk about rest and solitude, we’re not advocating that you forsake any of this. What we’re notsaying is that you should stop working or being busy. What we are saying is maybe you should stop over-working and being crazy-busy.
If you run your car at full throttle all the time, you’ll burn out your engine. If you run your life at full throttle all the time, you’ll burn out your heart. Sadly, this happens all the time and there are more people running on empty than they would like to admit.
This is why rest and solitude must be a spiritual discipline of God’s people. As Donald Whitney says, “The busier you are and the more hectic your world, the more you need to plan daily spaces of silence and solitude…If you’re body had an emergency, you would take the necessary time to deal with it. Don’t do any less for an emergency of the soul.”
So, what could this look like for you practically? Every situation and person is different, but here are some ideas and questions to help you think through the idea of implementing some rest and solitude into your life: