Labor Day Musing: True rest for those labored and burdened

This past weekend was Labor Day weekend with Monday being Labor Day in the United States. This is a time set aside to rest from our toiling at being productive members of the workforce and taking a day of ease and rest. For me today the verse Matthew 11:28 (ESV) has come to mind:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

This simple statement is profound.  Jesus is giving and invitation to a difficulty many experience.  The statement contains three elements; the invitation, the invitee, and the result of accepting the invitation.  Those elements are worth more specific examination.

First, there is the invitation: Come to me. It is a simple request and formed in an imperative tone that is very direct and certain.  Jesus directs the invitee to come to him.  The word come is not a passive word. It sets a firm direction.  It takes an act of moving from one location to another. Here that direction is toward Jesus. Wherever one is, they need to change and move toward Jesus. Now it is interesting that the word in the Greek translated as me is μέ that encompasses all elements of self, I, me, and my. So in essence, Jesus is requesting and directing others to set their direction toward all of Him.  It is a request of a directed action, not a passive response. It is a movement away from whatever direction one is on, which in most cases would be that of a self-chosen direction, and a move toward Jesus.

Now the second element is the invitees. Here Jesus addresses a particular group.  The group he is addressing are those that are tired from the work they have engaged in and are weighed down with burdens they cannot bear on their own.  He is directing any that have come to the limits of their own effort and feel unable to go further to set their direction to him.  It is a call to cease the striving of self that drains energy and adds weight and to look and move toward one that can provide aid.  If one is at a place in life where there daily refrain is “I’m tired” or “I cannot take much more” Jesus invites to turn your direction to him and cease the striving. Jesus answer is quite different from that of the world.  The world points to need for constant effort and striving followed by momentary periods of relief in the varied offerings of momentary relief and pleasure.  Jesus rather, calls to actively head in a different direction. He does not direct toward the numbing actions of pleasure and distraction but an active turn in direction.

Jesus invitation comes with an exact and defined benefit.  Jesus states that the benefit of coming to him is rest.  He offers the opposite of the state of the invitees.  Those that are “tired” and “cannot take any more” can find rest by moving toward Jesus. The act of turning toward Jesus that brings the rest, rather it is what Jesus gives.  He gives the rest if you come to Him. Now, it is worth noting that the concept of rest here is far beyond what we consider rest.  It is not just a recharging of energy, but complete refreshment at deep levels.  The rest Jesus offers is more than a good nap or a good night sleep. It is even more than an extended vacation. It is a rest that brings one alive.  What Jesus has to give is beyond anything we can do for self. It is beyond our comprehension and what we experience in the short term is only but a taste of the rest that is to come, where there is no strife and no need to be tired or heavy laden.  And everyone does reach a point of being tired and burdened. Everyone needs rest. Even God himself rested. And by coming to Jesus, we are given God’s rest.

Coming to Jesus is not a onetime action.   Yes, we all need to come to Jesus to receive salvation, which is the starting point and initial gift of rest.  A ceasing of the striving of self.  We  need to continue coming to Jesus.  In this world, much is difficult and hard.  We can become labored and burdened without physical exertion.  Some of being labored and heavy laden comes in the looking out for self, in our own affairs. We get hurt, we have desires that go unmet, we struggle.  In fact, we all experience daily the impact of sin as the whole of creation has been impacted by sin.  The very act of coming to Jesus is at heart a turn from self-focus.  When you focus on being tired or burdened, it actually adds to the drain.  The more you focus on the state of self, the harder it becomes.  The very act of coming to Jesus changes focus.  Then when we actually surrender to Jesus and accept what He offers each of us, we are uplifted and refreshed.  Now the reader may state  “well tried that and there was no immediate relief.”  This can be true, for as Jesus will give us rest when we come, perceiving the rest is not always immediate but know that Jesus always keeps His word.  When you come to Jesus you will receive rest, in His time. He will give the rest if you come. This is fact. When you do not see or perceive it, trust this truth, for He who promised is faithful. When you come, He will give rest. Place you faith in this for it is assured!

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Seven Spiritual Principles for Transcending Suffering

Suffering is pervasive.  No one goes without facing suffering.  The whole of creation came under the tyranny of suffering as a consequence of sin. In this world there are many sources of suffering.  Stress in fact has become a less threatening word to describe facing varied forms of suffering.  There are many degrees and shapes of suffering. There is the suffering of trauma and disaster, there is abuse inflicted on others, disease, poverty, and so on.  Most of what is offered in the world related to stress and suffering is all about coping.  Yet, there are spiritual principles that can lead beyond just coping with suffering and actually transcend whatever the experience is.  There can be peace in suffering.  In examining the Bible, there are seven principles that God has given us that can help us transcend suffering and stress.

Before getting into the examination of principles there is a need to acknowledge that this discussion is a basic overview of these principles.  A lot more time can be spent expanding on each principle in far greater detail; the objective here is to lay a foundation of understanding. While reading, take some time to pray and think over each principle.  God may emphasize a particular point for you.  Please take the thoughts outlined here as a starting point for further study and pursuit of understanding.  Wherever you are at and however stress and suffering are currently affecting your life, may you find words of peace and encouragement that lighten the load and burden. So let us now take a look at the seven spiritual principles for transcending suffering.

Recognize: The starting point is really recognizing that God is sovereign. He is, was, and will always be in control.  The climax of the book of Job is that God is in control.  Now recognizing this fact is key to making it through the suffering.  It is not just about God being in control, it is about what God allows in his sovereignty he allows to bring himself Glory.  The fact is it is easy to lose sight of God’s sovereignty and control. It is really easy to focus on the pain and difficulty and wonder where God is in the midst. All things happen for God’s glory.  Not only does it happen for God’s glory but also that we may grow in maturity.  Here are some verses that emphasize this needed recognition:

Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1 Peter 4: 11, 12 (ESV) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 So we need to recognize that God is in control, that what he allows he allows for his glory, and what he allows works to refine us and build us up further in him.  These are important facts to recognize when in the midst of suffering.

Remember: This step is related to recognize for the things we need to recognize are also important things for us to remember.  But the principle of remembrance does not stop with bringing to mind the truths of what God has said but also what God has done.  The Old Testament is filled with examples of people engaging in establishing ways to remember what God has done.  Two ways reported over and over were setting up altars and naming places and children related to what God has done. God also created for Israel feasts such as Passover to be continual reminders of His faithfulness and ability to deliver.  Remembering what God has done, his love, his faithfulness, and even his discipline is important because it directs us to God’s love, dependability, and faithfulness.  If we remember how God has provided and delivered in the past, when under a current trial or form of suffering it gives encouragement that He who proved faithful before, will do so again. God is always true. Yet sometimes we forget that fact.  We most often forget that God is faithful and capable of accomplishing all that He promises and says.  When we forget, we struggle more.  So take time and remember what God has done in your life, the ways He has proved faithful. Remember the ways God has shown and revealed Himself in your life.  A key Bible verse for this spiritual principle is Hebrews 10:23 (ESV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  So take time to remember what God has done and review God’s faithfulness, for that which He promises, He will make certain. 

Faith: Any form of suffering brings with it a challenge to faith. Suffering ultimately reveals our depths and limits of faith. The Bible gives us some clear understanding of what faith is in Hebrews 11:1 (ESV): Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is acting on that which is not visible, that which is beyond our comprehension.  It is during suffering when what is seen is the pain and hurt that faith is most critical; for it is during suffering the faithfulness and love of God comes into question, for what is seen is pain.  Peter when he got out of the boat showed great faith in the unseen. The great waves did not bother him, as He had faith in God to uphold him.  The disciple’s faith was shown to be limited when they were overwhelmed with fears while in the boat in a storm while Jesus slept.  Yet, faith is not just the certainty of what is unseen regarding God’s faithfulness.  Faith is our response to what God directs.  Romans 10:17 (ESV) states: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Faith is founded upon what we hear of God and his word. It is founded on our relationship to God’s authority and our position in the Kingdom of God.  Faith is following God’s direction and resting in His authority.  When we walk in fear rather than faith, we doubt God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love.  Take a look at Hebrews 10:23 again.  We are able to stand firm in faith when we believe that He is faithful.  

Ultimately our actions during suffering reveal our level of faith. We can claim to have faith, but unless we act on that faith the faith is meaningless. We can say we trust God to see us through our darkest suffering, but it our actions that really reveal the sincerity of that faith. How we manage day to day.  And guess what, each of us do have limits to our faith.  At any time God can turn to us and respond “Oh ye of little faith.”  For when you compare the depth and limits of our faith with the goodness and faithfulness of God, it will always come up short.  We all like Peter can show moments of great face soon followed by great weakness.  So in the midst of suffering we will learn our limits to faith and be challenged to continue. And ultimately, it is the times of suffering that draw us into deeper awareness of God’s love and faithfulness and result in growth and maturity of faith.  So what to do when your faith is at the limits? Confess your unbelief and lack of faith to God and ask Him to grow your faith and help you in your unbelief.  Also do not be surprised by your own limits to faith, for we all have them.

Focus:  The word focus really entails an essential spiritual principle.  Focus has to do with where our attention is centered.  Suffering of any sort will test our focus.  An amazing thing is that we can start out with strong faith, we can step out of the boat and walk toward Jesus, yet like Peter we also quickly can lose focus.  Jesus is to be our central focus, but the difficulties of life, the stressors and sufferings can often divert our attention.  Actually the bible directs us to maintain two types of focus: on Jesus and eternity.  There are two key verses that point to keeping focus on Jesus:

Isaiah 26:3 (ESV) You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Focus on Jesus in a key to peace in suffering. When we are thinking about Jesus and serving him, we look beyond our pain, troubles, and  difficulties.  Part of focusing on Jesus is that when we look at what God did at the cross and Jesus suffering greatly, suffered so that we may be redeemed and set free, we can see that God does truly work things out for His glory. 

The second area we need to place our focus is away from this world to matters of eternity. In other worlds it is looking past the Kingdom of this world to God’s Kingdom.  Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV):  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

That verse really captures the differences between focus on the eternal or the things of this world. Everything of this world is temporary, lasting but a moment.  This is true of suffering as well. And yes, a person can endure suffering the rest of their life, but it is still always but temporary in comparison with eternity.  This is spelled out even more clearly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV): So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

It is truly difficult to focus on the eternal and that which is not temporary. For we know what we see, we know what we feel. We are easily drawn to give our full attention to these temporary things.  In order to transcend the suffering, it requires looking beyond self and this world to that which is eternal.  The need for eternal focus is also outlined in Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV): If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

If one cannot readjust focus to that of Jesus and eternal matters then any suffering will be insurmountable and all-consuming.  When we take focus off of this world and self, we are uplifted. There is no burden that can weigh us down or cause us to sink, rather we are buoyed through any storm and uplifted when we have our focus centered in the right direction.

Love: This principle really grows out of taking eyes off of the focus of our own pain and looking toward God and others.  When engage in loving others we engage in actions that build them up.  When we love others we touch the hurt and pains that they experience are touched.  It just takes a simple act.  It is also a fact that a good portion of suffering is related to choices other people made that have hurt others. In other words, actions of self have resulted in hurting others.  Actions of love have an impact that far outweigh the actions of harm as seen in Deuteronomy 5:7-10. The effects of sins of fathers have impact to three or four generations but that actions of love lasts thousands. Love is far more powerful and long lasting.  Sins bring pain, love brings blessing and healing. It is not just the actual suffering we experience that cause us difficulty but also the perception of a threat of suffering. The perceived threat elicits the emotion of fear.  I John 4:18(ESV) states: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  The bible goes at great length to encourage us to love others, in particular those that are poor or in unfortunate circumstances.  Now here is an amazing thing. When you are engaged in focusing on helping and loving others, the perception of pain or your level of stress or suffering reduces. It does not change the source or cause of the pain, but when you take your mind off of self, the felt pain reduces. It even helps to be around others going through similar struggles and to mutually support one another through the suffering.  As you do so and focus on the concerns of others, there is a reduced perception of pain.  Test this principle out, focus on loving others and then check on your perception of pain. Ultimately remember, that what we learn from and the change and growth that occurs during struggles can in turn be used to reach and impact others.  In such away not only do we gain from our struggles but others gain and are touched as well. 

Uplift: The action that we can take that is the most in opposition to suffering is praising and uplifting God in the midst of stress and suffering.  It is something we are commanded to do.  Philippians  4:4 (ESV) states Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say Rejoice! James 1:2 (NIV) states: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.  We have a biblical example of being joyful in the time of trial.  In Acts 16 Paul and Silas sang and worshiped God while in prison after being beaten. Yet they surrendered and focused on God and uplifted God. They did not complain about their circumstances or pain.  They knew God was worthy of praise regardless of circumstance.  They chose to uplift him.  Now, it is a hard thing to do in difficult times.  It involves a surrender of self.  When we hurt and are in pain it is difficult to praise God. We know the hurt we endure. We may even doubt the love of God.  The Bible gives us multiple directions to stand firm for a reason.   It is not just the New Testament that directs us to thank and uplift God no matter what the circumstance; the Old Testament makes frequent references to offering the sacrifice of Thanksgiving.   The sacrifice of Thanksgiving is closely associated with the peace offering, which points to Jesus as our salvation. The reason we can uplift God is what He has done for us at the cross.  Remember, all suffering ultimately is a result of sin.  All sin was addressed at the cross, and while we still face the ongoing twists and pain that sin caused, Jesus dealt with it at the cross.  He suffered all, died, and rose again that suffering comes to an end. This is why we can praise.  It is worth noting that the sacrifice of Thanksgiving involved both things that are pleasing, and those that are unpleasing, and even that which is impure.  They all are uplifted to God, thanking Him for all: good, bad, unpleasant, impure, or joyous.   Now, if you understand that God wants us to lift all before Him and understand that it is because of Jesus and what is yet to come that we can praise, the need and value of uplifting God is more clear.  As Hebrew 13:15(ESV) directs: Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Uplifting God with praise and worship is an ongoing, continual process. It is a setting aside of self and giving Honor where it is do, to God alone.  It is continually surrendering of self.  In pain and suffering of any type this requires an act of will. It is not an easy task to look beyond the pain and circumstances and praise God. In fact, it requires a willful, sacrificial act of turning from self to God.  And when we are obedient and able to follow God’s command in such a manner, He shows up and is present.  He showed up in a might way for Paul and Silas. He can in each of our lives as well.  If the circumstances do not change, God will change you and fill you with His Joy and Peace.  But it starts with surrender such as setting aside the self in pain and uplifting the Most Holy One.  There is power in uplifting the Father who loves us beyond measure; power in uplifting Jesus who is the Lamb worthy to be Slain who has redeemed us and set us free: and there is power in uplifting the Holy Spirit who empowers us when we are weak and draws us unto repentance. So continually uplift and praise God. Continually surrender in worship.  Give your all to Him no matter what the circumstances.

Rest: This principle is powerful but we often fail to recognize the importance of rest. Transcending suffering only really occurs when you are able to be at a place of rest.  People really do have a hard time entering rest or even understanding it.  Resting is all about coming to a settled state where there is no striving to obtain.  Hebrews 4:9-11(ESV) states:   So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  True surrender to God involves being at a state of rest, which is a ceasing focus on self and looking to God.  It is being at a state that no matter what situation you are in, whatever you endure, that looking to God comes first.  Paul’s reported secret of contentment really points to this rest principle: Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In good times, in pain, in suffering God gives us the strength and peace to endure and stand firm.  Resting in suffering is ceasing the focus on what is not right and turning to God regardless of any change.  Those following God and rest in Him are able to move beyond whatever happens in this world.  It is in such rest and turning to God that He provides the strength to stand.  We cannot do it of our own accord, we truly need to know the meaning of when I am weak He is strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10b)   His power is strong when we are weak, when we cease the striving, then God’s strength can move in our lives regardless of any change in sources of suffering.

The deep rest that transcends suffering is a level of even letting go of our own protection and depending on God letting His peace guard are heart and soul.  The Psalms are full of references to finding refuge in God.  Psalms 94:22(ESV) is one such example:  But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.  Striving for our own defense is natural.  The more stress and suffering we face, the more prone we are to find ways to defend ourselves from threats.  God wants us to set aside our own defense and rest in His defense of us.  He wants total trust and dependence on him.  This is the essence and nature of rest.   There is a well used verse that really sums up the nature of rest God asks of us.  Psalms 46: 10a (ESV) “Be still and know that I am God” The verse is really nothing about our communicating with God, it is all about resting in Him.  The Psalms really describes God’s coming wrath with the whole of Earth in travail.   It really points out to rest in God, for while his wrath is coming, you can depend on Him and must, for ultimately all will be exalted before Him.  Is that not a glorious thought? God will be exalted about all.  There need be no fear of any suffering or bad things to come, as God is our strength and defense. He is in control, so rest in Him. 

My hope is that you have taken time to slowly read over this article and come back at it a piece at a time.  Each principle really builds upon each other.  The more each of these principles are evident in your life, the more you grow and the less power the sources of suffering have in your life.  Now if you read these principles and feel overwhelmed and small, know that in our lives these principles are ongoing and that once you think you got one principle understood and evident in your life, God will reveal how shallow the depth of understanding really is.  We are all a work in process. Personally, in writing this article and taking time to sort through what God has stirred up to share with others to help, it really does become clear the need for growth. Nevertheless, it is also apparent how God has made each principle real and taught lesson through the varied stress and sufferings of life.  In closing, taking time to pray over each principle and asking God to make them more real in your life.   

Please feel free to copy or republish any part of this article. Feel free to print the article and pass it on to whoever is in need.

Taking time in midst of busyness

Recently an old friend wrote me letting me know of being in a real busy season in life.  I can relate to being in a season of busyness.  Currently have two jobs and have started working on developing own private mental health practice.  It all takes work.  Add into the busyness things that God has also called me to do, such as writing and managing a forum.  Further add in the caring for wife and family and things get stretched.  When thinking about the busyness the importance of being intentional with rest is clear.  When I don’t get rest, I get irritable, tired, and cranky.  Also the more tired I am, the easier it is to set aside work or tasks that make it difficult to work through later as work piles up.  So the goal is learning to streamline and giving self permission to take breaks. It is also making sure that my relationship with God remains high priority and balance the priorities properly.  Here is the thing, being busy is always an excuse. If being busy results in impairing relationship with God or family then something needs to be readjusted.  If you do  not take time to rest, you will suffer. God gave the Sabbath commandment for a reason.  Ultimately if cannot regain balance and stay on course with what God has put in before you, then something needs to change and give.  It is real easy even to cover up difficulties and bury self in being busy.   Ultimately being busy can be a good, Godly thing, leading to fruitfulness. It can also be simply being a hamster on a wheel, lots of activity going nowhere.  Each occurence is different. Each person needs to evaluate and ask God to reveal what needs to change regarding being busy.  To be fruitfully busy priorities, intentionality, and rest need to all be in fine balance.

Labor Day Musings: Need for rest

Today is Labor Day. It is a national holiday in the United States since 1882 when the first Labor Day was celebrated.  According to the governmental history on Labor Day the idea of the holiday was proposed Peter McGuire who also was a primary founder of the labor/union movements in the United States of America.  The day was all about taking a day to acknowledge the American worker. It was one of many reforms to the American workplace.

Essentially labor day is centered on the principle of rest. It was recognized that Americans put in long hours for little pay and bad conditions in the late 1800’s.  Taking a day to set aside all work each year was found to be a valuable, no better way to recognize those that do hard work but to give them an extra day of rest.  And so we have this day in the United States where rest is encouraged.

It is noticeable that while the late 1800’s focus worked hard at reducing the work day and improving working conditions that people are voluntarily doing things that folks like Peter McGuire fought to change.  We care more about expanding our own personal kingdoms that we willing work long, hard hours at times even without pay. The focus is on expanding self and making sure all ends meet, and we will do whatever it takes.  Most often at the expense of rest.

Rest is important.  God rested. God in his instructions as found in the instructions of law known as Torah emphasized rest.  God even emphasized rest in the Ten commandments.  God made it clear rest is important.  God not only pointed to a day of rest from self and focus on God known as Sabbath but He also prescribed rest for land and rest for debt.  God set up a perfect system of rest designed to work in accordance with the nature of creation. Yet, those principles have not been followed. Israel failed to follow the principles of resting land and debt and part of why they paid huge consequences.   If we do not take rest, it impacts us and impacts creation. 

So the question here than is if rest is so important and God set up directives to rest what do we do.  Well, we need to build and incorporate God’s principles into our lives.  We need to take weekly rest and focus on God.  We need to take time to cease from striving.  We need to take rest important. 

The emphasis God placed on rest is really a picture of redemption. It is about not striving in self and depending on God. It is giving people  a chance at restoration when things got difficult.  Sadly God’s principles of rest were ignored and set aside while folks seek to expand self and continual seek expansion of their kingdoms.  We fail to turn our hearts and minds to God, much less seek to depend on Him.  Ongoing surrender to God is the perfect rest and is made available through Jesus the Messiah.  God made clear that work and rest need to go together and that true rest is found on dependence on him.  However, rest comes difficult so much that the majority of people reject God’s rest found in Jesus the Messiah and continue to work toward that which benefits self.  Israel paid a great price for ignoring the Jubilee and for those that reject the true rest found in dependence and surrender to Jesus, the consequences will also be severe.  Yet, the choice is for each person either continue with self-striving or turn to God’s rest.