Do you ever feel stuck in life? Do you feel restless, struggling to find meaning and purpose? Do you feel like no matter what you do it never seems to be good enough? Do you feel a disconnect with God? You know in your mind that God loves you, but in your heart He seems to be distant or disappointed in you.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I want you to know you are not alone. These are struggles common to all of us as we try to experience life in the Kingdom of God in a Genesis 3 world that is broken and separated from God.
St. Augustine, who lived in the 4th century, made a great observation that gives us a roadmap toward addressing these questions. St. Augustine said “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee” (Augustine, Confessions (Book 1)). We live in a fast paced, 24/7 world.
We live in a culture that champions achievement and we can get caught up in measuring our value and worth in what we do or possess.
St. Augustine would urge us to take a step off of the performance track and slow down and find rest in God. Jesus said the same thing. He extends an invitation to pull away for awhile and rest in Him; “Come all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
When we rest, we put ourselves in a place with God to experience our true identity.
What exactly do we mean by rest? Let’s look at a couple of Scriptures to capture the meaning of rest.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Rest is having a soul that is calm and quieted, a sense of contentment like a weaned child receives from its mother. It’s interesting that to experience this rest, David lets go of looking for other things to make him happy. He rests fully in the arms of his loving Father.
For God alone my soul in silence waits. Truly my hope is in Him. Psalm 62:6
Rest also involves waiting on God in silence. Wow, waiting and silence are two words that are so opposite of how I typically do life! And yet noise and constant activity sure seem to add to our restlessness and disconnect from God.
Being vs Doing
Our dilemma with restlessness and disconnection can be summarized by that simple phrase. What would it like to just BE. To experience just being in the presence of God. No demands for performance, no checklist to accomplish. Just be. The refrain from the song Just Breathe by Johnny Diaz says it all:
Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Rest is a place away from the noise and constant demands and distractions. It is a place where the cry of our heart and soul can surface, where we can get in touch with our deepest desires and longings. It is a place where God speaks. To be honest, sometimes I think we move toward distractions to keep us from really looking deep into our soul.
Dallas Willard summarized our need for rest this way: “if you don’t come apart for a while, you will come apart after a while.”
Elements of Rest
So, let’s get practical and start to look at what rest looks like and what are some things we can incorporate when we rest.
Jesus gives us an invitation to rest:
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Mark 6:31-32
Two elements of rest are extremely important:
- Solitude: Notice Jesus calls them away, by themselves, to a desolate place. This is a good description of solitude. It is a time to set aside with God, to experience His presence, and to unplug from the busyness of life.
- Silence: Along with solitude, a good practice to include is silence. By practicing silence, we let go of the urge to fill up our time of solitude with words and activity. Silence means to escape from sounds and noises, other than the gentle ones of nature. It is extremely helpful to be in silence before God without the need of saying a word.
Solitude and silence place our hearts and souls in a position to be touched by the grace and voice of God. We also become more aware of the things we tend place our priorities in other than God and we can begin to experience freedom.
Three Questions to Ponder in Rest
If you are looking for some ideas of how to spend your time in rest, I would like to offer a suggestion to ponder three questions that can help us gain freedom from restlessness and disconnection with God. These questions are:
- Who is God?
- Who am I?
- What should I do?
When we rest with God, we gain greater clarity of who He is, of who we really are, and how we should walk out our faith. These questions could take a volume of books to cover, but for the sake of simplicity, I’d like cover each question with what I hope are some helpful suggestions.
Who is God?
Famous preacher A. W. Tozer made the following statement: “The single most important thing about us is our idea of God.”
Let that statement sink in for a moment. Another way of thinking about this is by asking the question: What is your picture of God? Our picture of God will affect everything about us. Our picture of God has been distorted by our life experience in this Genesis 3 world. Think about “in the beginning”, Genesis 1-2. At the end of day 6 of creation, God looked on all of creation after creating Adam and Eve and declared it “very good.” Adam and Eve walked with God in a loving relationship. They had an accurate picture of a loving and compassionate Father. But then they make the choice to go their own way and as a result experienced God as one to be feared and they then hid.
All of us in our own way have had our picture of God impacted by life in a broken world.
Baylor University did a study years ago asking participants for their view of God. 78% of those who responded said they experience God as either authoritative, critical or distant. How about you? Pondering your view of God can really help to see why we experience disconnection with God.
I grew up in a great family where I experienced two loving parents. However, I also experienced a fair amount of discipline so that I learned early on that it was better to be good than bad. So I tried really hard to be perfect. As I have looked back on my life, I can see how I have experienced God in much the same way, He loved me when I was good, but was appointed when I didn’t do enough. Even though I knew God loved me and Jesus died on the cross for my sins, my experience often times is I am a disappointment to God. Imagine how that impacts my life when I have that view of God! It really does affect everything.
My picture of God has greatly been healed when I have withdrawn and rested in Him. I can honestly say that there have been moments when God has touched my heart with His love that I have asked Him, ‘is this really true?’ because so often I have experienced Him as being disappointed. What a lie the enemy tries to plant in our lives from the very beginning. In rest, we can begin to experience freedom from the enemy’s lies about God.
The following two quotes really capture the essence of having an accurate picture of God:
“We need a picture of God we can abandon ourselves to.” Trevor Hudson
“Is the God presented one that can be loved heart, soul, mind, and strength? If the thoughtful answer is ‘not really’ then we need to look elsewhere or deeper.” Dallas Willard
I love the idea of God as my heavenly Father that I can run to with abandon. For much of my life, if I were honest, God was ‘not really’ someone who I could love wholeheartedly because my picture of Him was clouded. Its hard to run to someone when you feel they are disappointed with you.
Who Am I?
The second question worth pondering during rest is one of identity. Every person who has ever lived has one way or another tried to find the answers of who they are. Just as we have a distorted picture of God, we also have a distorted picture of who we are.
Back to Genesis. In the garden, when Adam and Eve were walking in the presence of God, they knew their identity. They were beloved children of God who were living life in the Kingdom of God and experiencing life as it was meant to be. Enter Genesis 3, where they running in fear of God and hiding from Him. Their picture of God was horribly marked which then changed the way they saw themselves and their identity. Now, in a Genesis 3 world, rather than the identity of God’s children, they and their descendants would forever look in the wrong places to find who they are.
Trying to Find Ourselves
In his book “Discovering Our Spiritual Identity”, Trevor Hudson shares three primary ways that we tend to find our identity:
- Look to ourselves: some take a deep look inward to find what is missing and what they can do to meet their own needs. The world is filled with self-help books and the desire for self-awareness and growth are helpful, but if we only look inward, we view of ourselves is limited to our own experience.
- Look to others: some people find their identity in what others think of them. This approach can lead to what Hudson calls “addictive helpfulness” where our happiness and identity are linked to finding ways to help others. Being helpful is a wonderful trait, but an awful determiner of our identity. Like an addiction, we are never truly satisfied because there is always someone else we feel the need to help.
- Look to achievement: when you first meet someone, what is the first question you typically ask of each other? Quite often it is “what do you do?” We live in a success-oriented culture where being a straight A student is often not good enough! When we pursue achievement, we are also building a reputation. “That person is a rising star!”. Again, achievement in and of itself is a good thing. It is good to have goals, to plan, and to achieve. But achievements as a source of identity lead us into the performance trap where we are constantly looking to do the next thing to feel good about ourselves.
I grew up trying to be perfect. I was so good at it my sister called me “perfect son.” That became my identity. Often in my life when I am struggling it is because I am falling for the false narrative that my identity is in what I do.
Our True Identity
When we have a picture of God that we can abandon ourselves to, we are then able to accept the truth about our true identity. The Apostle Paul says we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1). Our true identity is we are beloved children of God! It matters not what we do or how much we accomplish, that is all about “doing”. When we rest, we can learn to receive the truth that God has for us as “being” His beloved child.
A helpful exercise to affirm our identity is to prayer and memorize Scripture that tells us who we are. You can see a list of truth treasures in this webpage. Let Gods word enlighten you to the truth of you who you really are.
What Should I Do?
The last question to ponder in rest is more of a review of a life approach that supports how we define our true identity. Living in a Genesis 3 world is challenging and we can adopt an approach to live that leads down a path of performance and burnout.
Frank Lake was a Christian Psychologist in the mid 20th century who researched missionaries from England who would often return from the mission field burned out and disillusioned. He studied the life of Jesus and how He accomplished so much and yet not get burned out or seem out of balance. Out of this research Lake offered an approach to life that is as helpful now as it was to those missionaries in the 20th century. This life approach is called the “cycle of grace”. It consists of four steps:
- Acceptance: Jesus knew His identity. It was not in what He did, it was in who He was, a beloved Child of God. Accepting our identity and the love of the Father must precede everything else.
- Sustenance: Jesus experienced His identity by partaking in various habits or practices that refreshed His soul. Often Jesus would withdraw and rest in the midst of ministry. He surrounded Himself with a close group of friends, He prayed, worshipped, and celebrated life.
- Significance: We were born with a need for significance. As we accept our identity and sustain ourselves with the grace of God, we lay the proper foundation for significance. Our significance begins with knowing who we are before we determine what we are to do.
- Achievement: From the beginning, God called us to be fruitful and multiply. This type of achievement springs from a life surrendered and resting in Jesus. We do not grow the fruit, but it is the Spirit of God living in and through us.
However, what comes naturally to us is to reverse these steps and start with achievement. When we do this, we begin heading down the “cycle of works”. We need achievement so we can feel significant. We are then sustained for a time by the adrenaline rush of significance. In the end, we are really looking for acceptance.
In rest, we can take our lives before our loving heavenly Father and ask Him to help us see how we are living.
Are we operating within the “cycle of grace” or the “cycle of works”? If you feel the pull of achievement and significance, you can rest in being fully loved and accepted by our Heavenly Father.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9
Are you stuck in life, feeling restless and disconnected? The answer to the longing of our hearts is rest. It is being, not doing. Resting in the presence of God. Allowing ourselves to experience our identity as beloved children of God. My prayer for you and me is we take the yoke of Jesus, learn from Him, and find rest for our souls.
By Doug Valot
For more on this topic, view the teaching session of Men: Experience Your True Identity