rest

We don't serve perfection; we serve the perfect One.

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We don't serve perfection; we serve the perfect One. There’s a difference.

Because when we serve Jesus it’s not about having all our variables in order. We make room for Him. We carve the intention to be in His presence in the life we live, in the day we are having; not the one we think we should.

This weekend something happened that brought this home for me in a very tangible and unexpected way. It was a small occurrence, made of regular life, which is what made it so important for me to note. It reminded me of the tyranny of perfection. How crippling a mindset it is to want and expect circumstances to align for us to feel like we can proceed. Like we are worthy.

I experienced blessing in the midst of incomplete and very imperfect circumstances. After a busy Saturday, filled with cooking, meaningful conversation with new friends about ministry and life, cleaning up, and some reading, I went to bed tired and sleepy. That state which warrants you will fall into a heavy slumber. Oddly though, after a while my body was wide awake and very restless.

What started as a sleep disturbance around 1 am felt very much like spiritual warfare by 4 am when I was cold, hungry, and anxious. Through the long hours I got up, walked around, changed into something warmer, tried to read, prayed, and ate something. All to no avail. I can’t remember when I fell asleep, but it was likely around 5 am.

Unaware of all this my husband had slept through the night and woken up with some dental pain. I woke up later than I needed to make it out the door on time to catch our bus and get to church. I was achy and exhausted. Although he was getting ready, when he saw me and heard the night I had he said we could just stay home. I laid in bed for a few minutes, feeling my joints ache and my back tense from the wretched sleepless night, I tried to visualize the rest of my Sunday. I’d drag my exhausted body heavy with fatigue out of bed and veg out on the couch.

The image left me wanting for something. I felt hungry for sermon words, weird as it may sound. Thoughtful challenging reflections to chew on, to look up on my own. My soul longed for the act of coming together under one roof to intentionally set my heart on the receiving end of what God does and gives when people come together to purposefully worship Him. The sentiment echoes this verse: “My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word.” Psalm 119:81

I knew we would be SO late. Epic late, I thought. Not just the usual 10 or 15 minutes, but we’d likely miss half of the sermon. Yet, as wrong and incomplete as being that late felt, the alternative left me feeling worse. I knew I wouldn’t sleep and would just stay home and watch a movie or read. My body would get another chance at rest later in the evening, but my soul was longing for something that only comes on Sundays.

So, dragging my tired limbs out of bed I told my husband I wanted to attend church, late and all. I used a very quick shower to soothe the ache and help me wake up, gulped the oatmeal he made for me, and out the door we rushed.

 We caught the last third of the sermon, I think. When we arrived, the preached was elbow deep in his exposition of Acts 2. I savored what I grasped and listened in. New insights brought to light from familiar passages made me smile as I tried to take notes. Too tired, I put the pen and journal away and simply paid close attention, enjoying the experience of discovering new truths. I made a mental note to re-read the chapter later when more rested and take notes. (I did so this morning - totally worth it!).

Soon after, the sermon ended, and the worship team came on stage and closed with a hymn and a couple of contemporary pieces. While the gathering stood for the singing, we remained seated due to the excess fatigue. As I sang, from my seat in a low tired voice, “Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light,” the words rang deep in my soul. Indeed, I thought recalling the hellish evening and slow morning, whether sleepless or rested, by day or by night, God you are best thought.

 I left with a full heart. My tired self showing up to church almost 40 minutes late, felt like a meager and even shameful offering. But the alternative, which was to keep my tired self away, would also mean staying tired spiritually. One third of a sermon was better than no sermon at all. Saying a quick hello to a few friends was better than seeing no friends at all. While there are times when the best thing we can do is stay in bed and rest, I knew in my tired bones this wasn’t it.

 When we left my body was still very tired, but I noticed that my spirit wasn’t. I felt physically tired, but emotionally I felt joyful, satiated. The experience reminded me that drawing near to God is a respite. That the size of our offering - in this case how properly we show up - is secondary to the size of the grace and blessing that comes from drawing near to Him. That our souls need as much nourishment and rest as our bodies do. And that I don’t serve perfection, I serve the perfect One. Jesus, who doesn’t keep me from Him based on how well put together I show up. His love and approval are boundless and unchanging because they’re based on His heart not ours.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
— Psalm 63:5 NIV

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]

 

Worship brings rest. I didn't know this.

Some weeks ago, I attended a worship concert. It was a joint effort among seven churches from different denominations, who planned, rehearsed and offered their musical talent. The concert was exceptional. One of the best worship concerts I’ve ever attended. Although beautifully performed by so much talent represented in all the voices and instruments, that is not the main reason. It was what was advertised, a night of worship. It made much of Jesus.

I learned something important that day that has been ruminating through my thoughts. The day of the concert was a Friday. Tired from the week’s weight, my husband and I met up after work, and after a quick bite at the food court, we made our way to the church downtown hosting the event.

By the end of the concert, close to 11 pm, walking out of the church which hosted the event, I noticed something right away. I felt rested and so well, even. The fatigue was gone, my head felt refreshed. Heading out, we ran into friends from our church who had also attended the concert. Exchanging impressions, a common theme emerged. We all felt lighter than when we walked in.

It had been a long week for several of us. We were all tired and some of us, like me and my husband, felt spent. Yet somehow, we were feeling relaxed and re-energized by the closing hours of the last day of a long week. We took notice. It was so life-giving, it was hard to ignore.

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I love language. Words, their meaning and use, fascinate me. Back at our church, later that Sunday, I wrote down when the pastor mentioned the Greek translation for worship: to bow down, bend the knee, prostrate.

It hits me as I write this. Those are all positions of weakness. Think about it, when you are bowing down, on bended knee, or prostrate you are on the ground, you are laying low with your defences down. We are vulnerable because we are open. The act of worship is an act of surrender.  The act of worship leaves us wholly exposed and carefree about it, so consumed we are with Whom we are worshipping.

Something significant happens in that state of surrender. Fully invested in the Other, singing praises, focused on adoring and enjoying the object of our attention, mind and heart are wide open. Unassuming, with only our words – in song, prayer, or both to offer. It’s not about us. We don’t busy ourselves with answers we must bring, how smart we need to sound, or all the things we must manage. The centre is for someone other than ourselves. We gladly take a seat looking up, away from ourselves and toward Him.

Remembering how invigorating that Friday night was for all of us, a thought lingers.

Worship is deeply powerful. I understand in a new light the biblical warnings against idolatry. It isn’t merely a religious mandate to not adore this or that. No. It is to safeguard us. It is a call to worship the right One for in doing so we are renewed. It is not only right and good that we do so. It is good for us.

In a state of adoration, we are surrendered. Our whole being is weakened as all defences are down, and all operating systems (mind, body, soul) are invested in one direction. Surrender engenders openness. When we worship, we are saying “It’s all about You. There is only You right now.” Whatever the object of our worship, it has a great deal of power. We willingly place ourselves under it.

I think back to the years I spent chasing after identity and meaning in accolades and my resume. Serving at the altar of success I soaked up all of the narratives that came with it. It informed everything about me and the world. Whatever we serve will inform and feed us. When we worship the wrong thing, it consumes and drains.

There is something about putting ourselves in the correct perspective. I think back to the words the pastor mentioned; to bow down, to bend knee, to prostrate. When we are made lowly there is room. Lots of room. Upward. And all around. To look up. To fill.

In our mind and heart too, it leaves room for Jesus to take His rightful place. Not only it is biblical. Because it’s biblical, it will bring us life. Joining our friends, we commented later, leaving the church that evening, “worship does a body and mind good.”

I want to recalibrate my head and attitude to the kind of delightful that speaks rest into my tiredness. What we worship, we succumb to. As I worshiped, I submitted easily and found myself rejuvenated. Makes me think of these words by Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” What makes his yoke easy and his burden light is the submission. We see time and again in the gospels Jesus utterly surrendered to the Father’s will.

The contrast of a word like rest through a device like a yoke or a burden seems contradictory. But what will make the device easier to bear is the position. When we are not fighting for our own way but instead give into the direction the device pulls, the whole process becomes more fluid. Less heavy. I guess simply put, I want to let go of my way and let Him, His Word, is Spirit pull me. Worship is an act of abandon and trust. If I approached my day’s agenda, my aspirations, with the same abandon and trust I sing praises, I wonder if I'd experience more rest in the midst of uncertainty and disappointments. 

“He is your praise. He is your God...” Deuteronomy 10:21

Dear soul take note and find rest.