Unfinished business still is stalking leaders I know and love. How close are you to self-destruction? I do not ask this flippantly. Many humanly successful pastors and church leaders live on the edge for a long time before their lives unravel for all to see. When you watch the demolition of one of these leaders’ ministries, as well as their personal lives, you might wonder how they could have been used of God if such secret stuff was going on in their lives. The answer is simple – God is always using broken people to accomplish His purposes, including you and me! And we to, have unfinished business that may not be as ripe as that of those who have fallen over the edge, but it lives and will bite in time if left to itself.
If you want to be freed from the hidden destructive forces that are building in your life, you will need more than a renewed dedication to what I called, in the last article, Devotions 101. I realize from my own Bible school background that this may sound like heresy – to suggest that more prayer and Bible study is not helpful – but there it is. The problem for the Church is that we have turned the spiritual disciplines on their head and are trying to attain a spiritual walk with God backwards. What we need is rest. But before I talk about rest as the first spiritual discipline, let Ephesians capture your attention…
If you think about Ephesians, you will realize that Paul is speaking to believers he has not personally met, those whose faith he has only heard about (1:15). The flow of the letter is to give these believers the basics they need to grow in this faith. For the first three chapters he paints the picture of what God has gloriously done through Christ and in them – seating them in Christ at His right hand (2:6). In chapters 4 & 5 he challenges them on how to walk in their faith and concludes in chapter 6 on how to stand in the face of spiritual warfare. Watchman Nee called this understanding of Ephesians, “Sit, Walk, Stand.“
Consider how important it is for Paul to have written half the letter to explain what God has done for those He chose in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. Paul’s starting point in living as a believer is not a call to action, but a contemplation of what God has done in Christ for us. He uses words like redemption, mercy, grace, peace, mystery, power and love to describe how God transforms us. So shortly into the letter, Paul speaks of several significant things he has asked God for on their behalf. In 1:17, Paul prays an intimacy prayer – that his readers would be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they would know God better. This is a significant prayer because Paul knows that they will not move forward in becoming spiritually whole without a growing relationship with God that is brought about by the Spirit instead of more Bible study and prayer.
The word ‘know’ loses its force when it lands in English. For us, ‘know‘ is an educational word. We go to school to learn and know about various subjects. But Paul in his language is using a word that is much richer. It carries the idea of knowledge gained by encountering God, knowing Him in the way that speaks of experience. You can study space exploration and know all about rockets and the moon. But Neil Armstrong, as the first to stand on it, knows the moon. He has experienced the giant leap of being there. This is the point of Paul’s prayer – that you come to really know God intimately, not through education, but by being drawn to experience Him. This prayer is for you as well. Only when you know God better will you get well – healed and delivered.
What if I told you that prayer and Bible study are disciplines that come into play in the middle of Ephesians. They are the ‘Do’ Disciplines. But their power is found in the ‘Done’ Discipline of rest. Rest from our own work, rest in His strength, rest in His presence. Rest that allows us to understand what we have received. Rest as a ‘discipline’ is about us stopping our trying – stopping, period – and just being with God. It is allowing ourselves to hear how He loves and accepts us before we try any heavy lifting. In fact, it is in rest that we find that God is the One who has already done all the heavy lifting. He invites us to find this out by being with Him quietly, reflectively, receptively. To take time to draw all your attention away from the far reaches of your life and focus inward on His powerful presence in you.
Rest reforms our personal self talk. If I know anything, I know that we are very susceptible to embracing the accusing lies of the enemy and repeat them foolishly to ourselves. I am weak. I am unable to be good. I am unable to stop repeating addictive sin. I am hopeless, useless and worthless to God. Or, I can do this. I am good at being holy. I am spiritually powerful. This also is the enemy speaking. When we rest, we hear the true words of God about ourselves; that He always knew we are foolish and unable, but we will be changed by His presence and power. He has not abandoned us.
Paul says we are accepted in the Beloved (1:6). The King James Version captures our reality in this beautiful word picture of us, God and Jesus. This is what we hear when we start resting. We hear the Father telling us what worth He has placed on us and where He has placed us – not just our cleaned up, righteous self, but the still messed up, untransformed self we are when He redeemed us. But if we are to escape further damage of the unfinished business of our lives, we need rest so we can have our minds renewed in this way:
- I have no strength of my own to beat what defeats me, but I am safe within Christ.
- I have no personal resources to fix myself, but God already knows this and accepts me.
- My agenda is to be with Jesus, not to prepare myself to be with him first.
- I do not have to clean up to be in God’s presence, although this goes against the grain.
- I do not need to hide anything, since God already knows everything.
- I need to stop explaining things to God and to start receiving from God.
If you never have spiritually rested, you may not know how to do this. Here is an approach that you will find simple, yet challenging. Meditate on Hebrews 4:16. Recognize that you are coming into your Daddy’s presence and are there to receive mercy and grace – the elements of His great love for you. Allow the Spirit to empower you to listen for His words of acceptance and affirmation for you. It would do you well to review Paul’s own experience with this recorded in 2 Corinthians 12, especially verse 9. Do this every day as you start the morning, even if it is only for 60 seconds. Do not ask for anything, just receive. Rest on His power to remake your life and renew your mind. In time, you may come to practice this discipline throughout your day. As you attune your life to knowing you are accepted in the Beloved, you will find that you are struggling less with the power of the sin of your heart. This is the power of rest. This is the stuff of building intimacy with your Daddy.