Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Day of Perfect Rest

As those of you who read last week's blog may have gathered, May was an extremely stressful month for me. Not all the stress was from negative happenings--a good bit came from an overdose of new work assignments and possibilities--but even "good stress" takes its toll on the mind and body. Yet many people seem convinced that stress is 100 percent beneficial. Tell professional contacts you've been really busy, and they respond, "That's great!" without even asking what exactly you're doing or whether it's been hard on you. Tell the average hardworking U. S. citizen you might seriously consider a full month's vacation (which is still considered normal in parts of Europe), and you get a disbelieving "how can anyone be so lazy?" look. A Google search for the phrase "rest is a four-letter word" turned up more than 250 results. Most of them decrying the attitude, as do quite a few voices in the wilderness these days, but they seem to have little overall effect on the idea that working ourselves to death is a virtue.

To be fair, the Bible commands periodic rest and condemns laziness. Human judgment is as flawed here as anywhere else, so left to ourselves we quickly slide to one extreme or the other. Even carefully measuring the ideal balance between work and rest, and setting our schedules accordingly, doesn't always help: we play with Web surfing and idle chatter during our "work" time; we allow striving and fretting to interfere with our "leisure" time; and we grumble when "worship" time doesn't begin and end precisely on schedule. Even if such fleshly attitudes are under control, the world and the devil can still invade our rest time with interruptions and unpleasant circumstances. We may wonder why God doesn't always reward our best intentions by protecting us from such things.

While there's no easy answer to that question, we have to remember that the perfect life, where work and rest are always in balance, will come only after we leave this world--and that getting too close to peace and happiness here is often the first step toward spiritual backsliding. The more any earthly thing seems to satisfy all our needs, the greater is the danger of turning that thing into an emotional idol.

Our restless moments here can actually be God's most effective tools for keeping our eyes looking toward the world to come.

We have in this lifetime our trials and troubles,
We have in this lifetime temptation and test,
We have in this lifetime our strivings and struggles,
Till the day of perfect rest.

The Lord gave us nighttime for sleeping and slumber,
And each week the Sabbath, the day that He blessed;
But even in such can come cares in large number,
Till the day of perfect rest.

Among all the weight of a lifetime's distractions,
Among all the hard times that on us can press,
The best that we have is faint hints and small fractions
Of the day of perfect rest.

Oh, heart! cease your strivings and look to your Master,
The One Who has promised relief in distress:
Your true, perfect freedom draws near ever faster,
In the day of perfect rest.

Oh, Lord! for Your day of revealing we're yearning,
That day when You finally will bring all Your best,
Where peace will be endless and pain unreturning:
Come, and bring Your perfect rest!

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