Saturday, June 1, 2013

Restful Work (or, Working While At Rest)

All good Christians know the biblical truth that Jesus serves us so that we can serve others. He is called our Sabbath rest. But most of us struggle to work that out tangibly - what does it actually look and feel like to have Jesus serve me?

When Jesus walked the earth, he gathered a group of 12 guys around him to learn from and serve like him. At one point, he gave them authority over demons and sent them out to all the surrounding towns. He told them that they should take nothing but a staff for their journey —no food, no carry-on bag, no money, no extra change of clothes. And they were to depend on the hospitality of strangers for a place to sleep each night. So these guys are out preaching some pretty tough stuff, casting out demons, healing the sick - and hoping that someone else is going to feed, clothe, and house them day after day. I’m guessing this took some faith and more than a little hard work.

They come back from their travels and gather around Jesus to tell him all their stories. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Rest! YES! Exactly what they needed, right? They’ve been walking alot, working alot, and surrounded by so many people that they didn’t even have time to eat. Getting away with Jesus, by themselves, to a secluded place, so that they could REST - sounds perfect.

So they got in a boat and headed to a private little spot.

But crowds of people - in fact, at least 5,000 people - saw them trying to get away, RAN ahead of them, and got to their supposed-to-be-secluded place first.

At this point, I’d guess these 12 guys were feeling a little miffed. They might have been thinking, “People, I’ve just spent days (weeks?) out on the road. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I need a break. It’s my turn to hang out with Jesus. GO AWAY.”  They’re not saying this out loud, of course, but inside, they’re hoping that Jesus has some kind of get-away plan.

But instead, when Jesus sees the large crowd, he feels compassion for them and he begins to teach them. Not only that, he teaches them all day long.

ALL DAY LONG. What is up, Jesus?!? You just invited your guys, your tired, travel-weary inner-circle, to get away ALONE WITH YOU so that they could rest. And THIS - THIS? - is how you give rest to them? I have to believe at least some of the disciples were introverts - so they’re especially ticked off by this turn of events. Finally, though, when evening comes, the guys find an appropriate way to get rid of the crowd. They mention to Jesus that it’s getting late and that they’re a ways out from town, so it’s probably time to send people home in order to buy themselves some food.

But he answered them, “You give them something to eat!” (emphasis mine)

Whoa -- wait a minute. Not only did we not get rest, not only have we had to put up with 5,000 people all day long, but now you expect us, in the middle of the desert, to FEED THESE FREAKING PEOPLE?!? That would cost, like, more than $10,000*, not to mention the fact that there’s no freaking fast-food joints around here. You have got to be kidding, Jesus.

And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” And he commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. And he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, he blessed the food and broke the loaves and he kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and he divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied,  and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish.

Did you catch what’s happening here? Do you see what it means to rest in Jesus and to let him serve you?

The last thing these 12 guys wanted was to be around more people. Yet, Jesus invites them to do just that, and not only that, but also to serve the people (did you notice that he has the disciples hand out the food? think about how long it would take to distribute individual pieces of bread and fish to a crowd of 5,000). Rather than being alone and resting, these men were crowded and put to work. So was Jesus lying when he said, “come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest awhile”?

What does “rest” look like to Jesus? What did he give the disciples?

  • Well, they got to sit and spend an entire day listening to the Master Teacher, who provides words of life (spiritual food).

  • Second, they witnessed a miracle. Re-read how the food was multiplied. The people are sitting, spread out, across the desert. Jesus breaks the bread and hands it to his disciples, who pass it out. The disciples are the ones closest to Jesus, who witness this meager amount of food increasing and increasing and increasing until everyone is fed to the point of satisfaction (more than one helping?) AND there are TWELVE baskets left over.

  • Who do you think took home the leftovers? (not to mention the fact that they were also fed in the first place - their physical hunger was satisfied)

  • Additionally, who do you think was thanked for this miracle? To the people, who is providing their food?

If you ask me, the disciples received a whole lot more than they were asked to give; and what they did give was completely provided by Jesus. HE was the one working in this situation, yet THEY received all the benefits. But their tired, ungrateful hearts did not understand what was happening and they left this experience bitter about not getting what they expected. I know this because, later that night, the bible records that they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

You will burn out in ministry if, like the disciples, you demand that Jesus meet your expectations rather than sit at his feet and receive from him. You will burn out from serving others if you don’t first eat what God provides and give only that which you have been given. Restful work can only happen if your eyes are on Jesus rather than yourself and if your heart is fully satisfied in him rather than the circumstances around you. 

I pray that we approach God needy and hungry so that we can be filled up by his Spirit alone!

* A denarii is approximately one day’s wages. The current minimum wage in Minnesota is $7.25/hr so a 7 hour day would yield $50.75 x 200 days of work = $10,150.

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