September! If you follow the timeline of the big retail stores, you might’ve noticed that the back-to-school supplies have long since been picked through, and that (by the corporate watch) you’re already late to decorate for Thanksgiving. While we’re at it, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too!
But seriously… This is the point where, for many, the year always seems to speed up. Whether you’ve got young kids and your life’s once again revolving around the school calendar, or you’re getting back into your own weekly activities – work routines, Bible studies, gym sessions – everything can collide in a cacophony of chaos and stress. The “dog days of summer”, when your life wasn’t run as firmly by the clock, are a distant memory, and as those sinister Facebook posts oh-so-cheerfully remind you that you’ve only got 3 months of shopping days left till Christmas, it’s hard not to long for a return to tranquility…to stillness…to rest.
However, this isn’t just a seasonal issue. We live in a culture that actively discourages the idea of “time off”, where piling more and more on our plates has become routine, respected, and almost revered. I’ve literally heard people compete for bragging rights over whose schedule is the craziest – as though that’s something to be proud of! Why do we do it? Some might say that it’s just the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But I’d argue that deep down, we’re often guilty of using activities and accomplishments as a way of “proving” ourselves worthy – of praise, of reward, of approval, of love, of whatever it is we’re seeking. We feel validated by our busyness. And perhaps more than that, we’re protected by it. See, if we fill our lives with enough busyness, then maybe it’ll drown out our fear and anxiety and stress, and even the voice of the Lord of the universe speaking to our souls. Because let’s face it: sometimes we’re afraid to hear what God’s really trying to say to us. We’re afraid that we won’t measure up… that we’re not enough… that we have to prove ourselves in order to win His approval.
Do you think maybe that’s why Jesus’ words to His followers on this issue 2000 years ago are still so powerful for us today? In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus tells the gathered crowd, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find REST for your souls (NIV).” Jesus lived in an age when religious leaders like the Pharisees were constantly policing the practices of the Jewish people, piously applying Torah law to every action under the sun, not in an effort to bring people closer to God, but so they could point fingers at others’ shortcomings. They took pleasure in extreme religious legalism, and all the activities, and rituals, and sacrifices, and offerings in the world, weren’t enough to satisfy the “holier-than-thou” attitude of the spiritual leaders of the day. In the midst of this mentality, Jesus comes onto the scene, challenges the dominant religious perspective of the day by turning it upside down on its head, and offers people FREEDOM from the burden of constantly having to prove themselves worthy of an unreachable God’s approval. Jesus invites them to exchange empty ritualism for the fullness of relationship with the Father Himself by way of the Son, who came to earth as a Bridge between an imperfect world and a perfect God. He tells His followers that they don’t have to wear themselves out any longer trying to “prove” themselves worthy, because none of us can ever be made worthy through our own doing; all they have to do is accept His invitation freely.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with having an active, busy lifestyle, or wanting to make the most of every day God’s blessed you with by filling those days with rich and vibrant experiences. But if you’ve gotten into one of those ruts where you’re busy just for the sake of being busy, whatever your reasons might be, can I just encourage you to stop? Take a deep breath. You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody. You can’t prove yourself to God no matter how hard you try – and He doesn’t ask you to. Jesus isn’t telling you to do – He’s telling you to just be. Take His words to heart: “Come to Me.” Then take a deep breath. And rest assured.