The Radical Pursuit of Rest, by John Koessler is more than a how-to. Though there are practical implications of application for each of us. John has written a lively, engaging, convicting theology of rest that makes us face the unique dangers of our culture inside and outside the church. These very dangers keep us from experiencing the greatest blessing of our salvation – true Sabbath rest.
John begins by helping understand how our culture has shaped our view of productivity. We belong to a busyness culture. It drives us in our workday and in our worship of Christ. Because of our bent of valuing productivity above all else, it becomes the measure of our faith. “Since our devotion to Christ should know no bounds, neither should our activity. No matter what we are doing now, we should do more. No matter what we have done in the past, it has not been enough.” p.19
The answer is not a self-imposed withdrawal from activity. As John writes, we don’t need a vacation or new leisure activities, we need a new yoke. The yoke of Christ is a yoke of rest. It is given as a gift to the weary (Matthew 11:28-30).
While rest should be pursued by us, John reminds us, it never earned. It is given and received. Rest shows up a lot like sleep. “Sleep comes to me as a surprise, greeting me like a lover who embraces me from behind. So it is with the rest of Christ (p.32).”
Rest is a gift given to us as we pursue Christ. John doesn’t say that we shouldn’t reorder our lives, so we can receive this rest. But neither does he chide us into creating new “restful” activities out of guilt and shame. Rest isn’t just a better thing to do. Rest is a gift to live in.
Two chapters really encouraged and challenged me. One was chapter 4, “False Rest.” He writes about the difference between true rest and slothfulness. “Sloth is rest’s dysfunctional relative, he says.” He quotes Dorothy Sayers, “It [sloth] is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for (p.65).”
Sloth destroys our prayer life. That is understandable because prayer is truly a labor of the soul. But, sloth will also hide itself in vision, John warns. We can get so wrapped up in creating vision for the grand and glorious that we stop doing the ordinary work of serving. We ignore mundane by constantly painting a picture of how we think life and church ought to be. As one who likes to talk about vision and hopes and dreams and faith, I am convicted that at times, I have ignored the work in front of me in order to rework the vision. Or more accurately I have spent hours reworking vision, painting a new picture, in order to ignore the work in front me.
A second chapter that confronts me as pastor and church leader, is chapter 6, “Worship as Rest.” John challenges us to see worship as an act of resting. We tend to speak of and plan for a worship experience filled with activity, a holy busyness. Meaningful activity for sure, but certainly not rest. In my first church, there was a man from the community who only attended Sunday evening service (remember when we had those?). As a 24 year old pastor, I assumed he had to be at least 100 years old. Now, as a 54 year old pastor, he probably was closer to 75. Each Sunday night, after the hymns were sung and I got up to preach, we would settle himself in. He always sat on the far end of the pew. He turned at an angle toward the pulpit, wedging his back against the side and back of the pew. He slid he rear forward to the edge of the bench. At that point, he folded his arms, lay his chin against his chest so his neck would disappear. And before I was done with the introduction, he was fast asleep. Several people in my church apologized to me for him. And my reply was, “it doesn’t bother me. He’s sleeping in the arms of Jesus.” Truth is, it bothered me a bit.
John doesn’t imply that we should all sleep in church. But we should find worship together as a time that is filled with the rest of Christ. John quotes theologian Donald Bloesch in saying, “Worship is not simply an attitude that permeates all things Christians do, but an engagement with the sacred in acts of praise and thanksgiving. Service to our neighbor proceeds from worship, but worship is something much more than service. It involves an encounter with the Holy that brings us interior peace and salvation (p.102).” That sounds like real rest to me.
Rather than continue giving away the details of the book, let me encourage you to read it. Use it personally. Use it for your church staff. Use it in your small groups. Knowing the rest of Christ, by experience, will take a change of thinking. It will take the courage to reevaluate what we are doing and why. But after reading the book, I believe you will become aware of your weariness from much of what we do. You may also discover a new longing to receive what Christ has been trying to give us all along.
On a personal note, I am privileged to count Dr. John Koessler as a friend and colleague. He is a fellow disciple who is walking the journey we all walk. He has been there to encourage me as well as give advice in my role as pastor, father and follower. He is in the right place, preparing future pastors in how to love and serve Christ and His church. I appreciate how God has gifted in the area of writing and look forward to more from him in the future.