From Sabbath-Breaker to Rest-Taker

Sometimes the best way to fulfill God's will in our lives is to rest in Him.

I have a new Bible hero—Lazarus. Most of his story is told in John 11 and ends with a true pièce de résistance: Jesus’ command to a corpse, “Lazarus, come forth.” What follows is a miracle of power and wonder: A man four days dead, pungent with rot, rouses to the voice. Death must loose its grip and give up its prey. Lazarus comes forth.

That’s the story most of us know. But the narrative after it is what makes the man my hero. Next time Jesus is in town, the family hosts a banquet in His honor. It’s a gala event, a hullabaloo of food and festivity and, I should think, endless, breathless, dramatic retellings of the story.  Imagine this party—everyone wants to be there, and not just to see Jesus. They want to get a peek at Lazarus, too.

Even the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that Christians should look more redeemed if we want others to believe in our Redeemer. Well, Lazarus here looks very redeemed, and it’s having an effect. Three, in fact. In this moment:

Lazarus is as interesting as Jesus;

Lazarus is as dangerous as Jesus;  

Lazarus is fruitful in leading others to Jesus.

Some people want to see Lazarus as much as they want to see Jesus, some want to trust in Jesus as much as Lazarus trusts in Him, and some want to kill Lazarus as much as they want to kill Jesus. (See John 12:9-11.) Lazarus has become a kingdom magnet, a firebrand evangelist, and a holy menace. That’s why he’s my hero. But here’s what I really came all this way to tell you: Lazarus does all that by doing nothing.

Sabbath-keeping is rooted in, and gives rise to, a conviction that God is sovereign. Either God is in control, or He’s not.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him (John 12:1-2 NIV, emphasis added).

Interesting, dangerous, and fruitful—all by simply reclining with Jesus.

A few years ago, I wrote a book about rest. Along the way, I made several discoveries, both theological and personal, but this was the keystone: Sabbath-keeping is rooted in, and gives rise to, a conviction that God is sovereign. Either God is in control, or He’s not. If He’s not—if I am, or you are, or Barack Obama is, or the   U.N. and World Bank are—then who can rest? We have to be worried, and very, very busy. If matters are in the hands of anyone other than God (or in no one’s hands), then there is no rest, and not just for the wicked but for the righteous, too. The only sensible thing in such a world is Mad Hatter franticness. You must run and run, work and work. You must always watch your back, sleep with one eye open, keep one hand on your sword if God be not God.

But if God be God, then there’s time enough. If God be God, then there is salvation in repentance and rest, and in quietness and trust is strength (Isa. 30:15). Philipp Melanchthon once said to his friend Martin Luther, “Today, you and I shall discuss the governance of the universe,” to which Luther replied, “No, my friend. Today, you and I will go fishing. We’ll leave the governance of the universe to God.” If God be God, then often the most effective, redemptive thing we can do is simply recline with Jesus.

But how do we enter this rest, leave the universe to God, say yes to a prolonged reclining with our Savior? I’ve discovered two practices that, for me, have been revolutionary: Snow Days and Well Days.

I got the idea of Snow Day from Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. A snow day follows a night of wild blizzard. You awake to a world buried beneath thick whiteness. Everything’s shut down: blocked streets, darkened schools, shuttered businesses. No one is going   anywhere. Then the landscape explodes with people, young and old, strolling, skiing, sledding, building snowmen, making snow angels. Some just gather fistfuls of snow, heave it into the sunshine, and laugh at the million prisms floating down.

If God be God, then often the most effective, redemptive thing we can do is simply recline with Jesus.

Maybe, first looking out on the expanse of whiteness, you panic because you’re supposed to be at a trustee meeting across town in an hour. Then reality hits you—the meeting, by divine decree and whimsy, is cancelled. The whole day is yours. The whole day is not business as usual. Now consider this—you get 52 of these a year. Think of Sabbath as Snow Day, the gift of an entire day that is all yours for anything but business as usual.

I got the idea of a Well Day from a friend. It’s the opposite of a Sick Day. We call in sick when we’re writhing with stomach flu or fever, coughing like crazy, or lacking strength to stand. We’d be useless at our job, and besides, we’re likely viral and would be a pox on our colleagues. So we take a sick day. But some days my friend awakes so filled with life and strength and curiosity that he doesn’t want to waste it on work. So he phones in well. He takes the day to cartwheel on the beach, hike in the mountains, woo his wife, or sit by a blazing fire and compose long, handwritten letters to his grandchildren. But you don’t need to call into work well: God does it for you once a week. Sabbath is God’s gift to make you look, feel, and live more redeemed. That’s something we should never turn down.

What kind of a God do your neighbors see when they see you? A God who rests? A God who invites His children to rest? Or do they see, in the blur of your coming and going, a God who never lets you stop? If we want them to believe in Jesus, we’re going to have to look more redeemed. And maybe the best way to get there is to recline more with Him.

This concludes Mark Buchanan’s two-part series on rest. Read last month's installment, "Not Sick, (Just a Sabbath-Breaker)."

Related Topics:  Sovereignty

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What happens to my notes

9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.

10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also;

11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.

1 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.

15 For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength." But you were not willing,

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