This is the last of our series on how to take care of ourselves in these difficult times. Again, my comments are based on the book by Pablo Martinez, Take Care of Yourself, publishers Hendrickson. It has been suggested that I should turn this short series into a booklet for those who cannot access the internet version or who would like a copy to hand. If you think this would be helpful please let me know and I will investigate what might be possible.
Last time we looked at various ways in which we can take care of ourselves, avoid weariness and exhaustion, and find renewal. But there was one suggestion that was not followed up in any detail – nurturing our relationship with God. That is what we will do now.
Be still and know that I am God.
Many Christians are good at looking after others spiritual needs but fail to look after their own. Ministers can be particularly bad at this – I remember a minister colleague once telling me about the pattern of their daily life and it became clear that they had no regular prayer time, no daily quiet time. No wonder they dashed from one thing to another without reflection and prioritisation, exhausting themselves (and confusing others) in the process.
It is important for all of us to take time with God, not because we have to but because we want to, for our own needs and spiritual pleasure. An orderly, at peace (even in troubled times) Christian life will never be possible without this one fundamental – a disciplined approach to spiritual nourishment.
The first, and most important, step in taking care of yourself is to nourish your spirituality, your relationship with God – Father, Son and Spirit.
The Vital Connection
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.
These are strong words – “apart from me you can do nothing.” Why do we not take them to heart? Our connection to Christ is of paramount importance. In the same way that a branch needs to be nourished from the sap of the tree’s trunk so we need to be nourished by Jesus.
Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither –
whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1 makes clear that we need to spend time with God in scripture (“meditating on his law”) and Psalm 46 (top) makes clear that we need to spend time in quietness, stillness, before God – this is the pure heart of prayer (the opposite of a torrent of words!). Stillness can be difficult if we are stressed or distressed but the more upset we are the more we need to rest in God to receive this stillness from him.
When we are still before God we receive:
1. Rest that settles our agitation. We can be renewed by Christ’s rest if we remember that he is with us (Matthew 28:20), he understands us (Hebrews 4:15), he intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25), he provides a way out of every trial (1 Corinthians 10:13)
2. Strength for what lies ahead. Our natural reaction to need may well be action but God invites us to rest and gain strength from him before we do anything. This may feel counterintuitive but we must learn this hard lesson if we are to reach maturity of faith. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
3. Clarity, and guidance that relieves our anxiety. Perhaps my most frequent prayer is to ask God for discernment, for wisdom to understand a situation and make the right decisions. If we do not spend quiet time with God then we cannot hope to get instructions from him on either daily life or important plans. Spending time with God, talking things through with him, brings clarity to our lives, the ability to discern between the important and the urgent. It enables prioritisation, it puts things into perspective, God’s perspective. We need to put our lives under the “gaze of God.” (Martinez)
4. Joy that dissipates our disappointment. As we spend time with God in intimate relationship our joy increases. God intended our relationship with him to be a joy not a burden. If your prayer life is filled with guilt rather than pleasure, something is horribly wrong. Start again! Start from the premise that God loves you, that God wants to hear from you about all the details of your life, that God wants to encourage you and enable you to live life in all its fullness. Paul exhorts us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
5. Hope that banishes weariness and despair. Hope is the oxygen of the Christian’s life. Without it our vitality is lost. What do we need to do to have lasting hope? We need to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). If we can do that every problem, every burden, every trial and trouble sits within the perspective of Christ, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” An image that I hold close in times of trouble is of Jesus a little way ahead of me on the path, not striding ahead but glancing back at me, smiling and beckoning, “Come on, you’re safe with me.” That is my visual image of hope.
Jesus is our model in all things. He sets the perfect example of how to spend time with our his (and our) heavenly Father. His times of prayer and reflection were a major source of power in his ministry. He often withdrew to places of solitude to pray.
Rest does not come automatically. It requires determination, discipline and effort. “The blessing of renewal requires the discipline of rest.” (Martinez)
Thus there is a definite rhythm in Jesus’ approach – the need for balance between action and pause, between output and input. Quiet times are not a luxury but a necessity. And the busier we are the more we need to pause, rest and renew. “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” Jesus said to his disciples (Mark 6:31). He says that to us too. Maybe we should print that and put it up somewhere so we are reminded at key moments in our day…
How did Jesus spend his times of quiet? He prayed and he meditated. I looked up the meaning of the word meditation – the Cambridge Dictionary says that meditation is “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.” For the Christian, the purpose of meditation is to focus on the Father in order to become united with him, to focus on Jesus in order to become like him, to focus on the Spirit in order to gain wisdom and strength. It is a focus upwards more than a focus inwards, inspiration more than introspection. The Bible is our map and Jesus is our compass. With these to hand we will not get lost in introspection.
Time with God not only gives us rest. It also renews us and enables us to continue our work. We cannot nourish others if we are not first nourished ourselves. The restoration we need is three-fold:
1. Renewal of our love for Jesus. As the church in Ephesus found (Revelation 2:1-7) it is possible to lose our motivation – “You have lost the love you had at first.” If our love of God is not the primary motivation for our actions as Christ’s disciples, our ministry and discipleship will weaken and fade. We may do lots of activity but our motivation moves to a place centred on self and our ministry dies.
2. Renewal of compassion. When we love Christ, we love his people, just as he loves them, despite their flaws and failures.
3. Renewal of vocation. Renewal of our compassion leads us to hear afresh our calling as Christ’s representatives, our commission to follow him and work with his Spirit for the coming of God’s kingdom.
Read the story of Peter’s restoration by Jesus if you need encouragement that Jesus wants to renew you too. See John 21:15-17.
We finish our six session series here. I hope it has been helpful. To conclude I leave you with some more Bible verses emphasising once again how the fundamental lesson for us in taking care of ourselves (and therefore readying us to help take care of others) is to take time to be still and rest in God.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.
My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Thus says the LORD,
”Stand at the crossroads and look.
Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is.
Walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.