Finding Rest in Moments of Duress
by Pastor Chris Williamson
The truth is, I don’t know how to rest. I don’t know how to be still. As a result, God has to make me lie down sometimes because sadly, I won’t slow down.
Currently, I am iced in from being able to lead and have church this morning. I would be lying if I didn’t confess this situation stinks! For nearly twenty years of ministry, this must be the second or third time we’ve had to cancel worship services due to bad weather.
What do I do on a Sunday when I am not “working?” How do I be still? Can I really enjoy Sabbath the way I preach that we all should as a way to honor God by resting our minds and bodies? Instead of worshipping God by resting, I find myself being stir crazy and doubting my decision to close church for safety reasons.
LEARNING FROM RICHARD PRYOR AND GENE WILDER
And speaking of stir crazy, it reminds me of a movie in the early 80’s by the same title. Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder had been tried and convicted for a crime they did not commit. After being locked up with killers and bank robbers and going into solitary confinement, they were said to be stir crazy. I confess that being in my house on a Sunday morning when I should be up, out, and working, has me feeling like I have been locked up.
Like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, I am stir crazy. Snow and ice has kept me away from church all week long. On top of that, my children have been out of school all week, too. We’ve had some great family time, but I’m ready for a break from the snow break! I don’t know what to do with myself since I can’t worship God by working. Apparently, God knows I simply need to worship and not work. Shouldn’t that be satisfying enough?
PILLOWS IN PRISON
I’m not the first preacher that God has had to make lie down, and I surely won’t be the last. God knows our bodies and minds better than we do, so at times He has to make us be still. We must be reminded that the God we serve commands and expects Sabbath from all of His children—including pastors!
Unlike God, we must sleep in order to recharge. Unlike God, man gets weary and tired and stands in need of constant renewal. Therefore out of love for us, God sets up some pillows in prison to make us lie down in order for us to rest physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
- Joseph had no choice but to rest in jail.
- Daniel had no choice but to rest all night in the lion’s den.
- Jeremiah slowed down as he sunk down in the mud of a miry prison.
We know that Paul spent a great deal of time in jail cells throughout his entire ministry. But even in jail, Paul ministered to inmates, cellmates, and guards. Like most ministers, he couldn’t seem to turn it off. That must be what solitary confinement is for.
Although it can be debated, God allowed Jesus to briefly rest in jail before enduring the most physically and spiritually strenuous Friday of His life.
SLEEPING THROUGH AN EXECUTION
What about Peter? In Acts 12, it is recorded that Peter rested so richly in jail that it took an angel striking him on the side in order for him to wake up! Think about it. Peter, the most recognizable and influential of all of the apostles had been arrested and was scheduled to be executed. Previously, James had been arrested and killed by the sword, so in the devil’s scheme, which was being carried out through Herod, the plan was to weaken the church by killing another prominent leader.
While Peter was on death row, the church was interceding intensely for him. What is startling in this story is that on the eve of his impending beheading, Peter was sound asleep! This point is remarkable because I am not sure I would sleep soundly on the night before I was to be murdered by a government that had already proven it would kill God’s people in cold blood.
But this is where I believe the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, kicks in. For instance, did you notice how calm the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians looked as they recently awaited execution at the blood soaked hands of ISIS? Jesus once said in Mark 13:11 that when His followers are delivered up before unjust councils in the last days, they should not take thought about what to say because the Holy Spirit would put the necessary words in their mouths. To put it another way, the Holy Spirit kicks in when human power kicks out.
Psalm 127:2 says that God gives His beloved sleep. Peter was so deep in sleep while being chained between two guards that the light from the angel that shined brilliantly and brightly in that dark, damp dungeon could not even wake him up! Peter was at rest, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He knew his times were in the Lord’s hands and no man had authority over his future destiny. He knew Psalm 4:8 that says, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
Peter also knew that Jesus had prophesied to him that he would one day die a violent death as a way of glorifying God (John 21:18-19). In Herod’s jail, perhaps he thought this was the time for that prophesy to come to pass and there was no need to resist it, especially since his death would be the passageway to seeing Jesus again in heaven. He may have also slept peacefully during this storm of life because he remembered a time in his mind’s eye when Jesus slept on a pillow in a boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41). In that episode, Peter and the eleven disciples panicked and awakened Jesus from a blissful sleep. When Jesus awakened, He not only rebuked the wind, but He also rebuked Peter and the others for their lack of faith. Therefore, Peter may have decided to make the most out of this moment in prison as a way to imitate His sleeping Savior.
SELAH AND GOD’S WHISPER
But could it be that Peter rigorously rested because he was so worn out and worn down from ministry that being in jail gave him a temporary break from it all? Based on how Peter fell asleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane from sheer exhaustion, we know the brother is capable of slipping off into a deep comatose catnap at a moment’s notice. Therefore, was being in jail some kind of divine station break or a prescribed Selah pause on Peter’s text of life? If in fact God has written a book on each one of us based on Psalm 139:16, is it possible that God has also written in several Selah pause points along the way? Knowing that Jehovah commanded rest in the Decalogue, I think it is highly probable.
So as I sit here tormented over whether or not I made the right decision to cancel church today, I hear God whispering to me the same way He whispered to an overworked prophet named Elijah to slow down. Even though I am tempted to jump in my car and ride to church to see if the ice is still on the parking lot, thereby confirming yesterday’s decision to cease our worship service, God is whispering to me to slow down.
In His whisper, God is saying that a day off on the day of rest is good for everyone. Whether it is the nursery workers, the security team, the ushers, the children’s ministry workers, the teachers, the sound team, the camera crew, the worship team, the band, the greeters, the congregation, and yes, the pastor, God should be worshiped in stillness as much as He is worshiped in energetic exuberance. When we are too busy to hear and respond to God’s whisper, we are too busy.
So lay down, pastor, lay down. Stop writing this diatribe and ask God to help you turn your prison pillow into a place of peaceful rest.
POSTED: February 22, 2015