In my work with young professionals and entrepreneurs, I often ask a simple question, “Where do you find rest?” Quite often the response is, “ I rarely do.” I see a tremendous amount of striving as people work to get traction on career and family.
For years I felt guilty when I thought about the fourth commandment which calls us to
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.” Sure, I had the day off, and most often we went to church in the morning. But, the grass needed mowing, and my week needed planning, so I would ignore the command to rest on the Sabbath. I never really thought about it too much. Weekends were a busy time.
In the last year, I have come back to this idea of Sabbath rest and have been pondering it deeply. For most of my work career, I invested much of my identity in my role in our family business. The deeper I got into my career, the more invested I was in the company, and the more my identity was tied to my job. I think many men, and perhaps women as well, find themselves in this spot. I say find themselves, because for me it was not really a conscious choice. From deep within, a need to prove myself emerged. I think my father was instrumental in this need, as I wrote in the post, God used my Father to teach me.
In my life, the pressures of running the business became all-consuming. I found myself thinking about business challenges and opportunities all through my waking hours. Rare was the time I wasn’t focusing most of my thinking and energy towards my work. After all, it had a job to do, to prove my worth, to give me the illusion of substance that I did not even believe myself.
Since I had invested my identity in my work, and since no matter of success really changed the way I felt about myself, it became an endless cycle. Work hard, achieve some success, realize that if I slowed down, success would slip away, so work even harder. Even on the Sabbath, I was giving myself to my business, thinking about the next week, planning, solving problems, reviewing financials. The need to prove myself became exhausting. Yet, all this time, energy and attention I gave to the business acted to limit my spiritual growth. Does your identity limit your spiritual growth?
Robert Fritz helped me to see that my intense focus on my work arose from this deep need to prove myself. I thought I was trying to prove myself to my long-dead father, but realized through a structural consult that I was subconsciously trying to prove myself to God. No wonder I had never come to a feeling of peace about my self-worth. I was a Lutheran, the people of Salvation by Grace through Faith. But, deep down, I was behaving in ways that dismissed that idea.This illustration demonstrates the flow of God’s grace. God's grace flows through the new Covenant that Jesus initiated. We are invited to become adopted children of the King through the redeeming work of Christ. If we find our identity there, the grace will flow into us, enabling us to walk humbly with God into submission and obedience, and to walk upright in His eyes through His grace.
Through my subconscious behavior, I was trying to reverse the flow of grace around this triangle. I was trying to prove myself worthy, and live obediently, in order to gain leverage and ensure God's love. When we do that, we are trying to justify ourselves through works righteousness, and that just doesn't work. Since that realization, I have moved to a much healthier place, one that places my trust in God, and my identity in Jesus. I have learned in much deeper ways what Sabbath rest is all about.
So, let’s examine this idea of Sabbath rest. In John 15:1-11, Jesus tells us:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
There is a lot to this passage. If we do not bear fruit, we are cut away from the vine. Yet, even if we do produce fruit, God will prune away at us, that we might bear more fruit. This pruning is a painful process. But, note who is doing the pruning, it is the vinedresser, God. So, even the work of pruning away that which is not bearing fruit is God’s work. Then, He goes on to invite us to abide in him, and in so doing we will bear much fruit. Further, while abiding in Him, we can ask for whatever we wish, and it will be granted.
So, how do we abide in Jesus? Here is the definition of abide in Dictionary.com:
1. to remain; continue; stay: Abide with me.
2. to have one's abode; dwell; reside: to abide in a small Scottish village.
3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last.
Digging a little deeper, I found this definition of dwell:
1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside.
2. to live or continue in a given condition or state: to dwell in happiness.
3. to linger over, emphasize, or ponder in thought, speech, or writing: to dwell on a particular point. 4. to be motionless for a certain interval.
So, to abide in Jesus, to dwell in Him, to make our home in Him, we linger, ponder deeply, reside permanently in this place, cultivating our relationship, finding stillness and resting in the stillness. John Waller illustrates this beautifully in his song, Perfect Peace. Listen to his thoughts here.
Jesus promises us that if we are abiding and dwelling in Him, then He will also abide in us. We can ask for anything we want, and God will grant it. This makes sense, if you hear the qualifier. If I am truly abiding in Jesus, then it is likely that I will begin to want what Jesus wants for me. And, when I ask the Father to give me more of what He wants me to have, my prayers will always be answered.
I heard it said somewhere that we can be inundated by the flow of God’s grace. All we have to do is find where God is pouring out His grace, and join Him there.
As long as I had my identity invested in my career, God allowed me to continue in my never-ending striving. And, I rarely found true Sabbath rest. When I began to understand my structure, I came to accept that I am a sinner who can never be good enough. As I have done that, I’ve begun to rest my identity in Jesus. In so doing, I find the peace, the rest, the joy Jesus promises.
For me Sabbath rest goes much deeper than avoiding work on Sunday. It requires that I center myself on Christ, that I rest in His work in me, and not my own. Then I can abide in Him, and experience the joy that Jesus offers at the end of this passage in John.
If you find yourself striving, and rarely experiencing rest, peace and the joy Jesus promises, you might benefit from a structural consult. It is a process of appreciative inquiry designed to provide a clear look at the reality you inhabit. You may find things there that you didn’t realize were driving you. I certainly did. Contact me if you would like to explore your own motivations and structures, to better understand your striving.