Four steps to finding spiritual rest
We live in a culture where busyness is applauded, yet that busyness exhausts us. Here’s a way to cope.
Several years ago, after relocating within Japan, I felt exhausted and wanted to just stop everything and get a true rest. Although that was impossible due to a busy ministry schedule, God gave me a coping skill that taught me how to rest spiritually. I share about it often because there is a great need for spiritual rest, especially among those in ministry.
Rest is a gift from God, and finding that gift is possible. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29 ESV).
Rest for the soul is a spiritual rest. Surely you do not need one more thing to add to your to-do list. However, Jesus told us that we need to do something to initiate the rest. We need to learn from him. I learned this coping skill from him, and now it is my go-to method of rest. It uses the acronym REST and is an exercise for the mind that takes only a minute.
R is for Remember
Discipline your mind to remember the goodness of the Lord and his faithfulness as the Word tells us to do: “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isa. 46:9 NIV). Moses encouraged the Israelites not to forget, saying, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deut. 4:9 NIV).
When we remember, we look backward—back into the Word and into our own life, remembering that he is God. Remember the stories of God’s people as well as your own story. When remembering, avoid recalling the negative and purposefully focus on the positive and the victories. Also, do not focus on yourself and your pain or joy, failures and successes, but rather focus on God and his triumphs. When you remember what God has already done, you are ready to expect that he will do more.
E is for Expect
After remembering specifics of what God has done, by faith we can imagine with expectation the great things that he will do. When we know who God is, we can expect that he will do even more than our minds can imagine.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11 NIV). Imagine laying down the plans that you have for your life and receiving the plans that God has for you. At our high school graduation we were required to sing, “I Did It My Way.” God had called me to be a missionary to Japan only a few months before graduation, and I knew that doing it my way was never going to work. Even though I love to sing, I barely mouthed the words to that song while the others robustly belted it out. I determined in my heart that going forward, doing it God’s way was the only way for me.
God gave a promise to Abram that he would bless him with an heir and make him into a great nation. At first, Abram’s imagination didn’t take him far enough. He could not believe, and he did not expect that God could do the impossible. He could only imagine that his heir would not come from himself but would be a servant within his household. But God stretched Abram’s imagination by telling him to see by faith what he could not see with his eyes. God led Abram outside and told him to look at the stars in the heavens and count them—if he could. And then, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6 NIV). With God, we can believe, and we can expect the unexpected.
When we remember, we look backward, and when we expect, we look forward. Of course, like Abram, we must look with eyes of faith. Abram expected God to work, but it required personal surrender.
S is for Surrender
To surrender is to stop resisting and submit. It involves self-abandonment, in short, to give up. Jesus himself faced that agonizing night of surrender in the garden of Gethsemane. His surrender, his giving up of himself, bought our salvation.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV). That is surrender. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). That is surrender. To surrender is to give up control and give in to the will of God.
Surrendering breaks the bondage of sin. The prodigal son surrendered his sinful lifestyle, worldly pleasures, and carnal thinking. He returned to his father, who welcomed him with open arms and threw a party. His surrender brought not only rest for his soul but also restoration to relationships.
When we surrender, we look inward. David, aware of the wickedness in his heart, knew he had to surrender. He prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24 NIV). The joy of surrendering for believers is that we surrender to the winning side. We surrender to a God who is trustworthy.
T is for Trust
Trust God and be confident in him. Trusting in God does not mean getting our own way, but rather desiring his way. It does not mean asking God to bless what we want but rather to find out what he wants and to do that.
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5 NIV).
- “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you” (Ps. 9:10 ESV).
- “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7 ESV).
- “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act” (Ps. 37:5 ESV).
When we surrender, we look inward, and when we trust, we look upward. Look up to the heavens as Abram did. Look up at a God who does the impossible.
These four simple steps—remember, expect, surrender, and trust—are a coping skill to bring your mind to a place of rest.
Recently I put this coping skill into practice while flying across the Pacific Ocean. I felt exhausted physically and mentally after experiencing COVID-19 and its residual aftereffects, packing up my house to fly to America for a year of home assignment, and thinking about the upcoming year of traveling to speak in churches each weekend while studying for my PhD during the week. Here’s how I did it:
R— Remember. I remembered one by one the victories of the past five-year term and the faithfulness of God, even during the difficult challenges.
E— Expect. I began to imagine seeing friends and family on the other side of the world. I allowed my heart to expect great things for the unknown future.
S— Surrender. I confessed my fears and anxiety about the future, about my own inabilities, about all the work that was yet to be done, and surrendered all of it to God.
T— Trust. I determined in my heart that I was going to trust God with my schedule, relationships, studies, speaking engagements, and with all the traveling ahead that would soon lead me back to Japan.
Now it is your turn. Take a moment right now to look backward and remember two or three positive things from your life or from the Bible that God did. Then look forward and imagine even one thing that you believe God will do. Now look inward and surrender anything the Holy Spirit shows you that you need to give up. Finally, declare out loud that you put your trust in God and God alone. It is my hope that this exercise helps you to experience the gift of rest that Jesus promised you would find, even in the midst of your busyness.