Come rest a while

I’m amazed at people who don’t have time to eat. How can anyone miss out on eating? But young people, especially, have so much going on and so many friends in need, as well as their own emotional crises, that they can’t find time to eat.

What have we done to ourselves to create such a culture, where even the most basic of human pleasures and needs is an afterthought or even a nuisance? But it happens, and it happened to Jesus and his disciples, too. There were “so many people coming and going,” Mark 6:31, “that they did not even have a chance to eat.”

To some people that’s a good sign, though – all that productive work being done, everyone’s time filled up to the brim with creative ideas, and church growth statistics off the chart. It’s addictive. But so addictive it’s hard to stop. And to Jesus that wasn’t good, because right in the middle of all that wonderful growth and action, he tells his disciples, “Come rest a while.” It had gone far enough. A person can be so busy that his mind turns against him, forcing him to keep working at such a frantic pace it actually threatens his physical survival.

But isn’t work and being as productive as possible the sign of a life well lived? To a point, yes, but there’s also a point at which work becomes counterproductive, the sign of which is no interest in or time for food, and that’s when Jesus pulled the plug. “Let’s go to a quiet place and get some rest,” he said.

Not exactly the Protestant work ethic, is it? But Jesus wasn’t a Protestant, fortunately, so work wasn’t everything. To him, taking time out to rest was fine, but a revolutionary thought, I imagine, for many Christians hooked on church growth and huge attendance figures.

If we don’t rest, though, we’ll be forced to. The body has a marvellous defence mechanism for dealing with an overactive mind. It gets sick. It pushes blood pressure up to alarming levels and causes all kinds of embarrassing things to happen, like fainting at lecterns, spouting drivel at important meetings, and making one’s face puff up and turn blotchy. It also has a nasty habit of collapsing and dying just when things are at their most exciting. How inconsiderate.

Jesus, however, was considerate. He knew his disciples had reached their limit, and even when things were looking great – all those people coming and going and showing huge interest in them – it was time to go to a quiet place. It was fine with him to “rest a while.”

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“I’m a Christian; how on earth did I sink this low?”

For years George enjoyed a fairly steady, uneventful life being a Christian. He went to church every week, helped in the community, took time with family, and put in an honest day’s work.

But suddenly, things took a turn for the worse. There were problems at work – daft policies from management, and idiot co-workers not pulling their weight. There were problems at home too – the older kids were becoming demanding and insensitive to anyone but themselves. George had also made a bad financial decision that upset his wife terribly. And then there were problems at church, politicking among the leaders for position, a new pastor with bright “new” ideas, and conflicts over traditional versus contemporary music. George wasn’t feeling that good, either. The stress of all these problems at once was taking its toll. He lost his temper more, he delayed going home at night, and he found reasons not to attend church. He knew he was spinning uncontrollably into an emotional black hole.

He didn’t feel like praying either, or talking to anyone. Advice only made him more frustrated and angry, and he became sullen, depressed and a pain to live and work with. And then one day he thought, “I’m a Christian; how on earth did I sink this low?”

The answer, of course, was obvious. George knew his Bible well enough to remember 2 Corinthians 4:7, that says we’re “jars of clay.” We may be Christian but we’re still made of the same stuff as everyone else, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that, just as Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth. They weren’t anything special, superior or better than others just because they were Christian. They were still clay pots, which of themselves had no power whatsoever.

But Christians don’t exist to show off their own power. They exist to show off God’s power. We still exist in our powerless clay pots “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” And to prove it, God lets the world knock the stuffing out of us, and so much so at times that it’s only by his strength that we survive at all (verses 8-9). But that’s the point. It’s only by his strength, “so that HIS life may be revealed in our mortal body,” verse 11.

Everyone in the world is a helpless jar of clay – but that’s all we’re meant to be, “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body,” verse 10. We are perfectly designed as containers for the life of Christ to be lived out and demonstrated in us, and sometimes things have to overwhelm us to remind us of that.

Can we improve our chances on Judgment Day?

I’ve been learning about the tricks women play to shave off those crucial ounces for weighing-in at Weight Watchers – like don’t eat breakfast that morning, wear the lightest weight clothes you’ve got, no underwear, and use the scales at Weight Watchers that register the lowest weight.

It reminded me of the tricks people play when it comes to Fate Watchers. Fate Watchers is for all those who are worried about weighing in on Judgement Day, who fear that day because, they believe, that’s the moment their fate is decided forever – and what if they’ve fallen short of expectations? In other words, Fate Watchers is just like Weight Watchers: there’s a price to pay if you’re overweight, and especially if you’re heavy on sin. So Fate Watchers comes up with religions that supply people with all kinds of clever tricks to shave off the bad bits in their lives to improve their chances on Judgment Day.

The tricks are a waste of time, of course, because the Judge knows all, but we give it a try anyway, like the fellow in Matthew 7:22 who says, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Nice try, but the Lord’s having none of it. “I never knew you,” he replies. “Away from me, you evildoers.”

But surely miracles are good for a few points on the Fate scales, aren’t they? No, they’re not. But if miracles aren’t good enough, what about all the other tricks that religions tell us will improve our chances on Judgement Day, like obeying the ten commandments, praying five times a day, doing good deeds, or creating mega churches? But if casting out demons doesn’t cut the mustard with Jesus Christ, then what does casting out bad habits by self-discipline and willpower do for us? Isn’t there anything we do that counts at weigh-in time?

Yes, there is: faith, Colossians 1:23. But faith in what, though? Faith that we are “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” because we’ve been reconciled to God “by Christ’s physical body through death,” verse 22. At weigh-in time we come only with the cross, because God accepts our trust in that. That’s how our “alienation from God” and “being his enemies because of our evil behaviour,” verse 21, are dealt with. There’s nothing else needed.

At Fate Watchers, the sign over the door says, “No Tricks Needed,” because there’s no need to resort to all those tricks religions come up with to scrape us under the wire on Judgement Day. Imagine if weighing-in at Weight Watchers was so easy.

Is it true that “God helps those who help themselves”?

What do people actually mean when they say “God helps those who help themselves?” Do they mean God is more likely to get involved in their lives if they’re doing their part? For instance, will God more likely help us find a job if we’re out there looking for one? Or that he’ll more likely heal us if we’re doing our best to stay healthy, or more likely protect us if we do up our seatbelts, or more likely favour us if we’re working hard? Because if that is what people mean, is there support for it in Scripture?

There’s support for it in fable. One source quoted is Aesop’s fable of Hercules and the Waggoner, from 6th century Greek mythology. The Waggoner couldn’t free his cart stuck in the mud and prays to Hercules for help. Hercules replies, “Tut, man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.” In other words, don’t just sit there expecting the gods to do all the work, get in there and do what you can for yourself and then the gods kick in. In modern evangelical jargon it’s “God won’t steer a parked car,” meaning there has to be action on our part for God to help us. Or, that God only acts on our behalf, or grants us his favour, if we show some initiative and exert some effort ourselves first.

If that’s true, though, does that mean the opposite is also true, that God doesn’t help those who don’t help themselves? Or that if we don’t do our bit, God won’t kick in with his bit, or that Hercules won’t help Waggoners who don’t put their shoulders to the wheel?

But if God only kicks in if we do our bit first, what happens if we can’t do our bit, like we can’t pray because we’re too upset or angry? We desperately need his help but our prayers feel empty and useless. Does God not help us until we pray hard enough? But if we can’t pray hard enoiugh, what happens then?

Well, first of all God understands our dilemma, Romans 8:26, where Paul writes “We do not know what we ought to pray.” Hey, it happens. We have no idea how to pray about a situation, or we’re too frazzled to pray at all. So what happens now? Fortunately, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” The Spirit doesn’t wait until we can help ourselves – he’s quite willing to go ahead and help us when we can’t help ourselves. And that’s the God that Paul focuses on, not the gods of Greek mythology.