Rest for 24 measures

I watched the series finale of Downton Abbey on Sunday, March 6. In my wakeful moments that night, and first thing the next morning, that show’s theme song kept running through my head. After some time being aware of this, I asked myself, “Exercising energy hearing or thinking the theme song to a popular PBS drama isn’t going to advance the cause of Christ in any way, is it? Shouldn’t you be praying instead?”

Take a look at how seriously the writer of Psalm 119:1-7 took the matter of knowing and obeying God:

  • Be blameless
  • Keep God’s statutes
  • Seek God with the whole heart
  • Follow God’s ways
  • Obey God’s precepts (fully)
  • Have steadfast ways
  • Consider God’s commands
  • Learn God’s laws

Does that list shout “pressure to perform” to you? Feeling a considerable amount of that type of pressure (or desire) to do well – not to please people, but as a servant of God, I want to be sure my blogging time is spent creating posts that provide solutions that may make a reader’s life better instead of lofty-sounding challenges that make life seem more of a struggle. “Pressure” might not be the best word. Perhaps: longing, intention, or goal. It’s a very real effect caused by having a serious attitude about what one “ought” to be doing. So….maybe pressure is the right word, after all.

Picture a strong current that moves a person wherever it wants to, unless that person is swimming fiercely, every moment, to go in a particular direction. That mental image is of something that’s very tiring, isn’t it? Certainly, biblical teaching on spiritual warfare and on persistent service seems to support this notion of constantly battling and never letting up for a second:

· be aware of the devil’s schemes all the time [1 Peter 5:8]
· mature as a Christian [Hebrews 5:13]
· pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17]
· and, when it’s much easier just to go home from work and “veg” in all of one’s free time, serve one’s neighbor more readily than serving oneself [Mark 9:35]

Tired. Straining for progress upstream, with aching arms. Believing myself to be failing when my mind dwells on a particular song that I tell myself is “inconsequential” because, although it may be clever and pretty, it doesn’t appear to expressly exalt Jesus. Pressure. Is the water current I mentioned earlier really “the world” dragging me in the wrong direction, or is the current I’m swimming against the pressure I put on myself every day?

Now I picture the Holy Spirit towing me against the current. He’s doing all the work, and I’m being moved in the right direction. No, we can’t be lazy. Lazy people waste potential and opportunity; “sloth” is one of the seven deadly sins. We must put our hands to the plow and not look backward if we would follow Christ and inherit our spiritual reward. But, where does laziness end and reasonable, restful abiding begin?

Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

On March 6 I told my husband that our Sunday School literature, LifeWay’s MasterWork series, is almost too good. There is so much that I underline and dog-ear and scribble about in the margins, wanting to apply the well-stated concepts, to learn from them, to internalize them, and to live with more effectiveness as a Christian because of them. I have kept every quarterly issue for the past four years or so. It would take a monastery resident’s schedule, where hours every day are allotted to prayer and study, for me to make the best use of this material that others have prayerfully created and that my church has generously provided. But I don’t live in a monastery. I work full-time and commute more than an hour, round trip, five days a week. I come home to be stared in the face by dirty floors and junk mail and a weedy yard and a messy closet. (And dishes! Click here to enjoy this new TV commercial on that subject. Having an attitude of humor about what bugs us really does help!)

In the discretionary time I do have, I want God to use my thoughts and my activities for others’ benefit and for my own health. In light of that, lately I’ve been looking for heaven’s Registrar office so I can officially drop out of what feels like “advanced studies” and sign up for kindergarten again, where objects are large and bright and hands-on, where I can learn amazing things like colors and numbers for the first time again. Jesus did say the kingdom of heaven belongs to “such as these” (children).

One week after I observed that our Bible study literature is too good for my own good, God gave me a helpful insight during worship. My attention happened to be drawn to one of the percussionists during a beautiful song by choir and orchestra. Holding a pair of cymbals, he played sizzling accents, well-placed here and there, and he played commanding crashes for dramatic emphasis as the music score dictated. A sizzle or a crash in every measure would have rendered that instrument’s sound much less noticeable, much less interesting. Anyone who talks incessantly begins to be tuned out by bored hearers. I found myself wondering how many measures of rest the percussionist had, on average, between “notes.”  The title of this article tells you my guess. (It may be way off.)  I have to make this a life lesson: Take the measures of rest that the Composer wrote into your part, then play audible notes (or a visible role) when the time is right.

(Gear) shifting metaphors now… We don’t have to be pushing the gas pedal of our lives every second. Sometimes we coast. Sometimes we have the brake on, waiting our turn to act or to speak, while it’s another’s turn to be moving. And sometimes the car is sitting with the motor off and the keys out of the ignition. Now, that is real rest.

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