Rest

by Rick Grover 

I need a little niksen in my life, and I bet you do, too. And, no, that’s not a misspelling of “Nixon,” thank you very much.

Niksen is a Dutch word for doing nothing. It’s when you take a conscious stand against busyness and let your brain rest and recover. According to Olga Mecking in “The Case for Doing Nothing,” niksen “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, and better at coming up with creative ideas” (The New York Times, April 29, 2019).

It’s hard to do nothing, because our brains and bodies are always doing something, even when we sleep. Psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee likens niksen to a car whose engine is running, but it isn’t going anywhere (idem). You set aside time where you have no plan other than to be. With burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases on the rise, intentional idleness might not be such a bad idea.

Sometimes we need to sit idly so we can think actively … and pray. But the idol of busyness keeps our thinking and praying at a minimum. We believe our busyness is a symbol of our status: the busier I am, the more important I must be. We want to prove our self-worth by the measurement of activity.

Nonsense. The busier I am may only prove I lack discipline and time management.

Not long ago, I gave our church elders a proposal for me to take a sabbatical. After looking through it, they responded with one critique: “Your proposal is too busy. We don’t want you coming back from your sabbatical more tired than before you left. You need to cut it back and build in times to rest.” Basically, they told me I needed to include niksen. I did, and they approved my sabbatical. And I am forever grateful for that gift of grace and that nudge for niksen.

Now, I’m trying to live that on a weekly basis. I’m trying to set aside one day every week for a sabbath. Shabbat, the Hebrew word for sabbath, means to cease, rest, desist. Or, as the Dutch would say, shabbat means niksen. I’m also trying to do a better job of implementing niksen on a daily basis, where I build into my schedule regular breaks. Studies have actually shown that regular breaks increase work performance and productivity (https://doi.org/10.1038/nn864).

Whether you are a minister or an elder, you need to set an example that rest is just as important as serving. If you try to lead from a tired soul, you will burn out, give out, and fall out from the role God has given you.  

I hope you will give yourself permission to take time each day to let your brain rest and recover and a day each week to exhale the stress and inhale the rest. Put down your smart phone, close your laptop, turn off the TV, and idly sit so that you can actively pray.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Jesus, Matthew 11:28, NIV).

When the Bible makes you facepalm 🤦‍♂️

by Jared Johnson 

I was teaching through the Judges in a high school class last year and told the students “the Bible is a soap opera.”  One student in particular was scandalized.  Of course, it’s infinitely more than that, but really, is there any other description for the 4 chapters of train wreck that was Samson’s life?  It holds nothing back describing our condition, nor God’s intervention.  His infinitely redemptive work is constantly on display – nearly always through our infinite ineptitude.

One episode from the early New Testament makes me chuckle.  I have no trouble seeing myself in the story.

A Jewish priest, Zechariah, went into the Temple to burn incense, when his routine was interrupted by the blindingly pure figure of an angel who appeared and stood next to the altar.  When the shock wore off, they had a conversation.  And when Zechariah didn’t comprehend the angel’s message, he got put in his place:

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel!  I stand in the very presence of God.  It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!  But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.”

When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son.  And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. 

When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony.  They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father.  But Elizabeth said, “No!  His name is John!” 

“What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.”  So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him.  He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.”  Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. 

(Luke 1.19-20, 57-64) 

Side note:  I have always been perplexed that Zechariah’s question (“How can I be sure this will happen?”) warranted such a harshly corrective response while Mary’s question mere verses later (“But how can this happen?”) was met with utter tenderness.  The Greek recordings of each question are quite different.  Two lessons are buried in that detail: 1) original language study is very important, 2) the impact of the non-verbals of communication are evident in the Bible.

Side-trip finished, I have no trouble seeing myself as the religious worker just ho-humming through his routine and wondering, in the face of such entrenched routine, how the astounding would come about.  I have no trouble seeing myself as the overly assertive neighbors who knew better than the parents what needed to happen with/to their child.

Here’s the part that makes me chuckle: Elizabeth burst their expectations, to which they responded by then asking Zechariah – natural enough.  But their next step makes no sense.  Zechariah went mute at least a few days before Elizabeth conceived John.  Zechariah got his voice back eight days after delivery.  Therefore, he had been mute about 10 months.  Mute.  Gabriel said he would lose his speech.  Zechariah could hear every detail he always had.  Zechariah probably took a writing tablet to market and synagogue and had one handy in the house from day to day.   He heard just fine.

So… when his neighbors – who had seen him interacting this way for almost a year by this point – wanted to get their point across at the circumcision, why did they use gestures?  He wasn’t deaf, but they were acting like he was!  He heard and understood them with perfect clarity, no hand-flailing required!

Isn’t that a great illustration of just how askew we get ourselves?  How often did Jesus answer questions that weren’t asked?  How much course correction did Paul give throughout the New Testament?  James had to admonish us to do what we hear.

That’s why we have multiple leaders of any one church – especially a plurality of elders.  Let’s listen with open ears and humble hearts to our brothers and sisters … and be ready to laugh at ourselves when we find ourselves “gesturing” at someone who can hear just fine. 

Drill Your Way to Christlikeness

by Rod Nielsen 

If you have ever been in military basic training, law enforcement academy, or if you tried out for sports you remember the drills you did over and over until certain behaviors became automatic. Even Typing or Key-boarding class used drills:

  • frf(space)
  • juj(space)
  • frf(space)
  • juj(space)
  • ded(space)
  • kik(space)
  • ded(space)
  • kik…

…and on and on through the keyboard until our fingers found the keys by muscle memory. We hated the drudgery of repetition, but the end result was that we knew what to do “in the heat of battle;” we knew how make a play in real time; our typing skills advanced to hundreds of words per minute.

Spiritual disciplines are like that. We practice them over and over, throughout our lives seeking to become mature, attaining to the full measure of Christ. We train ourselves to be the right kind of Jesus follower and do the Christ-like thing in every situation.

As leaders in our churches, Elders and Preachers, we know that our congregations want us to set the example. They watch us to see what a “good Christian” does. They trust Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” We want our brothers and sisters to become more and more like Jesus. For them and for us there is probably no better method of growing in Christ than to practice spiritual disciplines.

Through the centuries of Christian faith and practice, the search for God happens through the classical disciplines of spiritual life. These activities of mind, body, and spirit are the tools God uses to help us become like Jesus. They are how we follow Jesus in discipleship.

Richard Foster, author of the well-read book Celebration of Discipline wrote in the preface to its accompanying workbook, Celebrating the Disciplines that we are in a “double search.” We are searching for God and God is searching for us. God initiates the search. He plants a yearning in our hearts to know Him, but that does not make our search any less important. He invites us to seek Him.

In his book Foster discusses 12 separate disciplines. I do not in any way suggest that every Christian must follow this method of getting to know our wonderful God. I certainly do not want anyone to make a checklist of them. I suggest these as individual ideas that you can apply in your life that will help you in your spiritual growth. As you increase and strengthen your Christlikeness your example serves to teach and encourage members of your congregation who are looking to you for guidance and direction.

To lead our churches well it is necessary for us to follow Jesus well. I suggest to every Elder and Preacher: refresh your knowledge and understanding of spiritual disciplines and practice them in view of your congregation. You will grow in Christlikeness and your church will grow with you.