2 Samuel 7:1-14a/ Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
How many of you have ever hear the cliché, “No good deed goes unpunished”? How many of you have ever felt that it was a truth? This feels true at times. We want to be helpful, so we offer help to a friend or neighbor. We fix something that is broken, we listen to them and give advice, and we may help them pay a bill or buy groceries in an emergency situation. But, then it seems that they call at midnight needing advice or call you every time something needs to be fixed.
Maybe this has happened to you at work. Your boss asks you to do a favor for them. It is nice to be recognized and trusted as someone to take on a new responsibility so, without thinking, you say yes, and you are so good at it you become their right hand person. And this snowballs in to a situation where you are now the go to person for everything and your doing so much extra stuff you can’t get your actual job done. This can even happen at church right! You were honored the first time you were nominated to be on the leadership team. It was a privilege to serve and then your first 3 year term is up and they ask you to do a different job. And then someone suggests that you can probably handle two positions. Then, your known as the one with the keys or the one who knows how everything works so every time there is a question about the church… they come to you.
Well, this is where our scripture begins. The disciples have made their first attempt at going into the world as apostles, doing the will of God, teaching, healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus and all they want to do is tell Jesus about their experiences. They are so excited and energized by these newly found gifts and abilities but they are also exhausted. They have been working so hard they haven’t even had a chance to eat. So, Jesus pulls them aside to rest. But, they were almost too good at serving in Jesus name. Between what they have been doing in service to Jesus and what Jesus has been doing himself, his reputation has spread. And people are coming from all over to see this Jesus. Jesus and the disciples have probably had less than 2 hours in the boat when they reach the other side, the place they are supposed to rest and eat, when they are surrounded by people in need. Everyone wants more and more and more of Jesus.
It is an overwhelming feeling... even for Jesus. But his heart goes out to them. And this leads to another cliché we say a lot, “There’s no rest for the weary” or my favorite “There will be plenty of time to sleep when I am dead.” We say these things or something like it when it seems there is a lot on our plates to do. We live in a culture of over functioners. We pride ourselves in working 60+ hours in a week, volunteering and keeping an immaculate house. We teach our kids from a young age to follow in our footsteps. School 8-3, ball practice until 6, then running through the drive thru on the way home so that they can get homework and showers done before bed. Every minute of our day is occupied by something.
We busy ourselves at church too right. We over commit to work at the church; cleaning or fixing the church building, serving on committees or working in the community only to feel like we can never do enough. I admit that my default mode is this go, go, go mentality. I like being active and feeling like I am getting stuff done. But about a year ago I decided that busy was no longer an excuse. Between church and school and relationships, “Busy” became a 4-letter word to me.
When we get too busy to take care of ourselves our health will force us to stop in very unpleasant ways. When we get too busy to spend quality time with loved ones our relationships suffer and before you know it they are gone or void of meaning. Who cares how many hours you spend at the office or how much money you make, when the stress of work puts you in the hospital with an anxiety attack? Who cares if your house is so clean someone could eat off your kitchen floor… I promise, no-one will.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus and the disciples didn’t feel this way from time to time. As soon as they tried to rest, the phone was ringing again with another request. More people were showing up on Jesus’ doorstep looking for aid. “Heal me Jesus! I heard what you did for my cousin in Jerusalem, help me too!” “The doctor says there’s nothing else he can do… you are my only hope!” “Please don’t let my loved one die!” People are desperate for Jesus.
What we missed in our reading of scripture today is that this actually encompasses 2 lake crossings. In between is the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. Not once is their rest interrupted by people in need but twice. Jesus was hungry and tired too but when he saw the needs of the people, he had compassion for them. His heart broke and so he decided that rest could wait.
But, if you are like me, most of the time our exhaustion is not because of too much compassion for other people. Our exhaustion is not because we are spending every waking minute serving God. Our exhaustion comes because we need to be needed and we need to be loved. We secretly get affirmation from our cries of “woe is me.” It means that people depend on us, we are getting things done, and when this happens we can begin to serve our own need to be needed as an idol instead of serving God and doing what God desires from us.
A lady once told me after church that she fell into this. She was always busy but never felt like she was doing enough. This happens when our priorities get out of whack. When we strive after our own desires and priorities not God’s. We get so busy and caught up in the obligations of our lives that we forget whom we should be serving and neglect to take time and rest. When this happens we are tempted to just stop. We get burned out so we just give up, throw in the towel and declare that it is someone else’s responsibility now. But this is not what Jesus has in mind. We may need to stop for a moment and reassess our priorities and regain our strength but there are still people in need. Jesus had compassion on those who needed him. Jesus didn’t just have pity from a distance but when he saw others in pain, he felt their pain, when he saw people who were hungry, his stomach growled too. And Jesus expects us to have that same compassion for those who need him too.
So when we get tired, we are not to stop completely and give up, but rest. Jesus wants us to have compassion on others. Jesus wants us to work to make the church a symbol of love and unity in a world full of hate and division. Jesus wants us to heal broken hearts and broken spirits in His name. Jesus wants us to be his hands and feet and serve the widow, the orphan and the hungry. But in order to do this we must take time to rest.
Rest energizes us for what is next but rest is more than just eating and sleeping. Rest means spending time with Jesus. Not just telling God what we need but asking what God wants our priorities to be. It means being still, listening and receiving guidance. Our lives get overwhelmed when our priorities for our lives over shadow God’s priorities for our lives. Rest means spending time in the word, worshiping and learning, examining where our gifts will best meet the needs of the world instead of trying to be all things to all people.
In the scripture, the followers of Jesus change titles from disciple to apostle, back to disciple. As disciples they are sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning, growing and being guided. As apostles, they are out doing what they have learned. They are in the world, working on behalf of the Kingdom of God. Then, they return to Jesus to explore what went right and what went wrong to continue to learn and grow so that they can return to the world with spiritual strength and nourishment.
Matthew 11:28 Jesus says “come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” But Jesus also says in Matthew 28 “go and make disciples of all nations”. There is a balance to be found between work and rest, service and prayer and it is found as we find our priorities aligned with Jesus priorities for our lives.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you beating yourself up because you are too busy and yet never get anything done? Are your priorities out of order? When we say no to those things the world needs from us, it frees us up to say yes to what Jesus wants from us. Aligning our priorities with God allows us to get off the hamster wheel of life and move forward in the direction Jesus wants us to go.
When we take this time to rest with Jesus we are emboldened, we are nourished and we are strengthened and we realize that what the world needs isn’t us but Jesus. It is Jesus that heals, Jesus that feeds and Jesus that loves. The world isn’t dependent on you or me. What the world needs is a relationship with the Lord. What the world really needs from you is for you to be a role model for how to live into a relationship with God and how to hear the whisper of God over the noise of this world. And how to live a life dedicated to love of God over love of self. A life of service will be a mix of rest and labor but with Jesus there will be balance.
Spend time this week praying, listening, meditating, worshiping and simply finding rest with Jesus, away from the world. Even if it is only a few hours or a few minutes in the car. The crowds will wait and you will find yourself better equipped to do the work you have been called to do.