Learning to Pray from Scripture Part 3: How the Psalms Teach Us to Be Ourselves in the Presence of God

How open are you about expressing your emotions? Do you typically hide your feelings from others? Or do you find it difficult to put how you are feeling into words? Maybe you’re not someone who is, as they say, in touch with their feelings. Perhaps you find the outward expression of emotions–be it anger, sadness, grief, disappointment, or fear–awkward and uncomfortable, even around those closest to you. It’s possible your upbringing trained you to see letting your feelings show as inappropriate. Our specific culture and family of origin play a profound role in this sort of thing.

What about in the context of your relationship with God? When you pray, are you the sort of person who wears your heart on your sleeve or do you couch your prayers in especially reverent language? Not that these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but you get my point. That is, as we enter God’s presence intentionally with our prayers, what role, if any, do our emotions play? Put another way: is it somehow irreverent or inappropriate to come before God with feelings of anger or sadness, weariness or worry? Do we need to compose ourselves first, so to speak?

To get some answers to these questions, there is no better way than to turn to the Psalms. The Psalms are the prayer book and hymnal of the Bible. Even a cursory reading of a handful of psalms demonstrates that the psalmists did not hide their emotions from God in their prayers. Well-known pastor John Piper says that “One of the reasons the Psalms are deeply loved by so many Christians is that they give expression to an amazing array of emotions.” He’s exactly right. And because of this the Psalms give us permission to do likewise.

So let’s look at some examples. First, in Psalm 25:16 we read this: Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am alone and afflicted. Here the psalmist, David, is honest about his loneliness. I am alone, he prays. While our lives are much different than his, each of us knows loneliness. But for some, loneliness is an especially profound struggle. Whatever David’s reasons for loneliness are, he feels wholly free to bring what he’s feeling to God. He genuinely believes God cares about how he feels and can do something about it. Turn to me and be gracious to me, David asks.

This example alone reveals how we are free to come to God and tell him how we feel. We don’t do so in order to provide God with information about our lives; no, we do so to draw on the comfort of his presence, to seek grace from him.

Grief is another example. David helps us there too:

I am weary from my groaning;
with my tears I dampen my bed
and drench my couch every night.
My eyes are swollen from grief;
they grow old because of all my enemies.

Psalm 6:6-7

Again, for our purposes here the circumstances of David’s grief are not our chief concern. Instead, take note of how vulnerable he allows himself to be in the presence of God. There is no gap between how he feels and what he prays.

Let’s not forget who David is, either. David was a king and therefore a military and political leader. He knew how to handle himself on the field of battle. He took down Goliath as a young man, when the entire Israelite army cowered in fear.

At the same time, David was a poet, and a man after God’s own heart. He is the author of the majority of the Psalms. He was incredibly self-aware of what was going on in his heart. He was willing to dance before God with abandon, unconcerned with what others thought about such devotion. He had no problem coming before God with honesty, with being real or authentic, as we might say.

So David wept, and he brought his tears to God in prayer. So can we. I love what Gandalf says at the end of The Return of the King: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

Here’s the thing. When as people of faith we experience the more difficult emotions, what do we do with them? What do we do about them? Do we pretend they’re not real? And what if we experience a difficult emotion about God himself? Consider this prayer from David:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 13:1

Here we see disappointment, confusion, uncertainty, doubt. A prayer in the form of questions. I wonder how many Christians find themselves experiencing a feeling like this, but at the same time feel as though they cannot express this to God. And all because doing so is not truly reverent or proper.

I think that when we have such feelings of disappointment or uncertainty about God, and do not allow those feelings into our prayers, it negatively affects our faith and our relationship with God. Think of hiding something you feel deeply towards a loved one from that loved one. If a husband or wife, for instance, hides their feelings of disappointment in their spouse from their spouse, how might this impact their intimacy, their trust in one another? At the very least, the feeling doesn’t simply disappear because we keep it to ourselves. It will continue to eat at us. At worst, it results in an unhealthy emotional distance. In such a situation it’s worth asking ourselves: “Why am I avoiding sharing how I feel? Don’t I trust that my relationship–my spouse–can handle it? What does it say about our relationship if I don’t think they can?”

Let me be bold and say that the same holds for our relationship with God. If I avoid bringing my feelings to God in prayer, including feelings of disappointment with him, what does this reveal about how I feel regarding God’s trustworthiness? Am I afraid of being that honest in his presence? If so, why? What about doing so makes me uncomfortable?

The difficult emotions don’t end there, of course. Psalm 137 expresses profound grief over the exile of Israel to Babylon. Through exile Israel lost her identity as a nation. She found herself in utter ruin and despair. For this reason this Psalm includes some of the most difficult words in all of Scripture.

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and wept
when we remembered Zion.

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who pays you back
what you have done to us.
Happy is he who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 137:1, 8-9

These words are in the Bible. We can’t avoid them. Psalm 137 is perhaps the most angry and hopeless psalm of lament in the entire psalter. The words are violent and vengeful. And not without reason, considering what Israel had been through. The question is what do we do with a psalm like this?

Psalm 137 isn’t alone. One of my favourite passages in all of Scripture is Psalm 139, but there are some verses in this psalm that seem almost out of place. They go like this:

God, if only you would kill the wicked—
you bloodthirsty men, stay away from me—
who invoke you deceitfully.
Your enemies swear by you falsely.
Lord, don’t I hate those who hate you,
and detest those who rebel against you?
I hate them with extreme hatred;
I consider them my enemies.

Psalm 139:19-22

I’m not going to pretend I have easy answers for how to apply such words to our lives as we seek to follow Jesus. I do not. I’m not altogether sure how to square such poetry with the biblical admonitions to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.

But I think there is something we can say.

Take note that while the psalmists in 137 and in 139 are expressing a profound anger, they bring this anger to God. In other words, these psalms are not teaching us to act out on our anger. We’re not being instructed to take vengeance on our enemies or those who have done us harm. No, we are being shown that the best place to bring such angry and vengeful emotions is to God in prayer.

In fact, praying such words of angry lament are an act of deep trust that God is a God of justice and righteousness. By asking God to kill the wicked the psalmist is effectively leaving the matter in God’s hands. Such prayers become, therefore, a safe place to vent our most troubling thoughts and emotions, a prayerful space where we can process our feelings that justice has been violated and something needs to be done–something only God himself can do.

Now, if we find ourselves wondering why we would ever be in a position to pray like this, might I suggest this is because we live in an especially privileged position? For those, however, who personally know the realities of injustice, such prayers may indeed be an important part of addressing their circumstances. Consider that approximately 70% of the Psalms include words of lament–what Bono of U2 once refered to as the blues music of the Bible:

That’s what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God— “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?”

Bono

There are other difficult emotions, of course. Fear would be another. But in every case, the Psalms show us that we are free to come before God with the whole of our humanity. In doing so, our intimacy with God grows and deepens, and becomes more honest, grounded, and resilient.

The late Eugene Peterson says this about the Psalms:

Praying isn’t being nice before God. The Psalms aren’t pretty. They’re not nice. Faith often isn’t smooth, nice, or pretty, but it’s honest, and I think we’re trying for honesty in our faith, which is very hard in our culture.

Eugene Peterson

I think he’s absolutely right, both about the honesty of the Psalms but also about how difficult it is for us to be honest in our prayers.

Now, after all of this, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the Psalms only give voice to difficult emotions. Not at all. There is also joy and celebration, thanksgiving and praise, all through the Psalms.

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and new wine abound.

Psalm 4:7

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praise to your name, Most High,
to declare your faithful love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
with a ten-stringed harp
and the music of a lyre.

Psalm 92:1-3

That’s the other thing. When it comes to prayer, our neglect is of an equal opportunity sort. We’re also not so open to being effusive in our joy and thanks. Often even our praise to God is muted. And it shouldn’t be!

I know that when it comes to my church experience over the years, emotions have been less expressed than not. I have been a Baptist pastor for nearly 20 years, after all. Like I said at the start, this in part is because of our culture. Travel to churches in other parts of the world (or to other churches!) and you won’t necessarily see believers holding in their emotions during prayer and worship.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be about what we see but what God sees. Because what we’re talking about is being honest–completely vulnerable–before God. In other words, we’re talking about being ourselves in the presence of God, in all of our messiness and brokenness, including when we pray. Actually, especially when we pray. Because if the Psalms teach us anything about prayer, it is this.

The Blasphemy of Busyness

Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It’s filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s action. It’s taking charge . . . The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife, or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as ‘irreligiosa solicitudo pro Deo,’ – ‘a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.’”

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

“How’s life?” someone asks you. “Busy,” you reply. Why is this so often our answer? Is that our answer because it’s true or is it our answer because we think we should be busy?

Recently I heard someone say that a Christian ought to be busy. Now, I know what they meant or intended to say. The word “busy” is very nearly synonymous with faithful in much of evangelical culture. Redeem the time. Don’t bury your talents. Etc., etc. etc.

But I still hate the word busy. To my ears, it sounds like an excuse word or a word we use to justify ourselves, to make ourselves feel better. Worse, it’s like at some level we can’t really accept or believe, much less live out of, the reality of grace, and so we have to make up for the gift we’ve been given through Christ by our effort and activity.

Years ago a mentor and friend of mine said, “Busyness is the evangelical badge of courage.” A busy Christian is a truly committed, obedient Christian. Our degree of busyness shows how much we’re willing to sacrifice for our Lord who sacrificed himself for us.

And to be honest, I don’t even know what the word busy means when people use it. Is someone busy when they’re setting aside time for prayer, reading, and reflection? Is someone only busy if they fill their schedule with endless family and church activities?

What if a congregation, in order to more clearly discern God’s leading, chose to pause a number of their programs and activities for a season in order to spend more time pouring over God’s word together and praying with one another? Are they not still busy doing the Lord’s work?

Indeed, perhaps the last year or so of COVID lockdowns and restrictions could or should have been an opportunity for churches to do exactly that instead of seeing the situation as an interruption to what they perceive God to be doing in their ministries.

Maybe what we all need–individually and as churches–is to get a little more unbusy.

Reading to Slow Yourself Down (Or Why Spending Time in Middle-Earth is a Spiritual Discipline)

For the last few weeks I’ve been re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m about halfway of the way through book 2, The Two Towers. Since I don’t read a lot of fiction, I’m enjoying the refreshing change from the books on theology and pastoral ministry that I usually read.

Still, there are two aspects of Tolkien’s writing in particular that I find challenging to get through without skimming. First, there are several places where a character in the narrative breaks into a poem or song. For example:

“Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.”

J.R.R, Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

That’s one of many stanzas. I confess, I’m not a big poetry reader.

The other aspect of Tolkien’s style that I’m often tempted to skim are his descriptions of landscapes and locations. For example, from The Fellowship of the Ring, there’s this passage:

“To the east the outflung arm of the mountains marched to a sudden end, and far lands could be descried beyond them, wide and vague. To the south the Misty Mountains receded endlessly as far as sight could reach. Less than a mile away, and a little below them, for they still stood high up on the west side of the dale, there lay a mere. It was long and oval, shaped like a great spear-head thrust deep into the northern glen; but its southern end was beyond the shadows under the sunlit sky. Yet its waters were dark: a deep blue like clear evening sky seen from a lamp-lit room. Its face was still and unruffled. About it lay a smooth sward, shelving down on all sides to its bare unbroken rim.”

J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Both of these elements of his storytelling feature all through The Lord of the Rings.

That I am tempted to skim these bits is not a criticism of Tolkien. What it shows, rather, is my impatience. And perhaps my lack of imagination. I want to get to the action, to the more interesting and exciting parts of the tale. I’m anxious for the story to get going. This is a sign of a mind far too influenced by visual media, more likely to watch Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy than to read Tolkien’s novels. This is not necessarily a good thing.

For this reason, it occurs to me that taking the time to read Tolkien’s poetry and vivid prose means forcing myself to slow down. Deliberately paying attention to the words I would rather skim might have value beyond enjoying the book in my hands. So even if I never come to appreciate Tolkien’s poems (much less love them) as others do, actually allowing my eyes and my mind (and perhaps my heart?) to flow leisurely over them means entering a process that anchors me in the moment.

You see, my thoughts—my internal world of reflection—can be subject to anxiety and impatience. Anxiety and impatience, in turn, are not about the present. Being impatient or anxious means dragging our feelings of what might or what will happen into the present. Therefore, in the present a part of me is experiencing my desires for or the pressures of the future rather than being in the moment.

Imagine reading, say, the Bible this way. Indeed, there is a lot of poetry in the Scriptures of the Old Testament especially. Psalms, prophets, and wisdom books are largely poetic. Do I skip these books? Do I merely skim the verses in order to say that I’ve read them? Isn’t impatience of this sort an impatience with God, an unwillingness to slow down and allow his revelatory words to penetrate my consciousness more deeply? Shouldn’t I instead let these words slowly dissolve like a lozenge? Certainly God chose to reveal his truth through poems as well as prose.

Speaking of reading the Bible, the late pastor, professor, and author Eugene Peterson says this about reading and writing in his book Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading: “All serious and good writing anticipates precisely this kind of reading–ruminative and leisurely, a dalliance with words in contrast to wolfing down information.”

Sadly, there are times when I’m tempted to wolf down a book, even the Bible, as if it’s a cheeseburger and I haven’t eaten all day.

Even writing this blog post is an act of intentional and patient reflection, forcing me to slow down. I didn’t write this quickly and easily. It’s taken several days to figure out what I’ve wanted to say, of allowing the quiet, gentle yet insistent whispers at the back of my mind to work their way into the foreground of fully formed sentences and paragraphs.

You see, I think the very act of reading patiently and leisurely forms us. This is also why reading a book, an article, or a blog post that stretches my patience with the act of reading itself is valuable. Maybe because what I’m reading is hard to understand. Perhaps because it forces me to consider another point of view–at least to understand if not agree to it. It gets my brain working in ways it wouldn’t otherwise. Just as lifting weights challenges physical muscles by stretching them, so too our imaginations and our thinking require the challenge of being stretched in order to be healthy and strong.

By and large we live in an impatient world, one strewn with quickly spoken words and lacking in extended reflection. Sound bites, obviously, are not at all congruent with nuanced, careful thinking of the sort cultivated in part by the willingness to slow ourselves down to consider the words right in front of us. Slowing down to read requires attention, removing myself from distraction, sidestepping the immediate dopamine hit of seeing likes on my social media posts.

Applying this to our Bible reading means allowing the very words of God to have their way with us. It means, in one sense, reading the Bible like any other book. Now, before you cite me for heresy, let me explain. Often the chapter and verse divisions, while helpful in their own way, actually prevent us from reading the Bible well. We chop up the prose and poetry into bite-sized pieces, effectively disconnecting them from their larger context and treating them as pieces or advice or promises written directly to us. The Scriptures become a reference manual for doctrine and moral principles, not a grand story spanning all of creation and history with Christ ultimately at the centre of it all.

One interesting development in recent years that addresses this head-on are all of the reader’s edition Bibles out there now. Almost every major translation publishes a version of the Bible without headings and chapter and verse divisions. Read the narratives as narratives. Read the Psalms and prophets as poetry. Read the apocalyptic literature as . . . well, you get the picture.

Heck, you can still read the Bible a few verses at a time, but do it slowly, deliberately, prayerfully. Read it patiently. Let the psalmists capture your imagination. Let Jesus’ parables penetrate your heart. Let Paul’s exposition expand your thinking. Don’t worry about getting something out of it. If you’re a preacher, don’t worry about finding a three point sermon.

If we can learn to read the Bible with patience and prayer, without being anxious to find what we need, and feeling guilty if we don’t “feel” something or “get” something, we might just become more and more able to hear God himself speaking through his word. More than anything our reading of Scripture is about forming and directing us to the God who reveals himself in the mess and beauty of everyday life, about having our thinking so steeped in the words of the prophets and apostles that we eventually begin to experience life biblically. The Scriptures become like coloured lenses in a pair of glasses; they colour everything we see.

And as it happens, through this process we also become more patient, deliberate people all around. Reading to slow ourselves removes us from the hurried, busyness for its own sake, nature of our surrounding culture, with its constant and often unnecessary and unreasonable demands on our time and attention. Reading to slow ourselves down helps to free us from the tyranny of the urgent. Charles Hummel, in his book Tyranny of the Urgent makes this comment: “There is an insidious tendency to neglect important tasks that do not have to be done today—or even this week.” Among these important tasks, Hummel includes waiting on God: “When we fail to wait prayerfully for God’s guidance and strength, we are saying with our actions, if not with our words, that we do not need him. How much of our service is actually a “going it alone”?”

Reading to slow ourselves down ultimately means learning to wait on and listen to God through his word in a posture of prayer in dependence on the Spirit. It means learning to live a life that is not subject to the whims and worries of the moment, but instead rests in the presence of the God who has never himself been in a hurry.

Religion and Politics Part 3: Living By a Different Narrative

“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Luke 6:27–28

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay,” says the Lord.  But “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.” Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:14–21

If only our political leaders or, perhaps more importantly, those who demonize or canonize them, would take the above words from Scripture seriously. Knowing a perverted form of Christianity (in the form of “Christian nationalism”) had a role in last week’s attack on Capitol Hill is no less than sickening. And if the sight of “Jesus Saves” banners alongside “Trump” banners carried by people storming the Capitol building–which led to five deaths!–doesn’t lead to serious self-examination, I can’t imagine what would.

Political leaders, obviously, are also culpable. Whatever anyone makes of the alleged voter fraud in the 2020 US presidential election, it’s clear to me at least that since election day President Trump as conducted himself in an entirely egotistical, narcissistic way. No humility. No grace. No dignity. The last few months alone taint any semblance–however small–of his accomplishments while in office. He’s done himself no favours, and to that end has done a disservice to his country.

It doesn’t end there, though. Now having impeached President Trump for the second time, the Democratic Party shows itself to be no less prone to pride, division, and to be more interested in power than the interests of the nation. Really? With less than a week to go in his presidency? And now the possibility of a senate trial after Trump has left office? What an auspicious way for Biden’s first term to begin. So much for healing the division.

So much of what really motivates politicians is behind the curtain. Media interviews, tweets, soundbites, carefully crafted statements–none of this gets to the truth in an honest and truthful way. Yet the curtain is, to my reckoning, transparent, if not by design than certainly through the rhetoric we hear from the left and the right.

What happens to a nation, to a community, when those who hold polar opposite views are unable to see one another as genuine human beings? What happens when rhetoric completely overtakes dialogue? What happens when all each side of the political divide seems capable of is attacking their opponents and self-righteously defending themselves?

Let’s face it, the emperor has no clothes.

But those of us who are concerned about the welfare of our neighbourhoods, communities, and our countries don’t have to subscribe to the narrative of political opportunism, vitriol, and sensationalism. Especially those of us in the church of Jesus. In fact, if we take our Savior seriously, we absolutely cannot. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. There are no caveats here. No exceptions. No footnotes or small print.

The words of both Paul and Jesus invite us into a different, more life-giving narrative. Think of the apostle’s words from the passage above from Romans: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Those supposed followers of Jesus who stormed the Capitol or who sought revenge by impeaching a president whose term is basically over reveals hearts that have indeed been conquered by evil. One of the worst kinds of evil is that which is thoroughly convinced of its righteousness. It’s the kind of evil that seeks potentially good ends but by whatever means available.

Eugene H. Peterson, in his book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, says this: “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” In this book he talks about how means and ends need to be congruent when we talk about following Jesus. He says it better: “To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.”

Living by a different narrative, one shaped by life in the kingdom and following Jesus, means unsubscribing to the idea that politics–the ways of conducting ourselves as a community and seeking the common good–necessarily involves hating our enemies and doing whatever we can to defeat them. More than that, if succeeding in politics and having our way–even if we think it’s the best way–means we have to plunge our souls into this abyss, we’re actually better off losing the political fight. Jesus, after all, did say something about losing our lives in order to save them. In his kingdom victory may well look like defeat, but perhaps recognizing this is the start of not only saving our souls but loving our enemies.

Stop

Image

Quiet. It’s a rare thing for me these days, especially as a father of three. And not only for that reason. Our world is filled with noise: voices, music, TV, computers, traffic, crowds, appliances, phones. Unusual is the moment in the course of an average day that our environment is empty of sound. Even now as I sit typing, I hear at least one of my four year old sons waking. The serenity I enjoy is temporary, soon to be interrupted by the sound of kids playing—something done only occasionally at low volume. So, at the very least, this gives me ample motive to take full advantage of such tranquility when it’s available. Learning the value of stillness is important, maybe all the more in a culture where sound is virtually ubiquitous.

Tuning our ears to quiet is also a challenge. We’re used to noise. Becoming accustomed to the sound of our own thoughts isn’t easy. And nor is it always something we want. When alone with our thoughts, we might not like what we hear. The constant background hum of our computers and the chatter of our workplaces and homes can shield us against what’s going on in our own heads. Maybe we prefer this. We’d rather our existence within the world of work, home, and social media be the sum total of what we are—ignoring our inner-life altogether. Facing ourselves is, at least sometimes, much less desirable than updating our Facebook status.

But even if we want quiet, it’s hard to come by. Lives busy with activity make time alone seem like an indulgence if not an inconvenience. Sometimes we even feel guilty for taking it. Such moments are unnecessary interruptions. Think about it this way. When someone asks you how life is going, how often do you say, “Pretty slow, actually. Lots of time on my hands,” vs. “Oh, we’re keeping busy”? Busyness implies importance. It signifies that we’re responsible. We manage our time well. That abundance of tasks that fills our schedules lends significance and meaning to our lives. Taking a break from that means waste. It means being irresponsible. It means—heaven forbid—that the world can get along without us.

And this, in part, is what Sabbath is all about. The Hebrew word we translate “rest” in the Old Testament is the verb form of the word Sabbath. And it doesn’t mean to rest because we’ve grown weary or tired from our labours. Literally, it means to “stop or cease.” Sabbath is not about working to the point of exhaustion and then crashing. It’s a break from productive activity, whether you’re tired or not. Work six days, then stop.

And to stop, we require some quiet. We need to separate ourselves from tools, toys, and environments that tempt us to busyness and activity. It means instructing our computer to shut down. Only when we do so will we have the quiet we need—yes, need. We might very well be wired for sound and activity; but we’re also wired for rest and quiet. This is why the first six days of creation activity in Genesis 1 is capped off with a seventh day, a Sabbath day, a reminder of our need for rest.

But it’s not just about taking a break. Sabbath ultimately speaks to the purposes of God for us, that ultimately he is interested in our placing our relationship with him first above all else. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee,” prays Saint Augustine. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him,” we hear in Psalm 62.

Eugene Peterson, in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, says this about Sabbath: “Whatever you are doing, stop it . . . Whatever you are saying, shut up. We must stop long enough to hear what he has said and is saying . . . without silence and stillness there is no spirituality, no God-attentive, God-responsive life.”

Sabbath is about paying attention to God. Of course, this might very well be the reason some avoid quiet. There are those who want to ignore that “still, small voice.” Life is easier, it seems, without it. Our preference for texts and tweets reinforces the tyranny of the urgent in our lives. God becomes peripheral, rather than a priority.

In the Bible, rest is another way of talking about salvation, of being made whole and right, firstly and especially in relation to God. It’s no surprise, then, that Jesus gives the following invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give your rest” (Matt. 11:28) Jesus offers more than rest for our bodies; he offers us rest for our souls.

But to hear and respond to this invitation, we require quiet, a reprieve from the noise that normally fills our days. To listen we need to be in a position to hear. Our ears to be open, waiting. And this is what Sabbath is truly about. It’s not about only not working. It’s about what not working allows us to hear. It’s what being still rather than busy helps us be aware of.

My advice? Take a few moments alone this week—today even—and turn to Isaiah 30:15 where it reads: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” Understand that this invitation to rest is for you too. Jesus’ invitation—given two millennia ago—is given to us today: “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest.” The invitation is there; the rest, as they say, is up to us.