Is the Revolution Still On?

In his audio lectures on The Call, Os Guinness describes what keeps his sense of calling fresh. First, Guinness emphasizes the importance of spiritual disciplines. Second, Guinness credits accountability. “We all need a small group of those who know our dreams, who know our longings and our prayers,” he says. “As time goes by, things slip. We need to hold each other’s feet to the fire.”

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce

Guinness has a pastor-friend who regularly asks him, “Is the revolution still on?” Both of them have dreamed for twenty-five years of seeing the Lord do something in their time on the level of William Wilberforce or other great figures from the past. As time goes on, we tend to settle for less. “We give up on that hope,” Guinness says. “We moderate that dream.”

I’ve noticed how easy it is to begin to coast and lose one’s edge without knowing it. It’s our natural tendency. Some of the people I admire most are those who, even as they grow older, continue to learn and risk like they did when they were young, long after it’s necessary to do so. When they could settle down, they are still working on keeping their calling fresh.

One of the youngest minds I’ve met belonged was when I was in my twenties, and I met a pastor’s wife in her eighties. Her faith and her mind were as sharp as any person I’ve encountered.

I love Richard Lovelace’s advice:

Do not pray only for your own spiritual renewal. Pray for a springtime of the Spirit which will enrich the church and the world, an awakening for which all earlier renewal movements have been only rehearsals.

“Is the revolution still on?” Someone please keep asking me this as I get older. It just may keep me praying and working the way that I should be.

The Truest Kind of Rest

The thing about rest is that it sounds boring. The first time I heard of Richard Baxter’s classic The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, I almost felt like taking a nap. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great book. It’s just that my thoughts immediately went to heaven being a long sleep in a lazy hammock. It’s good for 20 minutes or so, but an eternity of that kind of rest sounds tedious.

It’s also why I had a hard time understanding Hebrews. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his,” it says (Hebrews 4:9-10). What is the nature of this rest? Why is Hebrews so concerned about it? And why, if rest is part of what it means to follow Jesus, am I more tired than I’d like to admit?

It turns out the rest is something much better than an extended nap in a hammock. George Guthrie speaks of this rest being we experience both now — today! — and later. It’s the end of entering striving based on our own works. The type of rest he’s talking about is resting in relationship with God because of what Christ has done for us. It isn’t inactivity; it’s all of life (including the things we do) from a foundation of security in what we have, and in what can’t be taken away.

This means we have freedom and permission to rest and worship no matter what is going on in our lives. It isn’t a legalistic obligation; it’s a gift that only has to be received.

Here’s the problem: we can miss out on this rest. It’s why the author of Hebrews continues, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:11). Appropriating the rest that is ours in Christ is not automatic. There’s a kind of irony in this passage: we have to work to find rest? According to Hebrews, yes. Strive to enter the rest that is yours in Christ.

Again, the book Beloved Dust puts it well. Speaking of rest, the authors say:

This is probably not what you think it is— rest is not inaction or laziness. It is not merely the default result of having nothing to do. Rest is the foundation for our lives in God.

They describe what this is like:

This is most fully understood only when we can come before the Lord in utter silence, not seeking to justify ourselves, prove ourselves, make excuses for ourselves, or even announce our presence. In the presence of the Lord, we rest in the intercession of the Son and Spirit. In the presence of the Lord, we draw near based on what the Lord has already done for us. There, before the face of God, we find rest and peace in the work of another.

We are free to love others and not use them, because we are no longer the center of our universe, but find ourselves in orbit around Christ. We are free to rest in God’s grace. We are free to know and be known because God has made himself known to us in Christ. In this freedom we can finally allow ourselves to be known in prayer, and to know the God of love as he cascades his prayers over us.

The real rest that we’re offered is something more valuable than a long sleep or vacation. It’s knowing that right here, right now, my foundation is the work of Christ. I have nothing left to prove. That’s much better than a nap in a hammock.

Work Hard at Resting Well

The last time I took up running, I ended up injured. I did really well until the last stretch of a long run when something went wrong with my knee. I hobbled home and traded my running shoes for medical visits and a cane. That was the end of my running for a few years.

I’m running again now, and so far I’m doing a lot better. One of the keys is what I’m not doing. I’m not overtraining. John Stanton writes:

Overtraining is doing too much too soon…Training is the result of the body adapting to stress. The stress must be regular enough and strong enough to stimulate adaptation, but if it is too strong or too frequent, you will break down — you are overtraining. Rest is the phrase during which adaptation takes place, and you become stronger. It is just as important as your workout…If you do not rest voluntarily, your body will force you to rest — by fatigue, illness, injury, staleness or burnout. (Running: The Complete Guide to Building Your Running Program)

Talk about counterintuitive: rest is when you get stronger, and it’s as important as working out. Ignore rest, and your body will make sure you get rest. I discovered this myself as I limped around like an old man with a cane.

Our problem is that we hate rest. We fill every nook of our lives with things to do, skimp on our vacations, and refuse to take days for rest. Sometimes we even struggle to sleep. It’s another form of overtraining. We fail to realize that we become stronger as we rest, and that if we don’t rest, our body will force us to rest.

It’s ultimately a spiritual issue. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write:

Sleep is an excellent litmus test of our posture toward time. Often, we view sleep as superfluous— wasted space that can be used if we determine more time is needed to accomplish a certain task. Every night millions of people around the world stare blankly at their TVs to avoid the reality that sleep is next on the day’s docket. Embracing our call to be creatures entails embracing sleep as a fundamental aspect of our vocation. We are called to rest and respect our bodies. In this sense, for many believers, sleep is a profound, spiritual practice reminding us on a daily basis of the truth of our identity as creatures. In sleep we are laying down our bodies as living sacrifices before the Lord (Rom. 12:1). This, too, can be an aspect of our worship of God. (Beloved Dust)

One of the best things I do to run well is to stop running some days. And one of the best things I do as a follower of Jesus Christ is to sometimes stop working, and to receive His sabbath not as an obligation, but a gift. Rest is sometimes as important as work.

So rest well. Acknowledge your finitude. I’ve seen the consequences in my own life when I haven’t done this, and I’ve also seen it in others. Sleep and sabbath are part of our vocations; put just as much energy into doing those well as anything else that you do.

More About Weakness

“I would have liked to have heard more about weakness.” Rose Marie Miller said these words at the end of a conference with the theme of “Faith, Power, and Weakness.” Miller recalls enjoying parts of the conference, while also not feeling well, and missing her late husband. “At one point I wanted to get up and shout, ‘Is no one here weak?’” she writes.

I can relate. One of the best conferences I’ve ever attended took place two years ago when I was feeling particularly weak. The theme of that conference was Sifted. Instead of speaking about their successes, speakers shared about their struggles and their weaknesses. You would think a conference like this would be depressing. Instead, I found it hopeful. As a weak person, I can relate.

“I would have liked to have heard more about weakness.” I wonder how often these words could be said at the end of a Sunday worship service? I’ve attended a lot of services. I’ve been weak at all of them. I’ve felt weak at some of them — the ones in which I’ve been accurate in my self-assessment. I have a feeling that a lot of people come to church weary, beat up, and weak, and are asking the same question Miller did: “Is no one here weak?”

The great thing about our weakness is that it is a great match for God’s strength. In their profound book Beloved Dust, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write, “Our great mistake is to see our brokenness, our finitude, and our sin as things that keep us from God rather than as opportunities to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross and grasp his grace.” Also:

Our fragility should lead us to trust in the One who is infinite. Our brokenness and weakness should lead us to glory in the fact that God listens to his dust and calls us beloved. Our weakness should lead us to proclaim God’s praise. It should harness reverence and delight in our hearts rather than frustration and discouragement.

We are weak, but we are beloved in our weakness. We were made to be weak from the start, and we’re even weaker as a result of sin. But God meets us in our weakness, and he calls us his own.

We’ve tried strong churches and strong pastors speaking at strong conferences. Maybe we need to try weak pastors preaching at weak churches about God’s grace that meets us not in the middle of our strength, but in our weakness. And how that grace really is better than any strength we could ever muster, and is readily available to any weak person who needs it.

Saying True Things in a True Way

I’ve noticed a trend. In many of our settings, we tend to say things that are true as far as they go, but the way we say them contradicts what’s being said.

  • We’re told that pastors shouldn’t measure themselves by the size of our churches, but we’re told this by megachurch pastors who have platforms because of the size of their church.
  • We’re told to plant small, authentic, missional, reproducing churches at a large, slick conferences in attractional churches.
  • We read books about overcoming the success syndrome in ministry written by pastors who appear to have been quite successful.
  • We read inspiring stories of pastors who suffered and discovered that Jesus is enough even when you lost it all, but they seem to be written by pastors who, in the end, didn’t lose it all.
  • We read that Jesus’ grace is enough to cover present sin, but we typically only hear how Jesus has helped someone deal with sin only in the past.

Please understand: I’m not saying that any of the above is wrong in itself. I’m glad for the megachurch pastors I’ve heard who have reminded me that our identity isn't baed on our church's size. I’m glad for many of the large church conferences I’ve attended that tell me how to plant a small church. I’m grateful for the helpful books I’ve read about not needing to be successful, even if they’re written by successful pastors. And I’m thrilled that Jesus’ grace is enough for the sins of the past.

But I wonder if we can add to the above list without subtracting from it?

  • I want to hear from the pastors who have lots to teach us, even if they don’t have a large platform or a huge follower count.
  • I want to attend a conference one day about being small, authentic, and missional at a church that is small, authentic, and missional.
  • I want to read a book about overcoming the success syndrome written by a pastor who, in the eyes of the world, looks like a failure.
  • I want to hear from the pastor whose story didn’t have a happy ending, and yet who still clings to the fact that Jesus is enough.
  • I want to hear from the struggler who is finding that Jesus is enough not just for past sin, but for present struggle.

In his book Samson and the Pirate Monks, Nate Larkin speaks of his experience attending a church where the pastor spoke of present grace for present sins:

Barely four months later I would be listening to the gospel in a church where it was safe to admit brokenness, where the pastor talked about his own sin in the present tense and celebrated the mercy of God every Sunday. Here I would hear about the covenant of grace and the steadfast love of our heavenly Father. I would be reminded week after week that I am an adopted son of God, no longer an orphan, and that my Father never disowns his own. Finally—and this was the greatest miracle—it was in this church where I would meet many of my future comrades, the men whose friendship God would use to radically rearrange my life.

It’s just one example of the five things I talked about: a pastor speaking about sin and grace in the present tense instead of the past. And it made all the difference in the world, at least in Nate Larkin’s life.

I’ve been wrestling through these issues. I somehow want to say and hear true things in a way that’s congruent with the truth, even if it means listening to people we tend to overlook, and speaking truth’s we’d rather keep to ourselves.