The hard work of rest

It’s ironic but I’ve discovered that resting can be hard work. It does not come naturally to me. I might step out of the office and leave the building, but I’ll still take my work with me in my mind – thinking over sermons, wondering about particular people, planning meetings and church events. My body might be out of town, but sometimes it takes two or three days before my brain begins its vacation. And often a day or two before our scheduled return, my brain already begins thinking it’s back in the office. Just because you or I say we’re resting or just because it looks like we’re resting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are!

Taking a break is not easy. It means letting go, and I have a hard time doing that. I want to stay involved (read: I don’t want to be out of the loop or not in control). I want to be continually productive (read: I don’t want to disappoint people or have them think I’m lazy).

Nevertheless God tells me to take a break, to engage in Sabbath rest as directed in the 4th Commandment, which says: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… On it you shall not do any work…” In his mercy, God does not want to watch me burn out, even if it’s by doing good and worthwhile things. My physical and emotional health is important to God.

But I think even more importantly, in telling me to rest, God is inviting me to trust. He reminds me that the world will not spin off its axis if I take a break. Sabbath rest teaches me to recognize and resist when and where I am trying too hard on my own to secure my future without trusting God or sensing his presence. When I slow down and stop, I am assured afresh that God is in control. Rest keeps things in perspective.

I like Mark Buchanan’s double definition of Sabbath. In his book The Rest of God, he has the familiar definition that it is a day, typically Sunday in the Protestant tradition. But he also defines Sabbath as an attitude:

A Sabbath heart is restful even in the middle of unrest and upheaval. It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling. It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea. You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart.

Sabbath graphic found with Google

It often does not come naturally, but part of trusting God means resting and observing Sabbath – Sabbath moments, Sabbath days, Sabbath seasons. It lets God be God. And it helps me be better at being the me God wants me to be.

I wrote about this back in July 2015
and adapted it for the Perspectives column
in the Rock Valley Bee a couple weeks ago.

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Rejected

This meditation was written by retired CRC pastor Dale Vander Veen and is posted here with his kind permission.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.”
– Isaiah 53:3 & 5

Rejection is not a pleasant feeling. It is particularly painful for a child. A friend, a classmate, a neighbor child, a teacher, even a parent can send signals of rejection. Rejection graphic found with GoogleGrowing up is not idyllic. And learning to absorb, recover from, learn from, and ultimately forgive someone for rejection can be a long process.

Adulthood is no rain-free, bug-free picnic either. First-time authors know what rejection at the hands of publishers means. Job applicants and those who want a promotion at work have felt the sting. Buyers and sellers in the real estate market dance through rejections of prices, offers, and counter-offers – and loan applications And then there are the dreaded rejections of love, from first requests for a date to the rejection that only the divorced and their families can describe.

Some years ago I was scheduled to donate blood at our church’s quarterly Red Cross blood drive. I was rejected! I have a slight rash that comes and goes on the inside of both elbows. The rush showed up when I rolled up my sleeve. I was rejected. Don’t worry. My psyche bears no permanent scars. The feeling was more disappointment than rejection.

Jesus was not only rejected; he was also despised. I was not despised. On the contrary, the Red Cross representative invited me to stay for juice and cookies normally reserved for those who give blood! And they encouraged me with “Maybe you can give next time.”

Because I was rejected, I could not give my blood. Because Jesus was rejected, he had to give his blood. Actually, he arranged to give his blood. When arrested in Gethsemane, he declined to ask his Father for twelve legions of angels (that’s 72,000 angels). My blood could possibly have helped heal someone. Jesus’ blood has healed many, including me. Praise God! Thank you, Jesus!

“Lest I forget Gethsemane;
lest I forget thine agony;
lest I forget thy love for me,
lead me to Calvary.”

– lyrics from a hymn by Jennie Hussey

Today may you know, and perhaps even weep, that your crucified Lord’s rejection has secured your full acceptance with God.

Pointers for praying

Praying child graphic found via Google

I just read an article mentioning a Dordt College professor who was well known and loved for the way he opened each class with prayer. (The writer did not say who the professor was; I wonder if someone reading this knows.) He’d look at the students in the room with a big smile on his face, say “Let’s talk to God,” and then start praying a prayer like this:

Hi, God. What an awesome day you made today. The raindrops fed all the flowers, and the puddles are perfect for jumping in. Thanks for shady trees and yoyo strings. Thanks for giving us elbows so we could bend our arms in so many ways. How do you think of such cool things, Lord? Please watch over our friends who aren’t here today. The ones with runny noses, the ones who are feeling sad, and those who are far away. And, God, we’re sorry for hurting people’s feelings and not doing the stuff we’re supposed to do. Thanks for loving us even when we mess up. We love you, Lord. Amen.

What personal yet meaningful times of prayer for that college class! It turns out prayers do not have to be formal and loaded with thees and thous (though God certainly hears and answers those, too). Yes, knowing the person and work of the almighty God instills reverence within me, but reverence need not exclusively be expressed through formality. The God who created and rules the universe is the same God who wants to be friends with me.

Prayers do not need to be fancy. Just as I don’t always have to first rehearse and edit what I say to my loved ones (though that sometimes prevents me from blabbing something dumb!), God is happy when I stop what I’m doing, acknowledge his presence, and simply tell him about something great that’s happening or something that’s worrying me.

Prayers do not need to be perfect. God does not grade my prayers. All he asks is that they are heartfelt. And having an eye open to details and beauty around me doesn’t hurt either. Just as the Dordt professor thanked God for yoyos and elbows, I can thank God for everything from corn plants bursting through the soil and a friend’s last chemotherapy treatment to my favorite flavor of ice cream and for how I have opposable thumbs.

So please be careful with your comments when a person prays out loud. When you tell someone (a host at a meal, for example) they did a good job praying, you’re revealing that instead of praying with them in your heart, you were evaluating them. Or if you laugh when someone (a child, perhaps) prays for their sick cat, they may doubt the truth that God cares about every aspect of our lives, to say nothing about them becoming self-conscious and maybe refusing to pray aloud again. If you feel compelled to say something to the one who offered a prayer, a simple “Thank You” will suffice.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
It was adapted from
a post on the CRC Network which also
lists several practical ways you can try praying.

Praying to our heavenly Father on Father’s Day

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I’m leading the morning prayer at Trinity CRC this Sunday and wanted to ensure I prayed for fathers, it being Father’s Day. In looking for good wording, I came across a meaningful prayer by Rev. Chuck Currie which I adapted slightly and plan to include in my prayer.

You reveal yourself to us as Abba, Father. We are your children; you are the perfect parent.

On Father’s Day we pause to remember and thank the earthly fathers in our lives. Fatherhood does not come with a manual, and reality teaches us that some fathers excel while others fail. We ask for your blessings for them all and forgiveness where it is needed. We remember the many sacrifices fathers make for their children and families, and the ways – both big and small – they lift children to achieve dreams thought beyond reach. So too, we remember all those who have helped fill the void when fathers pass early or are absent; grandfathers and uncles, brothers and cousins, teachers, pastors and coaches and the women of our families, too.

For those who are fathers, we ask for wisdom and humility in the face of the task of parenting. Give them the strength to do well by their children and by you.

A prayer for the dignity of life

Fetal heartbeat graphic found via Google

Earlier this month the Iowa Legislature passed a bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The Sunday after this was in the news, I included these lines in the prayer I offered during Trinity CRC’s morning service:


Thank you, God, for leaders in government who have been listening to those who advocate for the voiceless – the unborn. Use recent legislation to reduce the number of abortions in Iowa, the US, and even around the world. Transform the hearts of people – perhaps including us at times – who reduce sex to merely a pleasurable thing for selfish enjoyment with no intention of commitment toward the other person or possibly a child. Forgive us for any time we have thought of a child as a nuisance or a burden instead of as a blessing from you. Bring healing to those of us who have had an abortion or are close to someone who has. Increase in each of us here and in the leaders of this state and nation the realization that every life is a gift and has dignity, that every person – whether in the womb or approaching death’s door – bears your image.

Talking together about creation

Grand Canyon photo found at Reader's Digest (rd.com)

Jesse and Maria are visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time. Both are Christians and marvel at God’s masterful work in the immense canyon.

Jesse sees within the beauty around him evidence that the earth is very old. He finds convincing the arguments that the various layers of the Grand Canyon together with the fossils contained therein suggest a slow, orderly deposit of rock and bones over millions of years. He cannot dismiss the radiometric dating analysis scientists have done which suggests the Grand Canyon could be up to 70 million years old. Instead of the result of a cataclysmic global flood several thousand years ago, Jesse sees within the grandeur of the canyon evidence that over a long period of time God carefully and beautifully “laid the earth’s foundations.”

Maria on the other hand takes in the same panoramic beauty and is increasingly convinced that God made the “basement” layers of rock on his third day of creating the universe when he said, “Let dry ground appear.” Maria finds compelling the evidence that the remaining layers were then deposited by the waters of a global flood in the days of Noah and the ark approximately 4,500 years ago. The beauty of the Grand Canyon is redemptive for Maria: Even though it was God’s judgment on sin (the flood) that created the chasm, over time it has become beautiful, reminding Maria of how God can heal the worst of circumstances.

Depending on your perspective, it’s tempting to write off either Jesse or Maria and their interpretations of science and scripture. We might label one as an out-of-touch conservative or the other as a truth-denying liberal. The fact is that both Jesse and Maria are representative of faithful Christians – including many scientists – who subscribe to the authority of the Bible while also taking seriously how God speaks through his creation. Some Bible-believing Christians defend the view that Genesis teaches God created everything in six 24-hour periods and then rested on the seventh day. Other Bible-believing Christians see within the opening chapters of Genesis elegant poetry refuting the false ancient religions that taught the universe was created haphazardly by many gods; therefore the “days” of creation do not need to be understood as 24-hour periods any more than one has to believe God is made of granite or quartzite because the psalmist declares God to be a rock (see Psalm 18).

It’s sad but true that Christians are often harsh and uncharitable when they disagree over matters of creation. However, it’s also true that both Jesse and Maria and all the Christians they represent are together Christ’s ambassadors on earth and will be together for eternity in the new heaven and earth. So it makes sense that, even if it means agreeing to disagree, we begin figuring out how to get along here and now! And it makes sense for both adults and students at school to examine and evaluate the various biblical and scientific perspectives on creation, not fearful of them, but eagerly expecting to grow in appreciating and understanding God and his creative work.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee
where I noted that I find Deborah and Loren Haarsma’s book
Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution,
and Intelligent Design
helpful in thinking about this subject.

Praying the psalms unselfishly

If the psalms cover all the different emotions I experience in life, chances are good that there’s at least one psalm that expresses what I’m presently feeling. But because there are so many different emotions and corresponding psalms, chances are also good that the particular psalm I read today will not directly connect with what I’m feeling. For example, today’s psalm in my daily psalm reading may be a psalm of lament which does not match my good mood and general optimism at present. Or today’s psalm may be filled with praise even though I may be nearly in tears with frustration.

There are at least two ways to deal with discrepancies between the tone of a particular psalm and how I am presently feeling. One way is to simply skip ahead to another psalm until I find and can pray one that more accurately expresses the state of my heart and mind. The despair in Psalm 22 is followed by the hope of Psalm 23. At least one line in one of those two psalms ought to resonate with me!

But a way to stick with a psalm that doesn’t happen to match my present mood is to consider how it does perfectly match the feelings of othersHolding hands graphic found via Google near or far in the faith community. I may not feel like lamenting at the moment, but I can still express the lament in solidarity with sisters and brothers in Christ who are presently experiencing pain. Or if today’s psalm in my daily psalm reading is one filled with praise despite me being in foul mood, I can still read and pray it thinking of others who are having a great day, learning to thank God (and not complain to him!) for their happy circumstances. A suitable prayer to accompany reading a psalm in this way goes something like this: “God, these words do not reflect my present experience or state of mind, but there are others in the world for whom these words fit perfectly. I lift them up before you and pray these words in solidarity with them knowing we are united in Christ.”

Moreover, reading and praying a psalm that doesn’t match how I’m presently feeling may help me better identify with someone who is feeling the emotions the psalm portrays. For example, reading a pain-filled psalm may help me better understand and relate with someone who is presently filled with anguish. When I skip over such a psalm to find a cheerier portion of Scripture, I deny myself the opportunity to grow in empathy by putting myself in someone else’s shoes.

Instead of finding a psalm I can more easily relate to, I hear the Holy Spirit inviting me to read each psalm unselfishly, praying for and identifying with those for whom the words may hit closer to home. The Spirit may even surprise me from time to time by showing me how the words are more applicable to me than I originally presumed.

This post is inspired in part by Martin Tel’s comments
in the webinar he led last month for CRC Worship Ministries
titled “Creative Use of the Psalms in Worship.”