Prayer – Work – Rest

There’s a great deal to be said about having rhythm. Musicians are keenly aware how vital rhythm is if a piece of music is to sound anything like the composer intended it. Golfers need good rhythm to hit that annoying little white ball properly. Rhythm is everywhere. From ocean waves to walking and speaking and all sorts of things we do. Your first experience of rhythm was that of your mother’s heartbeat. Of course an irregular heartbeat will alert our doctor to suggest a trip to hospital. Also, those of us who need our beauty sleep are certainly aware of how much we’re affected by a break in sleeping habits. Ask any parents of a new-born.

So we need things in our lives occurring at regular intervals. And for our spiritual well-being rhythm is equally essential. We see it hinted at as Jesus’ ministry begins. What an exhausting day He had. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. By sunset, word was out, and the sick from miles around had gathered outside the house hoping for a cure. And many went away with lives restored. As Jesus was fully human it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Him to have collapsed into bed that night feeling quite shattered. He knew He needed to rest. Often we need to rest – but there’s always some other activity we need to do (or think we need to do). It could be late at night. Worse it could even be on a Sunday – the Day of Rest – that God has given us for our mind and body’s health, jam-packed with the wrong priorities. Foolishly on Monday morning we’re exhausted before getting up for work. Even if you’re retired this can still happen! We’re excessively busy all the time.

Sometimes it’s legitimate, bills have to be paid, and it’s the way things are in this world. But it isn’t supposed to be. Frequently we could, and should, put off whatever it is and rest. Look at Jesus in this Gospel passage. Once rested, He woke revitalised before anyone else in the house, and took Himself off in the early morning silence to pray in solitude. This becomes His pattern. The rhythm of life for Jesus is: prayer, work and rest. If God’s Son wasn’t able to spend every hour working, and even His Father rested on the seventh day, then it would be worse than arrogant for us to think we could do so. Monks recognized this rhythm. It was Benedict who imposed his ‘rule’ in the sixth century. Different prayer times throughout the day (Matins, Vespers, Compline et.al) – where those in the monastery would stop work and pray.

Remember the old advert: “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.” I think in order to remember the Biblical rhythm for life we need to sing this: “With God it’s best – He gives you prayer, work and rest!” This pattern even in these increasingly pressurized times, when we’re so easily distracted is the routine we need to develop. We don’t need to wear cassocks and have a funny haircut. We don’t need to become monks or nuns! But we do need to try and be imitators of Christ. What a valuable lesson we glean from this text about time management.

Before clocks were invented, before we divided a day into nice hourly segments, people viewed time differently. They rose with the sun and stopped working at dusk. People didn’t hurry all the time or weren’t pressured thinking “there’s not enough hours in the day!” Today things are different: we live by schedules, emails and appointments. We try to manage time and save time and we suffer pressure if we don’t make it on time. Yet the point I’m trying to make today is that rest is an essential part of our spirituality that we should NOT ignore. Time sweeps us along. We don’t have time to pray, time to think, time to go out into nature and reflect about creation or time to remember to thank God for His goodness. What better way to rest than in prayer and God’s Word? Psalm 90 says: Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (vs.12). And time can be redeemed. If we get into the rhythm – God will grant proper sleep to those He loves, and the ability to lay cares and concerns aside (Ps.127:2). How often we go to bed worried and end up having a bad night!

Today is the third Sunday before Lent. Now this is a time in the ecclesiastical calendar with a twofold purpose: (1) To lead us towards the Cross and the meaning of Easter; (2) To give us a little more space from the daily bombardment of modern-living. What you do during Lent is up to you. At the very least, as good Christian souls, I hope prayer is top of your list – for without it we’re a lost cause. Prayer gives perspective to everything we do. It helps us re-adjust to the right rhythm. Ok so prayer won’t get the ironing done, or the grass cut, or pay the bills – but it will lower your blood pressure! Lent courses are running in this church and across our ecumenical partner churches. So if you haven’t done one before, or for a while, consider making these 40 days really valuable in your precious time. It will help overall with the transforming power of prayer, work and rest. Giving chocolate up for Lent doesn’t really help with life’s daily demands. If you’re being drained, or losing hope, or failing to see what the point of it all is – remember where there is fuel for our tanks. It’s not about Weight Watchers but about Jesus Christ. His Spirit fills us providing hope for our hearts and rest for our souls.

Each year billions of pounds are spent on pills that claim to make you feel happier, sleep better and improve all aspects of your life. These may work, but as Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law – I want to suggest that the touch of His hand, suggests a tenderness and sympathy that drugs, vitamins and minerals won’t give. His Word and rhythm of prayer, work and rest brings healing and wholeness to us. So let the Bible speak for itself as we hear it proclaimed now…

READ – Isaiah 40:28-31

Even with His compassion and desire to help others, Jesus also needed time to withdraw by Himself in prayer. Setting aside time for quiet meditation draws our attention away from the hustle and bustle, the distractions and interruptions of life. It was Jesus’ rich life of quiet prayer and tender intimacy with God as Father that was the source of His love, wisdom, and power. He had rhythm in what He did. And in the way He did it shows us that when we ignore this rhythm in our lives we actually become much less productive, creative and content. Our stress level rises, our patience declines and fatigue threatens our faith.

So cultivate the rhythm of Jesus. Re-engage with prayer, work and rest. And have the peace that passes all human understanding.

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