I’m Still Restless

Last week we looked at St. Augustine’s famous quote, “my heart is restless until it rests in you”.  And we looked at it in relation to Augustine’s restlessness before his conversion to Christ.  But the question came up this week, “what if I’m still restless as a Christian?”, what then?  Which leads to an interesting problem that all Christians have faced at one time or another, and if they’re honest, they will continue to face, which is this: ‘Why am I still restless?”.

Restlessness looks different in different people, but in general, it looks like uncertainty, uneasiness, and discomfort with the way your life is going or with the outcomes of the plans you have made.  It’s worries, it’s weariness, it’s a constant back and forth on a heart level which can make life unbearable at times.  Recently I left the barber with one of my sons and he complained the entire way home of the hair that was on his back.  Every time he moved his shirt rubbed his back forcing these hundreds of tiny hair fragments to poke and prod his skin.  He could barely sit still.  He was restless the entire way home where he promptly took a shower.  What then are some of the factors that make our own hearts rock back and forth in the Christian life…and what can we do about it?

  1. We Must Taste of Our Own Mortality

When we were first married, my wife and I used to go out for dates almost every weekend.  Sometimes a romantic night out would turn dicey when we’d be driving in the car and there would be this ominous moment when both of us realized that we had both assumed that the other person had planned out the evening, which of course meant that neither of us had planned anything.  So, we were essentially driving to nowhere, and the frustrations quickly mounted leading to a very restless evening.  Such is the case in life when we don’t have a clear sense of where we are headed in this world.  Knowing the end, where we are headed, makes the journey there so much better.

Psalm 90 is a classic text to help us keep our end ever before us.  In it, Moses contemplates God’s greatness to his people over the years, and he contemplates God’s greatness in creation, and he contemplates his own sin and misery, before he finally comes to a very clear conclusion.  You might say that Psalm 90:12 gives us the key to living a very fulfilled life, and it’s this, “Teach me to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  There it is!  Knowing that one day it will all end helps us to plan and to prepare and to live well in this life.  That’s what a heart of wisdom is, it’s a well-ordered life.  It’s a life that is prioritized and a life that is full because of that.

  1. We Must Take Account of Life

I think that about 95% of life is mundane.  That is, the vast majority of life does not involve major events happening to us.  Think about your average day?  You get up, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work, come home, eat dinner, walk the dog, go to sleep, and then you get up and do it all again.  This is a fairly typical day for most of us living in the Western world.

I get the impression that the percentages were a lot different in ancient Israel.  In other words, life was a lot less mundane for the psalmists at least, and that they had a few more major life events than we did (but maybe I’m wrong).  In Psalm 43 we see the author open with a familiar refrain for God to rescue him, probably from another major catastrophe.  Then in verse 5, we see him self-counselling himself by asking this question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”  Here’s a man who’s restless.  He’s restless because somebody has wronged him (v. 2) and been unfair and unjust to him and his life, family, and cause, or whatever.  So, he asks himself that ever probing ‘why’ question.  And when he does, he gets an answer.   The Psalm ends with, “hope in God; for I again will praise him, my salvation and my God.”

What does it mean to hope in God?  At first it kind of sounds like a very dismissive thing to say to somebody.  “Go on, hope in God and things will eventually get better.”  Before dismissing this clause to the bin of played out Christian cliché, take another look at what the author is saying here.  From what I can tell, hope is something that has to do primarily with equilibrium.  If you’ve lost your sense of equilibrium you fall over all the time and can’t remain upright.  My dad tells the story about his time as a helicopter pilot in the Army and getting caught in a thunderstorm while returning from a mission.  He quickly came down with that temporary pilot sickness known as vertigo; the number one killer of pilots, incidentally.  As he describes it, your instruments are telling you that you’re upright, but you know deep down in your guts that you’re flying upside down and that you simply must right the ship.  “It was just then”, he said, “that the clouds broke just enough that I could see the horizon and my wits returned to me.”  This is essentially what the author of the psalm is meaning when he instructs you to hope in God.  In other words, God is your horizon.  He’s your true north.  He doesn’t change…ever.  The vertigo comes when you’re too focused upon the big and the small things in this life, and that’s when you start to fall.  To hope in God then is to reorient yourself to his voice, that is, his promises that he makes to you.  Notice what these are in this verse; praise, salvation, and possession.

Praise is another way of saying ‘worship’.  I will again ‘worship’ God.  Buried in that word is a sense of ‘return’ and of ‘repetition’.  How are our hearts reoriented when we’ve become overly saturated with worldly cares?  It’s by returning to church, where we worship and praise God.  Somewhere along the way Christians, by and large, have forgotten who’s ultimately at work in our church worship services.  Here’s a hint:  It’s not you!  You’re not the primary player, the primary focus, or the primary participant in worship.  God is, period.  It’s God who calls you there.  It’s God who moves mightily in worship.  And it’s God who is at work in you on Sunday mornings.  That’s the reason why it must be repeated, week in and week out.  The world is cruel, the flesh is stubborn, and the Devil is powerful…that is why worship is so critical to you rightly understanding God’s promises and putting them into practice in your life.  It’s God’s prescribed means of healing your spiritual vertigo.

  1. We Must Rest Again and Again and Again…

Finally, this is going to sound so overly simple (and it is), but we are restless as Christians because we don’t rest.  For some reason, rest is seen as being lazy to a lot of us today.  It’s virtuous to burn the candle at both ends and to see how much you can accomplish in a day, a week, and a lifetime.  More is always better, and I’m afraid as Christians we’ve given in to this worldly way of thinking far too often.  I think it has something to do with our propensity towards works-righteousness; that we are somehow always striving to attain our own salvation, or at least to sweeten in in some way.  But salvation is entirely one sided.  It’s Jesus’ work alone that makes us right with God (Romans 5:1-2).  It’s Jesus’ work alone that keeps us from going to Hell when we die.  We must rest in him alone for our salvation.  I’m not sure that we can be reminded of this enough!

And then once we’ve had our hearts re-formed and re-focused upon Christ, and are resting in him alone for salvation, then we can see, perhaps, that Christ actually commands us to take physical rest as well as spiritual rest.  One day in seven is to be used for both physical and spiritual rest.  And it’s not that we work six days so that we can get that day of rest, but rather the opposite.  We rest one day a week so that we might work the other six.  It’s the exact opposite of the ‘working for the weekend’ mentality that most of us have today.  Yes, work is far more meaningful and far more fulfilling if we keep this in mind, and if we rest ourselves physically so that we might be well prepared for this work.

But there’s one last thing I want to say about physical rest on Sunday’s.  No matter what your Sabbath routine looks like, it should always contain at least two things: 1) Church attendance, and 2) at least 30 minutes of solitude.  I recall hearing a story once of a dying mother who called her rebellious teenage son to her death bed and made him promise her that he would spend 30 minutes a day in silence.  And he did.  And eventually he was converted by doing this.  His mother knew that if her son was to hear the voice of God calling to him, he would need to block out the other voices around him in order to hear it.  And that’s what happened.  And that’s what needs to happen to us as well if we’re to be less restless.  We need to take the time, and make the time, to listen to God, and this means that we need silence to do it.  We are bombarded each and every day by a million different voices that call to us from screens, and billboards, and newspapers, and you name it.  Take time to be holy means take time to be quiet.  And you might just be surprised at how much you hear when you do.

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