Further Still

“The creation waits in eager expectation​ for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19)

Further Still

Further Still

“The creation waits in eager expectation​ for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19)

Further Still

Further Still

“The creation waits in eager expectation​ for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19)

If you are completing this retreat in one day, take more time now to expand the space within you and around you. Go for a walk. Listen to some music behind the “Music and More” button. Go water the flowers, shoot some hoops or pet the dog. Be mindful that God is with you​ in each of these actions or activities, closer than your own breath. Thank Him for His quiet companionship with you. When you are ready, begin by meditating on this prayer:

Today, O Lord,

I accept your acceptance of me.

I confess that you are always with me

and always for me.

I receive into my spirit,

your grace,

your mercy,

your care.

I rest in your love, O Lord.

I rest in your love.


(from Prayers from the Heart, by Richard Foster)

 

Gifts in the Wilderness

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” ​ ​ ​ — Exodus 20:8

During the early days of the pandemic, the sudden decrease in human activity meant that nature was allowed to enjoy some rest and refreshment. The results were striking! The air cleared above congested cities! Wild animals came out from hiding and began strolling down empty streets! The coral reefs began to recover! It was as if all of creation was crying out, Let us rest, and watch us come to life!

 

Even animals behind bars found freedom during the global pause. In Hong Kong, two pandas in a zoo closed by the pandemic were able to mate and conceive for the first time in 10 years! (TEN YEARS, PEOPLE!) An article about the pandas in USA Today opened with these words:

 

​ “All it took was some peace and quiet.”

 

Reflect for a moment. If those words were the opening sentence in an article about your life during the early days of the pandemic, what would the rest of the article say? What unexpected gifts did you enjoy as a result of the pause that was imposed upon us?

 

God had an unexpected gift waiting in the wilderness for His people. For 400* years, the Israelites had been living like slaves. Imagine their surprise—confusion—disorientation—when one of the first gifts God gave them after Egypt was a day of vacation. A day to rest and play! Here is how the gift began to unfold in Exodus chapter 16.

 

Moses was giving the people instructions about collecting manna, the thin wafer that miraculously appeared every morning on the ground. They were to gather enough manna for each day, but on the sixth day they were to gather two-days-worth of wafers. No manna would be delivered the next morning. Apparently, God, (the original founder of Door Dash), did not work on day seven.

 

What a radical shift for the Israelites! What a dramatic disruption of their slave culture rhythms! In the wilderness, God gave His people the gift of holy rest. God gave them the gift of Sabbath.

 

Across the span of 40 years, the Israelites would learn that they belonged to a very good God who knew how to take a break; they did not belong to an oppressive master. Practicing Sabbath would be essential in their identity formation. They would discover that they were children of a God who had rhythms of rest deeply embedded in His DNA.

 

God had implicitly woven a rhythm of rest through the fabric of creation. But in case we failed to learn from the laws of the world around us, God took His finger and explicitly wrote it out in stone: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.​ The choices Yahweh set before the Israelites were crystal clear. Live like tired and weary slaves; or live like sons and daughters of a God who loves to rest and play. ​

Reflect for a moment. When was the last time you felt deeply rested and refreshed?

 

During this difficult season, what has it looked like
for you to “play”?

At the Good Way retreats, when we invite Young Life staff to practice a weekly Sabbath, there is first a spark of hope, and then a feeling of frustration washes across the room. Though our hearts, minds, bodies and souls are longing for deep rest, we don’t see how it is possible to live in the rhythms embedded in God’s DNA. Or, as Eugene Peterson said so well in The Message, we don’t believe it is actually possible to walk with Jesus in the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30). We long for that rhythm, but the echo of some relentless slave driver within us protests, “But there is so much work to be done!” And, implied in that protest, “It is entirely up to us to do it!”

 

Is God good, and can He be trusted? Our chronic neglect of Sabbath seems to say, “Um, no.” And then we explain, “The world is actually resting upon MY shoulders. It’s up to ME to keep the world from falling apart. There is so much work to be done!”

 

During the early days of the pandemic, what was our first impulse? Was it an impulse to pause? Or was it an impulse to pivot? Did we pause and ask God what invitation He might have for us in this moment? Possibly an invitation to recalibrate and rest? Or did we pivot into overdrive and work harder than we had ever worked before? After months of sheltering at home, are we more rested now as a people? Or are we more exhausted?

 

Part of our exhaustion is due to the daily diet of trauma that has been served to us in this season. Now more than ever, we need to intentionally practice rhythms of rest. However, in crisis, our common inclination is to create an action plan. Instead of pausing, we pivot and our adrenaline takes over. We’re not suggesting that action plans aren’t important and even essential. We ARE suggesting, however, that INACTION plans are just as essential and part of God’s nature and design.

 

Parker Palmer in his book The Active Life​ put it this way, “Rather than speak of contemplation and action, we might speak of contemplation-and-action, letting the hyphens suggest what our language obscures: that one cannot exist without the other. When we fail to hold the paradox together, when we abandon the creative tension between the two, then both ends fly apart into madness…Action flies off into frenzy--a frantic and even violent effort to impose one’s will on the world, or at least to survive against the odds. Contemplation flies off into escapism—a flight from the world into a realm of false bliss.”

 

Palmer notices three stages of our response to the paradox of action and contemplation. The first stage, the separation​ stage, is when we view action/contemplation as an either/or proposition. In other words, we ignore the hyphens.

 

The second stage is the alternation​ stage. “Exhausted by activity,” Palmer writes, “we take a little vacation to refresh ourselves, then we plunge back into action until we are exhausted again, then we take another vacation.”

 

The final stage is the stage of integration. We integrate action and contemplation into a life-giving rhythm, discovering that the two are woven together at the root: “Their root,” Palmer says, is our deep desire “to be fully alive.”

Reflect for a moment. Where do you see yourself
in these three stages?

Jesus integrated a rhythm of rest into his own life, alternating between engaging in activity and work, then withdrawing for solitude, prayer and rest. As God continues to scrape the True Foundation of our lives, as He begins to rebuild our lives more simply upon Jesus, will we allow Him to build lives that more fully embody His DNA?

 

The voice of protest within us is strong. “But there is so much work to be done! There is a world of kids who desperately need to know Jesus! There is a world of oppression and injustice that desperately needs reform! We can’t stop now!”

 

Sometimes, honestly, it feels like we can’t​ stop now—like we are trapped and not able to set ourselves free from the cycle of compulsive action. Thank God for His words in Exodus 3:8: I have heard the cry of my people. I have come down to rescue them. There is a deliverer at our door. The question is, do we trust Him? Will we accept His radical invitation to rest and play?

 

You might say, Sabbath is God’s invitation to not take ourselves too seriously. The world is not actually resting upon our shoulders. It turns out, we are NOT the adults in the room. We are intended to be the children playing at our Father’s feet. Take a moment to watch this video and consider Yahweh’s invitation to remember who you are.

What invitation have you heard from God during this season regarding work, rest and play?​ To discern His invitation, notice what your heart has been longing for in each of these areas.

 

What would it look like to practice a few “Sabbath moments” throughout your day? The next time you notice yourself acting like a tired and weary slave, stop, notice the Deliverer at your door, and accept His invitation to come and play.

 

If you would like to explore practicing a weekly Sabbath, we’ve included a set of guidelines below. Either way, end your retreat by taking time to become like a child in God’s presence. Take a few moments to play at the Father’s feet.

The Practice of Weekly Sabbath

Observing the Sabbath by simply resting from all work one day per week helps us remember at least three things:

 

  1. That God is the primary worker in the world and in our lives. Any work that we do is the result of God's invitation to join him in what he is already doing.
  2. To trust God to complete and sustain any work that he has given us to do. ​ He is still working while we are not.
  3. That we as human beings are created with limitations (need for sleep, food and drink, confined to being in one place at one time, etc.). ​ Choosing to rest helps us acknowledge our limitations while remembering the limitlessness of God. ​ Holy rest helps us maintain a right relationship with God, with creation, and with ourselves, and is thus a gateway into the abundant life that Christ offers us.

How to Practice

NOTE: The point of this, or any, spiritual practice is not to execute the practice perfectly but to PAY ATTENTION to how God wants to use the practice to form you. ​ It is not important if you succeed or fail in the practice; rather it is important to learn what God is teaching you through that success or failure.

Step 1

Choose one day of the week for the next two weeks as your Sabbath day. Doing this for two weeks in a row will give you ample opportunity to reflect on what God is teaching you and how you would like to refine this practice for your needs and current life situation. If you are married and/or have kids, plan this with your spouse and with your kids in mind.

Step 2

Adhere to these parameters:

 

  • Refrain from any work. This is tough in Young Life, since the nature of our work blurs traditional work/life boundaries. This means no emails, no contact with kids/leaders/donors, no prep for future events, etc.
  • Don’t make any plans. This will be hard for some of us, but leaving the day as unscheduled as possible leaves room for God to speak, move, and open unexpected doors and opportunities.
  • Refrain from using personal digital technology: phones, tablets, laptops, etc. This will not only help you refrain from work but also help you be present to God and to your loved ones. Studies also show that refraining from digital personal technology allows our brains and bodies to reset its chemistry and clear it of dopamine, cortisol, and adrenaline that many social media apps and games are designed to stimulate.
  • Enjoy your day with God and your loved ones! Do what is most life-giving. Include God in your decision-making by asking him what He thinks. Your day might include sleeping in, going for a walk, lounging around the house all day, or even washing your car (something Daniel has found strangely restful!). If you are the president of Young Life, your Sabbath might include riding your motorcycle, but you should probably check with your wife before you hit the open road.

Step 3

Actually do it! This is the hardest step as many things will invariably get in the way of you actually resting. Resist these as best you can and stay committed to keeping your day of rest.

Step 4

Reflect on the experience after each week (include your spouse and/or family if applicable). It has been said that we do not learn from experience but from reflection upon experience. ​


These questions can help:

  • What did you like about the practice? Dislike?
  • What did you notice about yourself while you were practicing Sabbath?
  • Where was God in your practice? Do you feel like you would like to include him more next time? If so, how?
  • What would you like to change or keep the same for next time?

*A Hopeful Word on 400 Years

If you Google “400 years” in relationship to “slavery”, two links compete for the top of the page. One is about the Israelites in Egypt; one is about the arrival of the first slaves from Africa in the United States in 1619. (Although some would argue there were slaves in the United States before that date.) We are aware that God loves math and that His numbers are often pregnant with meaning. We wonder if there is meaning behind the two instances of the number 400?

 

At the very least, it stirs hope in us. Maybe we are on the threshold of a second exodus, a major movement of a racial people group from slavery toward freedom. If the parallel between the two groups holds true, then we may be wandering in the wilderness for a while before this new exodus is over. It may take an entire generation before freedom is fully realized in a good and spacious land.

 

Our prayer is that no one will make this journey alone, but that we will walk in solidarity with one another until God is able to fully transform us together. We (the Good Way team) believe this transformation begins in the sacred space in the center of each soul or it begins nowhere at all. We must recognize and receive the Imago Dei within us before we can recognize it and affirm it in one another. May God use these humble retreats to help move us, if even incrementally, in that direction. In that spirit, we look forward to the day when together we can sing:

Restoration Song

God called forth a people, and we responded to His call,

‘Rebuild this ancient ruin, restore my city walls.’

 

He has led us day by day, as we listened to His voice,

and we were fed on finest wheat, and manna from the skies.

 

When we started we were strangers.

We hardly knew each other’s names.

Now we are brothers and sisters,

and we will never be the same.

 

As we built brick by brick, we discovered the corner stone,

and as we let Him mold and fashion us, He built us up in love.

 

Now we have seen, and we have heard, that the Lord our God is great,

For a wilderness has been transformed, into His holy place.

 

(by Gary Tuohy in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two)

You might be interested in reading this article on Sabbath​ by Jeremy Stefano, Director of Emmaus, or this book by Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God.

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