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Monday, March 23, 2020

stopping lessons

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. . . .” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV)

Does it seem bizarre to you that we, for some unfathomable reason, would be unwilling to stop and rest?  That we would have to be “made” to lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2) or to be "led" to sit beside quiet waters?  Why is it so hard for us to stop?  Is it because we don’t want to, or because we just don’t know how?  I think we need stopping lessons.

Imagine how terrifying it would be if, when we were being taught to ride a bike, we never learned how to stop.  In that case, we would have only two options available.  We could either keep on going (forever), or we could crash.  Unfortunately, choosing option number one always leads to option number two—to keep going and going and going is not a sustainable solution.

I remember when my wife and I tried snow skiing for the very first time.  I mean, it looked easy enough, right?  And since we had a chalet right on the slopes we decided to forgo any type of lessons and just go for it.  We put on our boots and our skis, went out of our chalet to the slope that was just outside our door, and took off down the hill.  Going is a breeze, right?  It is all physics and gravity.  But as we picked up speed heading down the hill, both of us realized that we didn’t know how to stop.  I’m guessing that was probably lesson number one in ski school.  And so we began to look for the softest and safest place to crash, which we did—skis and poles going every which way.  I think even my gloves came off.  It was not pretty, nor fun.

Stopping is an essential part of life.  That’s probably why God made it a part of his weekly rhythm.  It’s what Sabbath is all about.  In fact, the Hebrew word for Sabbath simply means to stop.  God worked six days and then God stopped, and he rested.  Why would we think that we, who were made in his image, would be any different?  In fact, God tells us that it is “in returning and rest we shall be saved.”  Somehow it is in returning to God and resting in him, and his work and his care, that we actually find our own salvation.  It is not something we have to work for or achieve or earn, but something that can only be received freely.  Thus, we can stop and rest.  In fact, we must.

Which is funny because somehow I think we see stopping and resting as a weakness.  In our culture they are not held in high regard.  We are so resistant to stopping and resting because they force us to be dependent on something, or Someone, else for our salvation and our honor (Psalm 62:7).  Which makes us trust in God, rather than in our own gifts and efforts, and we do not like that.  We do not like things being out of our control.  But ultimately, whether we like it or not, the biggest things in life are out of our control.  And if nothing else, the last few weeks has been ample evidence of that.  So we must begin to learn to rely on God, to trust in him; which means that we are going to have to learn how to stop.  Stop relying on ourselves, stop trying to do it all ourselves, and stop trusting in ourselves.

Learning how to stop begins with belief—really being convinced that God is both strong and loving, just like he says he is (Psalm 62:11-12).  He is both able and willing to help us.  Learning how to stop comes from really believing that we truly are his beloved.  Our worth and value is solely determined by him and his great love for us.  We do not have to do anything to earn it, he loves us simply because we are his.  Thus, we do not have to constantly try to prove to ourselves and our world that we are worth loving.  And finally, learning to stop means that these truths begin to take shape in our lives.  They give us the freedom to slow down, to make space, to breathe.  The freedom to be the best, God-breathed, version of ourselves.  They allow us to run at a pace that is healthy and sustainable, pumping the brakes when life seems to be getting out of control.  They help us to operate out of love rather than out of need.  And they help us to acknowledge the fact that everything is not up to us, but up to God.  We are not meant to do everything, just the things he has specifically called us to.

I wonder if that might be a little of what God is trying to teach us these days—how to stop.  

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