Brad Brisco and Lance Ford in their excellent book The Missional Quest have a really helpful chapter called "Stop and Go: Rhythms of Inner Formation." The chapter is about the importance of rest in the life of a missional leader.
They say that "the major emphasis of the missional movement is the sent nature of our calling as the body of Christ- going into culture with the gospel, practicing and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. However, it is incumbent on us that we not lose our grip on the truth that we cannot go out under our own strength, understanding or power. To rely upon savvy, reason and human talent is to invite trouble along the way of mission."
This is a really important caution and so they propose that the missional leader should enter into rhythms of formation which they describe as "Stop and Go." They explain, "Jesus was well aware that his incarnational plunge into the brokenness of humanity necessitated soul care for himself and his disciples. It was necessary for him to embrace the spiritual formation processes and patterns that any man or woman who hopes to connect with God must do. Jesus followed a self-imposed habit of discipline that frequently took him away from the crowds and ministry into solitude, rest and prayer, both alone and in the small company of his twelve disciples."
In other words Jesus went about on his mission but realised that he frequently needed to stop in order to rest and refuel in order to then be able to go back out to the world to do his mission. I really appreciate the contribution that this much needed perspective makes to the missional conversation. Too often missional can fall into the realm of mere pragmatism and activism if it does not take disciplines like spirituality, formation, sabbath rest and listening to the Spirit in its stride.
When it comes to Christian spirituality, often I hear a similar thought expressed. The thought is this; we must serve the church and our world but balance that with taking time out to be refreshed and get a "top-up" or a refueling in order to go back out to our world and keep serving.
On the one hand I agree of course that this is necessary. Even those who would not identify as Christian, know that the rhythm of work and rest is crucial. It seems like the concept of sabbath rest is not only a Christian concept but it is in fact interwoven into the very fiber of our humanity. Being human means to work and rest, otherwise we become machine-like. Rest is sacred. Rest is crucial. Rest is just as important to God as work. It’s our society which has valued work over rest.
Busyness has become an idol. But in God’s economy they are both equally crucial for humanity to thrive. When we live without proper rest we become less than human. We become like machines, we absorb our predominant cultural narrative without critiquing it. And so when we join with God on his mission without perceiving rest as vital, we are behaving as though we are less than human.
On the other hand, however, I do wonder if this idea of a stop and go balance is a completely accurate representation of the spirituality of Jesus.
Did Jesus see the times he spent connecting in prayer with his Father (eg Mark 1:35-39), as top-up moments which fueled him to go back out on mission? Maybe partly, but I struggle to imagine that Jesus segmented his life in this way. If we dichotomize rest and mission in this manner, we could fall into the trap of thinking that we find the Spirit in our times of rest but not when we are on mission.
We perhaps might also become people who are for example, comfortable with slowing down, finding pleasure in friendships and enjoying mystery in our times of rest but then we turn back to being pragmatists and activists when we are on mission.
One would hope that our regular habit of resting would be shaping us to be more like Christ in the world but this is not always what happens. Moreover, I wonder if by separating rest and mission we often end up sacrificing rest because we, like our world, value work over rest. How often do you hear someone say that they just don't have time to stop?
When I look at the spirituality of Jesus, that is how he related to his Father as he lived his life on earth, I see a much more integrated way of living. For Jesus, rest wasn't exactly a complete break from mission – rather rest was blended into his mission. As a result, I think Jesus was always on mission with a restful posture. He was at the same time restful and active, relational and strategic, focused and 'distracted' by interruptions. And, most importantly, Jesus was always in the presence of the Father being led by the Spirit.
Jesus in fact describes himself as a person of rest in Matthew 11:28-30 rather than so much a person on mission who occasionally rests. Moreover, while he was in those times alone and at rest he was probably receiving word from his Father about his ongoing mission. Here is an example of blending rest and mission. Maybe you have experienced moments like that too where you are resting but God gives you an idea for ministry. I have certainly had those moments.
I wonder if Jesus was even poking fun at our polarization of Sabbath and work rhythms by actually working on the Sabbath! Was he not only challenging the teachers of the day on their stifling legalism, but perhaps also questioning the deliniation between work and rest?
I sometimes hear this polarization emerging in our conversations regarding ministry or mission and "the rest of life." Maybe this is why we sometimes treat people as ministry or mission projects rather than as friends? Maybe that's why we frequently have a hard time hearing God in the middle of our busy day? Maybe that's why we often characterize mission as work and then, exhausted, we need to take time out from this work to rest. Again, I recognize that we need to rest, but in my view, Jesus modeled a life where mission and rest merged continually.
Maybe the answer is not in balancing mission and rest but in integrating the two?
Part of Jesus' mission was to model being the True Human and so yes he modeled rest, but more accurately than that, I think he modeled what it means to be a person who is on mission with God in a permanent posture of rest, relationality and dependence on the Father. I think that is why he could discern the presence of God in what looked like mere distractions to others. I think that's why he could pause in the middle of a day of busyness to notice children. I think that made Jesus a wonderful and magnetic person to be around.
Not because of his charisma, but because of his restful posture as he daily went on his Father's mission.