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Resting in Hope

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Posted by Aled Seago, 1 Mar 2021

Aled Seago encourages us all to slow down more in lockdown.

“God is a delicious good.” (Thomas Watson)

Introduction
Confession 1: I am not a workaholic.

Having clinical depression has helpfully made me all too aware of my limits. Yet I have worked with and under workaholics, and I have seen just how damaging that is. Too I have trained with workaholics.

Despite this, I need to learn to slow down in lockdown. And if I do, then I imagine most of us need to! I would point you towards George Crowder’s timely and helpful piece on rest for further reading. 

Why do I need to slow down in lockdown?

Because lockdown has us firing on all sorts of cylinders: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We can’t switch off as much as we might have done, for the work/home blurred line is even more blurred. Now that most of church stuff is on a screen too, that exhausts us. For example, we find in our church at the moment that it’s hard to do ministry to our younger people, who have spent all week on a screen for school.

We are firing all sorts of emotional bullets, as well as taking them. Things are hard, people need us, we need them.

It’s all a bit much!

Of course, you know all this.

So how can we rest?

I want us to think about resting in hope. By which I mean this: if we intentionally slow down, and accept our limits, that will do us the world of good.

We Are Not God!
We may think we know this, but our habits may say differently. Zack Eswine notes that this issue is a particular pitfall for pastors. Pastors tend to be everywhere, for everyone, all the time, in constant competent ways. In other words, pastors try to be omnipresent, omniscient and omnicompetant.

Who does that remind you of?

We need to slow down, and accept our creaturely, finite limits, under our Creator. That Creator-creature distinction will help us rest, because it will help us slow down. The book of Ecclesiastes is a helpful tonic to help us see this.

Resting in Hope: A daily office
Confession 2: I am not good at ‘quiet times.’

By which, I mean I am not good at slowing down to spend time intentionally in the word, and prayer.

Am I satisfied about that? Yes, and no.

No, I’m not satisfied that I’m not good at quiet times; because they are very beneficial things to do as a believer.

Yes, I’m satisfied that I’m not good at quiet times; because it reminds me of my limits, and my dependence on God.

Slowing down is a necessary way for us to park our guilt: all of us struggle with our devotional lives at one time or another as Christians.

The ‘quiet time’ becomes part of our rushing around, sprinting through the marathon that is lockdown. Yet, in normal time and lockdown, I am convinced that Bible readings as part of quiet times are all about quality, not quantity. Reading and re-reading the same passage every day may have more benefit than rushing through the unfamiliar bits just so I’ve ‘read’ the Bible in a year.

Quiet times are ways to make us slow down, and rest in hope, by accepting our weaknesses. Zack Eswine encourages us to not see our quiet times as a theological classroom to gain head knowledge alone.

What we want in our quiet times, he argues, is nothing less than beholding God. For Eswine, beholding God in this way is a deliberate, and scheduled pause in my day to listen, read and pray. In this pausing, we enable ourselves to:

- Confess our limits
- Remember Jesus’ sustenance
- To remember God’s work in those around me today.

Eswine encourages us to slow down, because God is showing us who he is. He notes that for Jesus in the desert, “it is written” is not imparting information, but a way of keeping his identity intact amidst temptation. Satan was not denying the existence of God, nor even that God’s word is true. Note the devil even quotes scripture for his own ends. What Satan is doing, says Eswine, is “discounting the Father’s love for the Son in that very word.”

It is the goodness or worthiness of God that is under attack. And I think that we attack that goodness too. Not by what we say, but by what we do. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that by not slowing down in lockdown, I am attacking the goodness of God. Because by rushing around, trying to be everywhere for everyone, I am saying that the goodness of God, for me and my congregation, isn’t enough. So I must do the work instead.

Confession 3: We subconsciously attack the goodness of God by not slowing down in lockdown.

Therefore, beholding God in a deliberate pause in our day is a way of reminding ourselves of who God is, and taking our day to him.

How might this work for us?

Getting practical with John Owen
My wonderful friend Mike Ovey used to say: good theology leads to doxology, and theology done well is immensely practical.

If we see our devotional life as part of that restful hope. If we remember that it is no less than beholding the goodness of God as we trudge the weary sands of the Christian life, then, we begin to see the benefits of deliberately slowing down in lockdown and letting go of our guilt.

We let go of our guilt because we abide in Christ, and that is hard to remember.

John Owen advises us to be deliberately thinking about Jesus, as a way to remember that we abide in Christ.  Of course, this thinking isn’t just during quiet times. But part of deliberately slowing down to behold God means thinking about Jesus.

If we feel we have no time to do this, then something has to give. Yes, for some of us, we’re stuck in four walls with demanding family situations, or our jobs are all consuming. But, if we feel we have no time whatsoever to slow down, we’re in trouble.

John Owen gives us three practical ways to help us abide in Christ. Perhaps these can be things we reflect on as we deliberately pause in our day to behold our God.

1) Thinking about Jesus (abiding with our minds).

We need to look steadily at Christ, and the divine glory within him, like an astronomer with a telescope. We can think about:

- His person: He is fully God, and fully man.
- His three-fold office: Prophet, priest, and King.
- His merit: He fully obeys the law of the Lord. 
- His example: Not only is he our saviour, but he is also our example.
- His death: He takes the punishment we deserve in our place, bearing the wrath we deserve. He takes our badness and gives us his goodness.
- His resurrection: He has conquered death! Where he goes, we go too. 

Owen notes that all teaching we receive from ministers is to enable us to behold Christ like this. In the ordinary, let us contemplate the extraordinary.

2) Obeying Jesus (abiding with our will)

We need to will ourselves to work hard and obey Jesus. Lockdown presents its own challenges for this, how will we meet them?

3) Delighting in Jesus (abiding with our affection)

We cannot do the first two as dry duty. It is not just about our brains, but our whole selves, our affections, wants, desires and loves. The quiet time isn’t a brain exercise, it’s a heart and whole person exercise. Let us delight to abide in Christ.


Conclusion: Slowdown in lockdown
We’ve seen in this series that we do feel inadequate, that we’ve had enough, and we need to rest. Today I hope we’ve seen the need to slow down as part of our self-care, and part of our spirituality.

We are not God, therefore it’s ok to slow down. Let us slow down in restful hope: follow our Jesus into the desert, and behold the goodness of God in his word.

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” Lamentations 3:18-24.


Some helpful resources:-

- The Dwell Bible App – a great way to listen to scripture if you really can’t stop to read.
- The Blessed Life – A brand new book from Church Society designed to help us through Lent.
- Daily Dose of Joy – forgive this cheeky plug, but this is my podcast designed to put some of this theory into practice.

Aled Seago is curate of Poynton Parish Church in Chester Diocese, and is Incumbent-designate of Dunham Massey benefice, also in Chester Diocese

Photo by Nick Fewings

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