Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Call to Soulful Rest

(This piece was written as a devotional column for publication in my local city's newspaper)

 (Painting: "Jesus Commands His Disciples to Rest," by James Tissot, c.1890)
           Here in 21st-century America, we love our technological gadgets. Most everyone has lived a significant part of their lives in front of a glowing screen, whether a TV or a computer or a smartphone. Nowadays, the surge of technological innovation is accelerating, and many people are keen to pick up whatever new gadget is on the market: new models of smartphones, virtual reality headsets, and so on. The reason why these devices are so popular is that they’ve changed the way people live their lives in extraordinary ways. Now we have sources of entertainment continually at our fingertips, we can access almost any information in the world, and we can network with hundreds of friends, scattered across thousands of miles, at the touch of a button.
           Those probably all sound like really good things, right? But let me ask another question: Do you feel like these things lead you to the place where you are finding rest for your souls? In my personal experience, and in pretty much all the cases I’ve observed, I’d have to conclude that the effect is actually the opposite. Yes, we may have perpetual entertainment available to us—but, for all the pleasure that can bring, doesn’t it sometimes descend to the level of just being something to distract us from the pain and boredom of everyday life? And it’s great to have readily-available information at our fingertips—but isn’t it true that relying on search engines and digital assistants to answer our questions often leads to intellectual laziness, where we’re satisfied with knowing the basic facts without actually seeking true understanding, context, or depth of insight? And while it’s great that hundreds of our acquaintances can see what we ate for lunch at the touch of a button, isn’t it possible that this sometimes distracts us from building deep, authentic relationships with the people we’re actually physically present with? In my experience, for all the benefits these devices bring, we’re still just as worn out, harried, and discontent as we ever were before, and perhaps more so. These technologies, as wonderful as they are when used for the right things, cannot bring us “rest for our souls.”
           But that’s what we really need. That’s what we’re all longing for—a sense of rooted, deep-running peace that isn’t shaken even in the midst of life’s battles. The good news is, there is something that can bring you that kind of rest. Jeremiah 6:16 says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” According to the Bible, finding the contentment we seek isn’t about looking to the future and expecting the next wave of technology to satisfy all our desires. Rather, it instructs us to look to the past: “Ask for the ancient paths.” The secret of finding rest for our souls has always been there, from the beginning of time—we find it when we enter into relationship with God, because it’s that very relationship that we were made for. The great philosopher Augustine of Hippo said, “You have made us for yourselves, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you.” And God has made a way for us to find that rest. Because of Jesus, we have a way to enter into a life-giving relationship with God—Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection to new life endow us with his own righteousness and the promise of eternal life, so that we can enter into relationship with the righteous, eternal God, who loves us beyond what we can possibly imagine. Jesus himself echoes the call of the verse from Jeremiah when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). It’s pretty simple. If you’re looking for soulful rest in the midst of all of life’s demands, there’s only one place to find it—Jesus Christ. And the best part is: it’s always on offer, and it’s always free.