Today’s culture of ministry performance may be keeping too many missionaries awake at night.
Another long night comes along. After arriving home at 11:00 pm, following a visit at the home of a new believer, my mind is still charged with the thoughts of things to do, even though my body is exhausted. Knowing that I need rest, just before midnight, I drop into bed. After a few hours of sleep, suddenly my thoughts stir me from my rest and I find my mind working over time. Try as I may, during the next 50 or 60 minutes, sleep evades me entirely.
What keeps me awake? My non-medical explanation: hyper active brain cells! Feeling like sleep is what I need most, the fact is, my mind says “you need to work out these issues, before you go back to sleep.” The next hour or two can be a struggle. First I pray, and then I review my spiritual life. Then I go over my schedule for the week, and that only leads to asking myself if I need to do this or that. Rather than tire, my mind’s activity accelerates more and more as the night wears on. Finally, the mind finally finds peace or the body gives up, letting sleep take over.
This experience is not new to many of us. Been there, done that. So, what’s there worth blogging about? Just this: a lesson I feel that is worth passing on came to me one night while struggling to return to sleep. Rest is a gift from the Lord, just like the energy and the health to work is a gift. Rest comes from finding in Him the peace to leave tomorrow’s tasks to tomorrow. But, missionaries, and pastors, even Christians and non-Christians alike, all of us live with the pressures of trying to solve tomorrow’s work tonight, right when we need to “let is rest.”
The lesson I want so share is this: until I learn to surrender to the Pastor and Shepherd of my soul I will not rest fully. When I give Him my problems and concerns, He shows His hand of loving care. When I carry the issues to bed with me or bear them throughout the day, my mind is preocuppied, stressed, and over loaded.
On the matter of rest, then, I must choose to accept His gift. Will I really lay the burdens down, or keep them spinning in my head? I have found that when I choose to accept His gift of rest, found in the tender loving provision He promises over and over in His Word, that sleep comes sooner, rather than later.
Think of it this way: when you lie down at night, what have you already choosen to take with you, by virtue of your choices made just before retiring? Have you focused your attention on all those nagging little issues that you just read about in your email? Have you sat and soaked in a movie full of contradictions and conflict and selfishness? Have you just spent time arguing over the family budget or decisions with your spouse? If so, you have choosen to carry to bed a host of problems, rather than choosing to accept God’s gift of rest. To choose rest you and I must fellowship with Him in those closing moments before going off to sleep. We just have to let Him lead us to those green pastures! Rather than laying there counting sheep, my recommendation is to act like a sheep and follow the Good Shepherd out to places of rest and renewal.
Missionaries, just like every individual in our world of modern pressures and demands, wrestle with keeping stress at bay. Last week, I found myself in the hospital with a case of arrythmia out of control. After being fully examined by the coronary doctor, who described my heart palpitations as an “electrical storm,” I had to face the fact that I was bearing stress and struggles that were not mine to bear. I had choosen to take charge of the problems, rather than taking the problems to my Shepherd and Pastor (1 Peter 2:25).
Remember then to choose the gift of rest over the grit of anxiety. The wise King Solomon put it this way: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) Choose rest, not restlessness.
David L. Rogers, M.A.Min.