Growing in God through Sabbath REST

“Rest Under the Shadow of His Wings” (Psalm 91) by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple (c)

Tony and I have been Canadian missionaries in South Africa.  We have learned through our African friends in different countries how to slow down and be relational.  This is something all of us in fast-paced countries need to learn.  So come along with me and we’ll learn together on the adventures of Growing in God.

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we are living in Toronto, Canada.

During our last article, we learned about growing in God through developing perseverance.   Perseverance is far more than resilience and coping.   It involves keeping sight of a target and moving towards it no matter what.  Tony shared with me the skill of “dead reckoning” that he learned in the navy.    If a ship or an aircraft loses communications and is unable to find land or hazards, they will look back on their chart for the last accurate position recorded, and calculate the direction they should have taken from there, and then follow that compass bearing, with an awareness of the uncertainty since that position was recorded.  They then steam on (or fly on) using the calculated bearing, and hoping that eventually they will recognize a feature of the land.   This takes perseverance, because their sense of direction will suggest a myriad of alternatives.  Keeping that goal or destination in mind, is like walking in faith.  Proverbs 4: 25-26 confirms this by directing us to: “let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.  Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure.”    This goal orientation meant a laser focus on the promises that are to come.  This scripture is a reminder to allow the refining and uncomfortable difficulties to purify us, without my giving up.  Sometimes there are difficulties in life, and especially when you are in ministry.   Unfortunately, the average time that a full-time missionary stays in the field is a year.  Many give up before that.  Our mission was designed to be 3 years but worked out at 4 due to Covid and visa problems, and we certainly didn’t resign.   Our time included L-A’s  cancer journey and Tony’s early stages of mesothelioma, and his retinal detachment.  I am coming to believe that perseverance involves actively pushing towards a goal.  Sometimes you push hard together with others, other times, you stand alone – standing in the place where you must be to ‘hold the line.’  Holding the line is exactly what we are doing in caring for my 93 year old father.   How do we move forward?  No matter what, God is ready to listen and make a way forward.  Prayer and contemplation gives us the inner strength to do what God would have us do.  Jesus is always with us.  We are not alone.  As we depend on God, our trust and intimacy with him grows.   We also grow better and stronger together, in relationship, which strengthens our perseverance.  Our work is actually an inter-generational thing, not just individual.  This puts less pressure on us, so we just do our part as part of the whole.  This is especially true when working in ministry.  We aren’t the saviours.  Only Jesus is. Nothing we have done is wasted; it all counts.  And since we don’t work on our own, we are ALLOWED to rest.  Rest is where we will journey next.

Rest is something that is not just allowed.  It’s actually a command to us!  It’s something that we often break without even a thought about it.  Friday sundown to Saturday at sundown is the Sabbath rest for the Jewish people.  The Orthodox Jews are VERY serious about following this command: from all the details to the bigger things.  Remembering the Sabbath rest and keeping it holy is an injunction that in our busyness, we often break.  So if we don’t take a regular weekly rest, a sabbatical or even a retreat, our health can force us to “lie down in green pastures!” (Psalm 23).  Is this a joke or an exaggeration?  Yes and no.  In my own story, I burned out so many times, got serious mono in my 20’s, and spent two months where I could do very little.  This is not an exaggeration. Later, when I was helping my parents (for three months in 2015),  I would go for days and then crash and spend a whole day in bed. 

In some ways I still don’t fully understand rest, but I believe at the very core of it is a sense of trust in the Lord.  You become content in his presence, and allow him to take the burdens, just as he offers in the Gospel of Matthew. “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29)  Rest is a gift.  Rest is a choice to stop and trust.  You choose to pick up his yoke. 

Rest is also connected with repentance.  One of my favourite Bible verses when I was struggling with a mind that whirled a million miles an hour and a very sad heart, was Isaiah 30:15.  This passage didn’t talk about the ‘joy of the Lord being your strength’ (Neh. 8:10), which is also something I didn’t understand at the time. I thought the joy of the Lord was laughing all the time!  I gathered comfort from this message: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation,  in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.  (Isa. 30:15 NIV)   Salvation and the Lord’s rest are one and the same!  Would we also have none of it?

When one third of the people of Judah were imported into the Babylon exile, and most of the rest died or were scattered; the poor, overused land had a seventy year rest (or fallow).  Even the land had to recover from the defilement mentioned in multiple Old Testament prophets.  The land was defiled from shedding of innocent blood (including child sacrifice to ‘rival’ gods), corruption on many levels, idol worship, dishonesty and cruelty to the poor and foreigners. These are some of the things that God detests.  It’s also likely that the land wasn’t given a rest according to the Leviticus 25:4 requirement where “in the seventh year, the land to have a YEAR of Sabbath to the Lord.  Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.” (Lev. 25:4 NIV)  So, the land was finally given a rest while its people were in exile. 

Does rest bring healing?  I believe so, and I’ve seen many minor illnesses go away after good bedrest in friends and family members.  Proper rest (and nutrition) is needed in order to work well.  I needed a lot of rest while fighting cancer, as does Tony on his mesothelioma journey.  Rest also is needed for your body’s natural systems to regulate and re-set themselves.  David wrote in Psalm 139 that our bodies are wonderfully and fearfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14).  

Another Bible favourite for rest is Psalm 46:10:  “Be still and know that I am God.”  This is the foundation of soaking prayer, that wonderful, gentle way of receiving gently as you physically rest on a chair, couch or floor. You rest, but your mind and heart are focused on Jesus.  I used to do this on a regular basis with my friend Lorna at the Bethesda retreat centre near Ottawa.  It was a lovely farmhouse that held many Alpha Holy Spirit weekends, church retreats and personal retreats. Lorna and I would pray gently to invite the Holy Spirit to come touch us and speak to us, while we listened to soft worship music and lay on a couch.  Nearly every time we would do this, we felt deep peace, and often impressions, images, scriptures and occasional words would surface.  We were waiting on the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). We were able to hear these loving whispers of love because we were completely at rest.  This is the best kind of rest and I crave it.   This to me, is an instant Sabbath that we need as much as we need sleep.  Again, the presence of the Lord brings deep rest.  Can we live in this rest all the time?  Can we do our paid work, ministry and tasks within a context of rest?  Absolutely yes!  This is where “practising the presence” makes all the difference.  Brother Lawrence was a French lay-monk in the 17th century.  He practised the presence when he invited God into all his tasks.  Anything or everything you do can become a holy activity. 

Rest can also be a spiritual weapon.  I found a message on my Facebook feed in mid-July 2022.  It was from from the “Elizabeth Elliott quotes” page.  Listen to what was gleaned from her writings.  She said, “Rest is a weapon given to us by God.  The enemy hates it because he wants us to be stressed and occupied.”    I agree with this statement!  The devil wants us to be distracted from our source of peace (God) as well as our identity as a child of God.  He wants us not to find out our true mission assignments.  The cure?  Stay connected, but also have adequate time off from work and tasks for clear thinking, and allowing the time for you to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice.

So again, Jesus is right when he invites us to come to him when we are weary and heavy laden.  And it’s OK if it’s not just once!  And when we encounter a dark, difficult time, he carries us right though the valley of the shadow of death.  (Psalm 23) The green pastures that we rest in are a place of safety even in the midst of the storm.  His deep presence is there. 

Last month I mentioned that Tony and I needed a week of rest at our timeshare.  Did we get it?  Yes, although I am still growing in my fragmented understanding of what rest and shalom means.  But trust is at the centre.  Trust in the Lord is what keeps us before his face and in his presence.  This is what abiding is, as shown in John 15:5:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  How quickly you and I forget this!  

Lord Jesus, help us always to remember that you offer the rest, shalom that we need for our souls as well as our bodies.  Remind us to invite Holy Spirit into all we do.  Teach us deeper knowledge on the importance of rest, no matter what we do.  Thank you that you never leave us, even when we seem to forget your promises in scripture and our personal words that jump off the pages of your Word.  Thank you that you never slumber nor sleep in your care for us, while we work or rest.  We are so grateful that you are our Shepherd, keeping us safe in you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I will record an audio version of this article, which will be posted on the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca.  Mouse over the “Listen” drop-down menu, or click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html and when it’s recorded, scroll down to #78! 

If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know! 

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer-free as of February 2021, and as of June 2022, the growth in my right breast is benign!  It was still worth checking.

In Tony’s case, he met his excellent oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in downtown Toronto in June.  She convinced Tony that immunotherapy was the way to go, rather than chemo.  He received his first infusion on July 15th, 2022.  So far, the side effects are minimal, other than tiredness.   His left eye has healed to the extent it ever will,  and in another month we will check on getting an updated eyeglass prescription. 

We ask you to give thanks for the skills of Tony’s doctors, and that the tumour in Tony’s lung lining shrinks and even disappears.   Thanks for coming alongside in encouragement and prayer.   If you feel led to contribute towards medications and hospital parking expenses, this would be most welcome.  Not everything is covered under his senior drug plan and OHIP, but don’t feel obligated.  L-A also has expensive lymphedema treatments that aren’t covered and we are delaying for lack of funds.  But meanwhile, all my teachings are online for free to bless you, with no pressure.  Here is our Paypal for any of you who feel led to contribute: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod

Laurie-Ann’s Colouring Books:   If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, some are available at LeRoux and Fourie wine shop on R60 beside Cape Lime.  This is west of Robertson in Western Cape.  Or you can have your own copies printed for you through Print on Demand through Takealot.com. 

Link for Colouring with Jesus 1:  https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

Link for Colouring with Jesus 2: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486

We plan to republish the updated books in North American format (and in English only) in the future (after taking care of family).   Colouring sheets are available to children’s ministries for free, please just let us know.  Bless you, and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

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