She balanced spinning plates on the sticks in her hands, on her forehead, and in her mouth. The petite Chinese performer twisted her body like a rubber band, magically keeping everything in place. We watched with anticipation as the plates whirled—if one of them slowed down, even for an instant, it would come crashing to the ground and ruin her performance.
In more than one season of life, I’ve felt like this acrobat, balancing spinning plates on the ends of sticks. Make one more phone call, complete one more project, cross one more item off the list. If any one thing is ignored, everything might come crashing down and ruin my performance.
Are You Physically Tired?
When I ask young people, “How are you?” the most frequent answer I hear is, “Tired.” When I ask adults the same question, they respond, “Busy.” Both point to a lack of rest.
According to a national study, an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans report ongoing sleep problems: not enough sleep, sleep at the wrong time, or poor quality sleep. Sleep deficiency has been linked to heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression . Sleepiness also leads to cloudy judgment and countless accidents, some of them tragic.
Our relationships also suffer without sleep. Too often I’ve snapped at my kids because I was tired. How many poor decisions could I have avoided if I’d just been more rested?
Maybe you try to rest, but a racing mind makes rest elusive. Or maybe the workload is exhausting and there’s no time for rest. The work may be ministry, home, or career-driven—all good work—yet rest is necessary for us all.
God gives us the example of physical rest when he rested from creation (Genesis 2:1-3). Jesus, too, slept when he was in need of physical rest (Matthew 8:24). So we would do well to follow God’s commandment to cease from our work and rest (Exodus 20:8-11), to alleviate the chronic weariness experienced by young and old alike.
Are You Spiritually Tired?
I often wonder if my lack of physical rest is a symptom of a deeper problem: a lack of spiritual rest. For those who’ve not yet received the gift of salvation, the spiritual struggle to make ourselves right with God is exhausting and fruitless work. For believers who’ve trusted Christ with their salvation, spiritual pride may prompt us to work as though ministry depends on us rather than the Lord. We may forget that our growth in holiness is prompted and finished by his Spirit, not our mere moral efforts made through gritted teeth.
If the burden you’re carrying has worn you out, Jesus’ invitation is, “Come to me.” Just come. In him, you’ll find the ultimate rest your soul needs:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Salvation isn’t earned; it is received. Jesus paid our sin-debt in full when he died on the cross and resurrected to eternal life; therefore, we can quit trying to earn his approval or the approval of other people. Our souls can rest.
Run with Endurance
Does the need for rest mean we can quit the work ahead? Absolutely not. Jesus’ finished work on the cross not only gives us the gift of spiritual rest, but also the gift of endurance:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1, 3)
If you’ve never received Christ’s gift of salvation, you may be on life’s treadmill, working hard to please God and others. But working to earn God’s favor won’t bring rest; the heaviness of sin is too exhausting and impossible to overcome without Christ.
Believers may still fall into the trap of working to earn Jesus’ approval. If I make a mistake, I feel unworthy of his love. When I do well, I’m tempted to pat myself on the back and enjoy a moment of spiritual pride. But God’s Word teaches us that works never earn God’s approval. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
For all of us plate-spinners, his Sabbath rest is available. And because of this soul-rest, we find the endurance we need so we do not grow weary or fainthearted.