I bought a huge bag of oranges from Costco a couple of weeks ago–mostly for school lunches, healthy snacks at home, and soccer games. I pulled a few out of the bag for our tabletop fruit bowl when I got home, then stored the bag with its remaining oranges in the pantry. Then I kind of forgot they were there.
So when I decided to reload the fruit bowl, I was disappointed to pull the bag out of the pantry and find that at least four of the oranges had turned–they were mushy, smelly and coated in this brownish-green dust that was rubbing off on any good orange they touched. I managed to salvage some, but even those had to be scrubbed after resting in the bag with the bad fruit. It was discouraging to carry that bag, and a good portion of oranges that were too far gone to consume or just too near the mold, out to the trash in our driveway. I thought of the money I was throwing away, the fruit that had gone to waste, and realized that I could have prevented it all if I had been just a little more careful about how I stored the oranges.
As I stood there slightly disgusted, a parallel formed in my mind between the oranges and the life of a Believer, specifically in regard to where and how we rest, spend our downtime and “store” ourselves, and how these choices impact our lives and the lives of those around us.
I have heard pastors in various churches preach their ideas of what it means for Believers to be “in the world, but not of the world”. This exact phrase is actually nowhere to be found in the Bible, but is a summary of a section of scripture from John 17, where Christ is praying the night before His crucifixion.
“...I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17: 14-16, 18).
And then in Galatians, Paul explores the “fruit” or byproducts of walking closely with Christ and in step with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
That Christians are called to be a part of the world, rubbing up against non-Christians, living a life that reflects Jesus by the fruit of the Spirit is not ground-breaking. We all know this to be our God-given role and responsibility. The struggle with this is often in the how we do this. Just how do we represent Christ while being relevant to our culture, our demographic; how do we maintain that “set apart” aspect of walking as a Believer while forging relationships with people who can have a vastly different world view?
I believe the key is found in not our action, but in our inaction, in our rest. And specifically, the kind of rest and relaxation to which we habitually turn.
In Matthew 6: 33, Jesus said:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
And then in Matthew 11: 28-30 He continues:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Even when He preached these words thousands of years ago, Jesus was timely and relevant for today. His audience wasn’t plagued with an overabundance of information, a competitive job market or endless fundraisers. Yet, they needed rest, and although the advancements in technology have made our lives easier in some ways, so do we! We 21st Century Believers have so many choices for how we can spend our downtime–at our fingertips this very moment are, more than likely, 15 things we can do today to unwind. But if you think about it, most of them are simply distractions.
I have been learning this year as my children have gotten older and become more involved in things outside our home, forcing me to become a part time taxi driver (without the pay), that it is so important what I do with my free moments and where my stores of peace lie. I’m learning to be wary of the things that my flesh thinks it NEEDS to relax. If I reach for my phone, I’m bombarded by images and sounds that could be drowning out the voice of God. If I habitually reach for a beer when I’m sitting alone on the sofa for a rare ten minutes, I’m filling my body with a substance that offers a counterfeit joy, and possibly feeds an addiction. If I turn on the TV and zone out, I’m surrendering to the fantasy of escapism.
After reading the paragraph above, some may assume that I’m labeling each of these things as evil in and of themselves. Not true–all of these examples, and others, are indulgences that can be perfectly harmless when relegated to their proper place or occasion. However, I think it’s worth paying attention to where and how we habitually rest. If we run to the Lord when we need filling, respite, and peace, we’ll be fresh and ripe for the harvest, much like my oranges would’ve been if I’d stored them properly in a temperate refrigerator. They would’ve stayed delicious and pleasing, enjoyable to everyone. If we begin to depend on these created things that weren’t meant to fulfill us, the things that offer a counterfeit “rest,” they start to eat away at us and spread rot in our lives. What grows in the darkness in isolation and out of God’s ideal climate can never be healthy for us or for those with whom we come in contact.
If you know the Bible well, you’ll notice that I omitted part of the passage I quoted from John at the beginning of this article. It’s worth noting at the end here:
“Sanctify them by your truth: your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
We can never forget this crucial nugget of Jesus’ prayer to His Father the night He was betrayed and sent to die for us. It is ever so reassuring to me that Christ knew that we would struggle in this world, that it is important for us to know the truth in the midst of our struggles, and that we would recognize the Word (i.e. another name for Jesus) as the truth. And it is only when Believers are resting in Jesus, seeking Him as our means of true escape, that His essence begins to permeate us to the point that we no longer have to try to image Him to our world–like an essential oil, He anoints us with His fragrance which is easily noticeable to those we rub up against. May we not succumb to the false fillers of the world as our means of rest, but run to the One who offers rest in its purest form.