“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31
The deep spiritual rest that comes from silent waiting meditation produces a kind of divine “kinetic energy” that results in power and action. It’s like getting lifted to a higher place, to a higher platform. Impact and fruitfulness in life is then like diving off that platform. Isaiah 40 beautifully describes this with the image of the eagle being lifted up effortlessly by heat thermals that press up against its outstretched wings. In the same way God’s divine energy replenishes our human weakness when we wait on him, and we need this because “even youths grow tired and weary”. As we we connect with God in silent meditation, He breathes the energy of divine life into our deepest hearts; this is the fuel for true impact and fruitfulness.
All motion begins with rest, and rest is a core part of the spiritual journey. But resting as the Bible describes it is an action, something that requires intention. Deep heart-level connection with God in meditation is the source of spiritual rest.
The Need for Spiritual Rest
As we all know, rest is important for the body, and that is why we sleep every 24 hours. But we are more than just a body; deeper than the body is the soul and we also understand that we need rest for our mind and emotions, though not everybody knows how to do this well. Again, we are more than a mind with emotions; there is a deeper “ground of being” to our lives that is our heart, our spirit, and this is where rest is most important, because this is the “life source” of our being. Spiritual rest, however, is not like going to sleep. Rather, it’s connecting to the Source of Everything, to God’s divine presence.
A great picture of this is the story of Mary and Martha. The latter was working herself to frustration in the kitchen while Mary “sat at the feet of Jesus”, connected in her heart to Him and being energized by His presence and words. Jesus commended Mary and not Martha: “Mary has chosen the better way, and it will not be taken away from her’. Activity without spiritual connection to God’s presence is Martha-like, empty and frustrating. Mary, on the other hand, gained something eternal: a deeper heart connection with God. “It will not be taken away” because knowing God is the unique opportunity that begins in this life, and that never ends.
One of the great paradoxes of the spiritual journey is that the more we focus on connection with the divine Presence, the more we “abide in the vine”, the more true fruit we generate, and the greater the eternal value we gain. Isaiah 64:4 says it very well, “He is a God who works for those who wait on Him.” The corollary is also true: when we “work” frantically in a disconnected way like Martha did, God seems to stand back and wait for us to finish and hit the inevitable point of frustration so that we can learn something. When we wait on Him, He begins to work for us, through us and in us.
Centering prayer is an important way of practicing rest at the deepest spiritual level. It also rests the mind and the body, but the spiritual work of silent waiting on God is it’s greatest fruit.
What is Spiritual Rest?
Here are several thoughts to understand spiritual rest. Consider these and the scriptures for each as “fuel” for your intention in centering prayer.
- Rest is being set free from the evil in our hearts by stepping into Christ. This is the primary meaning of “rest” in the New Testament, and the primary meaning of Hebrews 4, the “rest chapter”. Rest is entering the ark to be saved from the flood, it’s entering Christ’s life, the Ark of God. Leviticus 26:6 “I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate [shabat] harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land.” This, and may other promises of protection from evil, are the result of spiritual rest in Christ.
- Rest is letting go of false drives, of the “hamster wheels” inside of us that are seeking happiness in the wrong places. Repentance means to change how we search for happiness – from the unhealthy need for control, affirmation and security, to God instead. Isaiah 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” This verse neatly shows the connection between repentance and rest. This was discussed extensively in our 6th introductory session on centering prayer.
- Rest is freedom from worry and freedom from worry is rooted in a heart-level knowledge of God’s care. Matthew 6:31-32 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
- Rest is awareness of God’s grace. Hebrews 4:9-11, 16 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest …Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The interesting connection in this verse is between rest and approaching the ”throne of grace” which are ultimately the same thing.
- Rest is consciousness of the love of God. A beautiful picture is given by Moses in his last days after leading Israel through 40 years of wilderness travel in Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms.” Moses sees that despite all the heat, struggle and hard living, the reality of Israel’s journey was that they were resting in the “everlasting arms” of God’s love all the way.
- Rest comes from giving the Holy Spirit more place in our lives. As our false self is purged by Christ’s work, the Presence of God is able to occupy more of our internal “space” and this gives greater rest, freedom and peace. A great verse on rest is Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Meditating on this verse once it struck me that the “yoke” Christ puts on us is the Holy Spirit, His own living Presence. The “permeation” of the Holy Spirit through our lives through centering prayer was discussed extensively in several of our introductory sessions, particularly the final one.
- Rest is growing in the awareness that everything about our identity and destiny is freely given to us by God and empowered by Him. The first mention of rest, God’s sabbath after His creative work, shows Him resting in the reflection of the goodness of everything He made. As we enter His rest, we also reflect that we are a good creation of His, having the identity of being His children. Genesis 1:31 – 2:3 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
- Rest is getting satisfaction from something God gives you, that you didn’t earn for yourself. This is the meaning of Deuteronomy 8:3 which describes the reason for Israel’s desert experience: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
- Rest is being comfortable that at times God wants you to do nothing, in the same sense that Mary was doing “nothing” at Jesus feet compared to Martha. As discussed earlier, Mary was in fact doing the only thing that was important. Thomas Keating says, “more often than you think, God wants you to do nothing, and it takes a surprisingly long time.”
- Rest produces peace which is a spiritual force, a shield around you. Rest is the action that produces peace. In a sense “rest” is the verb for which “peace” is the noun. Peace isn’t just a dandelion in your mouth sitting in the sun, it’s a white fire of energy inside of you, that kinetic energy that leads to effective fruitfulness and action.
The Goal of Centering Prayer
Spiritual rest is one of the goals of centering prayer and all of the aspects described above are “at work” during this time of heart level connection with God. In centering prayer:
- We’re releasing false drives and experiencing freedom from evil in our hearts;
- We’re increasing the space into which the Holy Spirit can permeate deeply within us;
- We’re growing in knowing the love, grace and kindness of God. Rather than conceptual “mind knowledge” we’re experiencing the depths of God’s love in the heart as meant by the Bible words for “know”, gnosis and yada and their subsequent Latin translation, contemplatio;
- We’re experiencing God’s action in and through us – who we are and what we should do is taking shape, our identity and destiny;
- Like Mary we’re choosing the better part, and God is at work while we wait.
The sacred word in centering prayer is “shorthand” for our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within us. Now, with an understanding of the beautiful concept of spiritual rest, we include in the meaning of the sacred word, “I rest in you”.
Watch the discussion session after a group session of centering prayer together.
This is the first in a series of sessions aimed at deepening the experience of centering prayer, Christian meditation or “silent waiting on God” as the Bible terms it. To learn the foundations of centering prayer, watch, listen to or read our 8 session introductory course.