When it became clear that I needed to return to the States from Sierra Leone in June 2017, I was in the second major breakdown of my health; the first coming in 1997 when I had brain and spinal surgery for Chiari Malformation. Both of these have resulted in periods of redefining for my life. Recovery from this second health crisis has been much harder and is marked largely by rest, lots and lots of rest. But I’m learning that this isn’t so bad. I’m trying not to fight that need. The Lord is doing a lot in and with me even in what might otherwise look like a time of inactivity.
As with many things in life, rest is what one makes of it. Rather, I should say, how one allows the Lord to make something of it. Handing my quiet, restful times to the Lord for His defining is just as necessary as giving Him my active times of busy service. The Lord even encouraged the disciples in times of rest and leisure: And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. (Mark 6:31) Rest is spiritually, mentally, and physically restorative. Let’s look at some simplified definitions of the word rest, to get a sense of its many usages.
Rest: Cessation of motion or action of any kind, and applicable to any body or being; as rest from labor; rest from mental exertion; rest of body or mind. A body is at rest when it ceases to move; the mind is at rest when it ceases to be disturbed or agitated; the sea is never at rest.
Quiet; repose; a state free from motion or disturbance; a state of reconciliation to God
Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls. (Matthew 11:28).
To lie; to repose; as, to rest on a bed.
All of these definitions help me to see how times of rest are needful in anyone’s life, not just the ill or infirm. But I have reserved one definition for last as it has become very special to me as I consider rest in terms of the refining my life: the rest in music is a pause; an interval during which the sound is intermitted; a symbol that marks the absence of a note.
I have an old and tattered, well worn, copy of Streams in the Desert (Vol. 1), by Mrs. Lettie Cowman, given to me by a dear sister in the Lord just a couple of months before she passed away; a resident of the nursing home (a rest home!) in which we ministered for 13 years. In that dearly loved little book is an entry about this very kind of redefining through rest. I had never really paid close attention to this particular entry, dated for January 22, even though I have combed through this book many, many times over the years it has been in my possession. But during my current years of illness and rest, this devotional entry has come to be very instructive.
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“There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by “rests,” and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator.
How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between.
Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the “rests.”
They are not to be slurred over, nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.”
— John Ruskin (1819-1900)
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The rest in music is all about knowing when not to play. For the tune to be right, for the rhythm to be maintained, it is vital to know when not to play, and thus allow the Lord to make the music of my life as He sees best. Come ye apart a while and rest. Forever? No, come rest for just a while.