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‘Striving to Enter Rest’

November 2008

Dear Friends,

So many of us are busy, I have decided to take as the pastoral letter another of Mr Still’s: this one is about ‘striving to enter rest.’

I think it is possible that those of you who think his practical advice unrealistic might be the very people who – if you make ways of taking it – will be most grateful for it, in the long haul.

Mr Still cannot be read at speed; you have to concentrate and think as you read him. But there is a wisdom here which is hugely worth taking on board.

Yours sincerely,

C. Peter White

"My Dear Friends,

I see many problems of life, involving ages almost from infancy to decrepitude, which can be solved only by what is represented by the four letter word “rest”.

Now this word has associations which can be unfortunate; for example, it is usually associated with the needs of the sick, the weary, and the worn, whereas it is perhaps better thought of as the need of the young, the healthy, and the active to enable them to maintain and even increase their youth, health, and vigour. The way to avoid becoming sick, weary, and worn, is to understand the rhythms of a well-ordered life, and begin to practise them, like a sequence of physical or musical exercises, until they fall into a routine which is healthful, pleasurable, and profitable. Yes; but you may say, it is all very well to live a well-ordered life, but even so, we grow old and tired and weary. Of course, and that is just what is in my mind, for I wish I could prescribe a way of life which from its earliest years inculcates a pattern of living which enables us, if we survive, to come to old age with the kind of restful naturalness that can be enjoyed.

Now, that is fundamental to life, as I can show from the Word of God. One of the most magnificent parables of our salvation is that of the Sabbath, the Day of Rest, which God first enjoyed and then offered to His highest creature, man. In a sense, all God’s efforts to save us are an attempt (a successful one, happily; His intentions never misfire) to make us relax and rest in Him. (Just jump from the references to the Sabbath Day in Genesis two, and Exodus twenty, to Hebrews three and four, and you will see what this is all about). What is the Good News but that we are in need of saving, and can do nothing to save ourselves, for all our self-efforts are hampered by our foe who works against us within us. So God comes, and does it all, in Jesus Christ His Son, our Pattern and Saviour. All this we know, but do we apply it to our lives in their practical details? No; because Satan sees to it that we are kept in such a state of ferment that even in discussing the theory of salvation as rest, and in offering it to others, we are denying it ourselves, by the feverishness of our lives. This ought not to be and must not be, if we are to be any pleasure to God and to ourselves, and if we are to be any help to others.

People sometimes remark on the amount of work that I seem to get through. Well, that is a long story, and I ought not to talk about myself; but perhaps some things can be safely said. If you lived with me you might think, What a lazy fellow! He is always knocking off for a breather, or is for ever slumping into that too-comfortable chair and putting his feet up, as if he hadn’t a care in the world when there are all those people to attend to and so many letters to answer and that Bible study to get down to. (That’s a bit of an exaggeration!) But what I am really trying to do is learn about the rhythms of a well-ordered life. You know, I declare that one of the reasons why children grow up to be so difficult is that they are living in an atmosphere in which there is no spirit of rest, and the last thing that is conveyed to them is what they need the most - all the more because they are themselves bundles of restless energy - namely a sense of repose.

Now some young parents who read this and whose infants are at the worst stage of rowdyism will laugh, and say, ‘That man just doesn’t know what he is talking about.’ Well, I was brought up as one of six, and ours was a normally busy home life, but there was a sense of repose (although there was perhaps more than usual in it to get hot and bothered about), and I did learn that it was of benefit, sometimes, to be still (no pun intended) and quiet, and let life tick over for a bit in aid of more fruitful actions afterwards. This stood me in good stead when a fever of nervous restlessness afflicted me, for then my mind and heart were anchored even when physically and emotionally I was distraught, and this probably saved me from doing irreparable harm to myself.

In the worst of those days of near dementia it was a text from Isaiah which crystallized the philosophy which saved my life, burned into my mind as it had been through an anthem we often used to sing; “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee because he trusteth in Thee” (26. 3). You see, real rest is like a car going in for servicing, or rather, like coming to a standstill, with the engine silenced, in order to be serviced. But if we leave the rest and the servicing too long, we become confirmed in our restless activity and the state of exhaustion we are in is hid under a deceptive fury of involuntary busyness until we collapse in a heap. The reason why the sleep of many does not restore as it ought is that they leave it too long until the over-wrought body and mind refuse to stop: and sleep, even when it comes, is light and fitful, and too soon the human mechanism leaps into involuntary action again, and we go through another day worn out, yet restless.

Busy people most of all need to learn to relax: it is the high road to efficiency. If one lives through a day of fourteen to sixteen hours there ought to be at least twice in that time a period of a quarter to a half-an-hour of real relaxation. Did not Winston Churchill “win the war” by sleep? A counsel of perfection, you say, with children running all over the place. But it is an ideal we must tend towards, and perhaps with a determined effort we may get nearer it than we suppose. What is needed is a comfortable chair in the quietest place possible with one’s feet up, and then practise relaxation, beginning consciously with the different parts of the body until one has slumped into the nearest possible to dead-weight repose. One may not sleep, but it is astonishing how near one can come to it with practice. Even a quarter of an hour of this can make all the difference to the second or third division of the day. You will find that the mind which at first is obstinately restless and runs all over the place and thinks of a stream of things that ought to be done at once, even to the extent of leaping up and exclaiming, ‘Oh, I must.... ’ can be trained until you learn to say to yourself, ‘No, you mustn’t. Sit down: that is what you must do, now!’ And this is training for living, which is going to make you happier, easier to live with, and more efficient in all you try to do. More than that (and this is one of the most important things I have to say) it will inculcate a pattern and rhythm of rest and activity into your life that will stand you in good stead in old age when you have to cope with various infirmities when, perhaps, a heart condition or other ailment tends to make you nervous and restless or when you view your vanishing usefulness with resentment, and want to justify yourself by forever getting in the way of younger people and trying to show them that you are not getting old! I am sure that youth and middle age are given us as times of training for withstanding the peculiar demons who come to try us in old age and which try to filch from us, after a lifetime of Christian enjoyment and service, the reward we ought to earn by enduring to the end.

Now I know that this will make some furious; that doesn’t daunt me. It only convinces me the more that this is what many need. And in time, if you really practise this you will find a new strength and self-control coming to you, and people will see your poise and wonder whence it comes. I am saying all this, of course, in a Christian context, and wouldn’t want anyone to be naive enough to think that such a simple pattern will do very much for those who haven’t the basic blessing of God’s salvation, His indwelling presence. Nor do I forget that there are those so inveterately lazy that this would be the worst advice in the world for them. Nonetheless, I think that there are more people today in need of this than of the opposite. Another day perhaps we will consider the lazy, but then it may be that some are branded lazy because they are not forever in a fever of restless activity. What impresses me about people who have achieved lasting good with their lives is that they often seem so relaxed - not dull, moronic, or lifeless, but sweetly poised and serene - that you wonder when they do the work they evidently get through. I would like to be like them. Wouldn’t you?

Come then, like good children of our heavenly Father, let us try to achieve that full health of rounded personality (“Let us strive to enter into rest” says the writer to the Hebrews, 4.11) which will commend itself to those around us, until they discover that it all comes from Jesus Christ, from Him and from Him only, from Whom we learn that detachment from the fever of life which allows Him to have His blessed and fruitful way in our lives.
Yours sincerely,

WILLIAM STILL"

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