Prayer and Rest

by Barbara L. Peacock   

Dr. James Melvin Washington, who was a professor of church history at Union Theological Seminary and adjunct professor of religion at Columbia University, wrote a very compelling book titled Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayer by African Americans. In it, he reflected on the significance of spending quantitative as well as qualitative time with God. Both aspects of being in God’s presence are necessary and valuable for an intimate relationship with him. It is a beautiful experience to carve out extensive time with him, and it is also a glorious event to be in the moment with him, just appreciating a conscious, fresh breath of his presence. A selah moment. A pause. A time to stop and be with your Creator, your Savior, your God, your friend, your companion. How precious it is to rest in his presence, rest in his arms, rest in him. Just being. No doing. Selah.

The Bible indicates and emphasizes the imperative of rest. In the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel, God commanded them to remember to keep the holy sabbath day as a sacred time of rest (Exodus 20:8-11). Rest is a godly plan for all people, regardless of gender, status, or position. Just as God rested after he created the heavens, the earth, and all therein, he calls his created ones to rest. The focus on this topic continues in Exodus 31, which states the consequence of disobeying the command to rest. The Lord told Moses that anyone who does not revere the command to rest will be put to death, and anyone who works “must be cut off from their people” (Exodus 31:14). Put to death, cut off…God is serious about rest.

The Hebrew word for “rest” is nuakh, which means to be quiet. Another Hebrew word for “rest” is shabbat, meaning to cease. The Greek word for “rest” is anapausis, a call to refreshment. Combining these definitions invites us to a quiet space without struggle that results in a crisp, refreshing season. Oh what a joyful encounter! Entering God’s rest is a call to come away with all aspects of ourselves in the sweet assurance of his presence. Such times are conducive to prayer and encountering God’s awesome presence….

A spiritual hunger for resting and being in the presence of God is birthed and grows innately in the human soul. Within each individual, God has implanted a hunger to be with him. He created us to desire more of him. He crafted us to hunger and thirst for his righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Unfortunately, many people have become so attached to their plans that they don’t notice the absence of God’s divine plan. Their agendas are filled with to-dos that become a temporary substitute for the divine. Eventually, this well runs dry, and an awareness of the need to be with God is heightened….

Dr. Washington was very much aware of how busy schedules sap spiritual intimacy, and he encouraged men and women of God to be intentional about preserving sacred times. The people of God must steal away to be refilled in the presence of God….

It is time to reprioritize our schedules, keeping in mind that the discipline of resting in the presence of God comes with manifold benefits. The God of the 21st-century desires to enrich his relationship with his people today like he did hundreds of years ago with our ancestors. They took the time to pray. When reminiscing on God’s faithfulness toward the slave, Washington noted in the shadow of imperial democracy, when they “‘couldn’t hear nobody pray’ you allowed prayer to thrive among a despised and rejected people.” Dr. Washington’s documentation of the gift of prayer reveals a rich spiritual heritage that will be greatly appreciated for generations to come.

Taken from Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara L. Peacock. ©2020 by Barbara L. Peacock. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

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