by Mike Yaconelli
When my children were young, track meets filled part of each week during the spring. One particularly hot spring day, I attended a junior high track meet, arriving in the middle of the boys' 1500 meter race. During the last lap of the race, the audience stood, cheering two boys running side-by-side for the final fifty meters. A short distance behind them ran a pack of about four or five boys jockeying for third place. The crowd broke into applause for the first-and second-place finishers, and then crescendoed as the pack fought for third place.
Another runner suddenly caught my attention. As I looked down the track, I saw one boy lagging far behind. Poor kid. The portly seventh grader struggled for each breath, his face red and sweaty, the main artery in his neck bulging and throbbing to supply oxygen to his deprived muscles. Suddenly the woman to my left stepped over me and rushed down to the railing overlooking the track -- obviously the boy's mother.
She screamed, "Johnny, run faster!"
I wish you could have seen the incredulous look on the boy's face. He had been thinking, Mom! I'm running as fast as I can!
Spiritual growth does not happen by running faster.
What keeps many of us from growing is not sin but speed.
Most of us are like Johnny. We are going as fast as we can, living life at dizzying speed, and God is nowhere to be found. We're not rejecting God; we just don't have time for him. We've lost him in the blurred landscape as we rush to church. We don't struggle with the Bible, but with the clock. It's not that we're too decadent; we're too busy. We don't feel guilty because of sin, but because we have no time for our spouses, our children, or our God. It's not sinning too much that's killing our souls, it's our schedule that's annihilating us. Most of us don't come home at night staggering drunk. Instead, we come home staggering tired, worn out, exhausted, and drained because we live too fast.
Speed is not neutral. Fast living used to mean a life of debauchery; now it just means fast, but the consequences are even more serious. Speeding through life endangers our relationships and our souls.
Voices surround us, always telling us to move faster. It may be our boss, our pastor, our parents, our wives, our husbands, our politicians, or sadly, even ourselves. So we comply. We increase the speed. We live life in the fast lane because we have no slow lanes anymore. Every lane is fast, and the only comfort our culture can offer is more lanes and increased speed limits. The result? Too many of us are running as fast as we can, and an alarming number of us are running much faster than we can sustain.
Speed damages our souls because living fast consumes every ounce of our energy. Speed has a deafening roar that drowns out the whispering voices of our souls and leaves Jesus as a diminishing speck in the rearview mirror.
Spiritual growth is not running faster, as in more meetings, more Bible studies, and more prayer meetings. Spiritual growth happens when we slow our activity down. If we want to stay on the road to faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area, and stop. Christianity is not about inviting Jesus to speed through life with us; it's about noticing Jesus sitting at the rest stop.
While the church earnestly warns Christians to watch for the devil, the devil is sitting in the congregation encouraging everyone to watch for the devil, the devil is sitting in the congregation encouraging everyone to keep busy doing "good things." I just received a letter from a woman minister who was on the edge of crashing and burning. She and her family had joined a growing active church and quickly volunteered to help. But two years later, she realized that her entire family was speeding by each other in unrestrained zeal to lead one activity or another at church every week.
"Run faster!" this woman's church bulletin screamed, but the only way she could save her soul from death was to slow down, which meant finding a new job.
Sin does not always drive us to drink; more often it drives us to exhaustion. Tiredness is equally as debilitating as drunkenness. Burnout is slang for an inner tiredness, a fatigue of our souls. Jesus came to forgive us all of our sins, including the sin of busyness. The problem with growth in the modern church is not the slowness of growth but the rushing of growth.
Jesus came to give us rest.
We know we are ready for God to work in our lives when we're tired. When our lives begin to weigh us down, God is present in the heaviness. It turns out that it's weariness that's next to godliness, because when our souls are tired, we are able to hear his voice, and according to Matthew 11:28, what he's saying is, "Come. Rest."
The ugly truth, however, is that many of us do not know how to rest!
Actually, we do know how to rest; we simply refuse to rest. Rest is a decision we make. Rest is choosing to do nothing when we have too much to do, slowing down when we feel pressure to go faster, stopping instead of starting. Rest is listening to our weariness and responding to our tiredness, not to what is making us tired. Rest is what happens when we say one simple word, "No!" Rest is the ultimate humiliation because in order to rest, we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God's work, does not depend on us. Once we understand how unnecessary we are, only then might we find the right reasons to say yes. Only then might we find the right reasons to decide to be with Jesus instead of working for him. Only then might we have the courage to take a nap with Jesus.