The Rest is Worship
Why do you rest - to recharge your depleted batteries? To recover because you’re exhausted? To unwind from the stresses of living in 2023, whether those are political, social, domestic, digital… or even church-based?
And what is rest, anyway? A lie-in, a box-set binge, over-reliance on alcohol or comfort eating, endless social media scrolling…?
What is worship?
In the last couple of years we’ve sensed God whispering a different set of answers to these questions. The whisper goes something like this: “the rest is worship.” We know that singing and praying and sacraments can be worship. The church is beginning to realise that work, and things like environmental care and social justice, are also worship. But alongside these very active expressions of worship there is also a passive, still, yielding response to God - the rest is worship.
We’ve come to the conclusion that rest is a gracious invitation from the God who rests (Gen 2:2), spoken to us by Jesus: “Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31). By choosing to rest we obey Jesus’ invitation and give God glory. We stop chasing the idol of our own productivity and reestablish God on the throne of our lives. And as we rest we remove distractions, become present to the reality of our lives, and create space to know God on a deeper level: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10).
This has led us to a few conclusions...
Firstly, we’ve realised that personally we could get a whole lot better at resting! Many of those things we used to think of as restful - escaping into our phones, retail therapy, an overly busy social calendar and so on, often turn out to be “counterfeit rest”. It’s the rest sold to us by tech companies, advertisers and a demanding society. We’ve found true rest in things like regular rhythms of quiet prayer, in nature, in a simplified Sabbath observance and in putting boundaries around our phones and our commitments.
Secondly, we’ve realised that very often church worship itself can be the antithesis of restful. Rotas demand our attendance. Technologically complex music and screens create new levels of toil. Expectations of a slick, seamless and packed church service creates stress for leaders and volunteers.
So we’ve been on a journey, firstly to work out simpler, more restful rhythms for our family and personal lives. But secondly to try and work out ways of doing church worship which encourage rest. We’ve focused on simple songs which require minimal instruments and technology. We’ve explored contemplative reflection, and prayers which we repeat rather than re-inventing the wheel each week. Service plans have been simplified to create more space for silence and slowness. Rotas have been replaced by inviting whoever shows up on Sunday to help with accessible tasks. We’ve been amazed that as our church leadership has prioritised rest, recovery and our relationships with God, attendance on Sundays has been growing. As regular attenders of this church, we’re seeing the fruit of rest in worship before our eyes.
The outworking of this journey for us has been a new book, The Rest Is Worship. The 40 short chapters are designed to help you explore what rest as worship looks like in your own life, and the last section gets you thinking about the implications of rest for gathered Sunday worship. For pastors and worship leaders we’ve also produced a Leaders’ Resource eBook, which gives you further ideas for restful gathered worship, prayer resources, songs and more.
Here are three reflection questions for you:
1. Think about times you designate in your life as “rest”? How truly restorative are they, or are some of the things you do “counterfeit rest”? How can you respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” (Matt 11:28, MSG)
2. What holds you back from saying no to busyness? Are there some good things which have become an idol in your life? How might saying no be an act of worship, and how can you receive God’s help to do that?
3. How restful would you say your Sunday worship feels? Do you have any influence to try and slow things down, simplify how worship is led, or reduce demands on leaders and volunteers? What might that look like?
Sam and Sara Hargreaves lead https://engageworship.org/, resourcing local churches for innovative and world-changing worship.
Sam and Sara Hargreaves, 17/03/2023