"Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you." (Psalm 116:7)
I have always found rest difficult. I’m one of those people who could easily fall into being a workaholic. A few years ago, I hadn’t been feeling well for an extended period of time, so I finally went to the doctor. He drew blood, tested my vitals, did a handful of other tests, and then sat down and asked me some questions about my average week. Here was his diagnosis: “You don’t get enough rest. You’re otherwise completely healthy. But if you don’t get more rest.” No pills. No shots. The prescription I was given was, “You need to do nothing more often.”
Spiritual rest (rest for the soul) is even more difficult than physical rest. It seems antithetical to “fruit-bearing.” Bearing fruit is something Christians spend significant amounts of time talking, writing, preaching, and arguing about. For many, it has become a wellspring of vexation. We ask, “How is my fruit? Am I bearing enough? Is it the right color and shape?” Sadly, we create all kinds of stress and insecurity out of something that is supposed to bring us comfort and peace. Fruit-bearing is a promise from God we wrongly take upon ourselves to try and make good on.
Want a low-pressure statement? “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
If you can get past the initial offense of being pathetic, this statement from the lips of Jesus is incredibly freeing. I don’t care how bad you want to bear some sanctified fruit; apart from Christ, it isn’t going to happen. The fruit of the Spirit is called “the fruit of the Spirit” for a reason—it’s his fruit.
Jesus calls himself “the Vine.” That is, he is the only thing you must be connected to in order to have life. He and he alone is the source of any good fruit in anyone. And he says, “whoever abides in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5)—it’s a promise, an absolute certainty.
So the question isn’t, “Am I bearing fruit?” Your question should be, “Am I trying to do something (anything) apart from Christ?” Lack of effort isn’t the sworn enemy of fruit-bearing. Self-sufficiency is.
Abiding in Christ is the only way fruit grows. And we try to turn it into a work we perform—which is the exact opposite of abiding. So you ask, “What does abiding look like?” Check out the story of Mary and Martha from the gospel of Luke.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
That is what rest and abiding look like; sitting and listening at the feet of Jesus. Abiding is staying put. And that’s not a very demanding “one necessary thing.” True rest will always be confused with being lazy or idle. Those with even the smallest amount of self-sufficiency refuse to be reduced to this kind of humble abiding. It’s death to the old sinful, self-reliant us. We’d much rather be “distracted with much serving.” The old Adam in all of us wants to escape from the feet of Jesus to help Martha wash the spiritual dishes.
The same Jesus who said, “Abide in me” also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). And these statements are not speaking about a contradictory paradox. Abiding is finding rest at the feet of Jesus. It’s coming just as you are, hearing his word of pardon, and not leaving for some independent pursuit of sexier fruit.
If you’ll stay put, God might just do something through you. He might even have a piece of fruit (or two) pop right out of you. In fact—he promises he will!
Lack of rest will kill you. But the psalmist has the prescription. Bid your soul to return to the restful feet of Jesus. He has dealt bountifully with us. There is no reason to ever leave.