Thirty-three and a half years ago, my husband and I moved to the small rural town of Lake Placid, Florida. Having grown up in the quiet farming community of Napoleon, Ohio, I loved the peace and friendliness that comes from a small town. While my husband's hometown was larger (Defiance, Ohio), there was still the congenial atmosphere that comes from knowing your neighbors and sharing life together. When he went off to professional school, we were both exposed to large city living.
After spending four years in the city of Columbus, Ohio, where my husband attended the College of Optometry, we were both ready for a slower pace of living. Large cities are great to visit or shop in, but this "country mouse" enjoys freedom from "rush hour" traffic, lower crime rates,
less noise, and the opportunity to know your neighbors. As a result, our choice of small town Florida was a "no brainer" for us. We had a chance to breathe, slow down, and enjoy family.
Even in our spiritual lives, we have a deep need to find that quiet place where we can retreat with God. The fast pace of every day living drains us of all our reserves both physically and spiritually. No matter where we live, all of us need to be able to find that soul reviving spot where we can be near to the heart of God.
Our first invitation to find rest comes from our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." At first glance, this appears to be a sweet call to lay down our burdens. Indeed it is but we need to understand the context. The religious Pharisees at the time our Lord walked the earth had made people believe that following the Law brought salvation. However, because man is sinful and incapable of obedience to God's Law, this job was impossible. All fall short in this area. None of us is capable of keeping the Law. Jesus' invitation to come to Him brought freedom from the bondage of sin. His yoke brings rest. Unfortunately, as believers, we can pick those nasty, heavy burdens up again when we begin to think that we can do this "Christian life" in our own strength. This is when we need a prayer retreat right where we live. Coming to Jesus, laying the burdens down (especially things we have no control over) and putting on His yoke through prayer brings rest to our soul and rejuvenation.
A second place we need to visit is the valley where we find rest and where our "Good Shepherd" leads us beside the still waters. Psalm 23, while short, offers us a picture of what it means to be a sheep of God's fold. In verse 1 and 2, we see the Lord as our shepherd who makes a place for us to rest and drink deeply of His refreshing water. We know from the conversation that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman that He is the living water that satisfies our thirst forever. So where can we find this living water? According to Ephesians 5:26-27, we find it in the Word of God: "...that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish." This is where we find "living" water daily. It is to be our food.
As the Psalm goes on, we see our Shepherd leading us in paths of righteousness and even guiding us through the "valley of the shadow of death". He is there to comfort us, console us and protect us. The concluding verses teach us that God has prepared a table for us and a cup of oil with which to anoint us. This means we are set apart, chosen, elect. However, the key thing to remember is that to be near to the heart of God is to be in His Word. This is the valley of rest, the stream of "living" water, and the cup of anointing for us. If we need refreshment, quiet and peace, we will find it in the Holy Bible.
Finally, when we really want that feeling of drawing near to God's heart, we will find it in corporate worship with other believers. While prayer and Bible reading can be done alone in retreat mode, fellowship provides rest from the assaults of the world upon our thinking. Here we are surrounded by other saints of like mind who can encourage, exhort, lift up, and hold us accountable. God wants us to draw near to Him, but He does not ask us to go to a monastery to accomplish this. We were made for community because there is strength in numbers. In addition, we have others to pray for us and hold us up when we think we cannot go on. Hebrews 10:23-25 reads: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." This is not unlike a small hometown. We know each other, love each other and help one another.
When we seek to draw near to God, He draws near to us. We have a perfect formula for finding rest, peace and joy in this busy, hectic world. Simply come to Jesus and lay down our burdens in prayer. Then rest in the valley of our Shepherd and find "living" water in His Word which cleanses us and renews our mind and finally, we can enjoy the fellowship of the saints. Worshipping together brings encouragement to go on through our busy weeks. As the holidays approach, we have even more need to escape the hustle and bustle and find time to come near the heart of God. So whether you live in a city or are a country mouse like me, we must remember to take time to draw near to God's heart. As we do, we will find the rest and quiet that will calm our hearts and give us strength for tomorrow. Selah!