How Do I Engage?

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace.”

Thomas Merton – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

40 Days 2020 is a time to cease striving, rest, and enjoy the Lord’s presence. In the midst of a world full of noise and busyness, engaging this rest can be frustrating, confusing and offensive. In all manner of work and ministry, cultural forces often demand harder work, greater productivity, and increased efficiency. The natural movement between rest and work, once well understood and practiced by followers of Jesus, is largely lost in communities that thrive on drivenness. Rest is often considered an optional activity, and even when recognized, succumbs to definitions relating mostly to recreation and entertainment.

Below are common questions and concerns regarding the validity of and engagement with times of rest/abiding/ceasing and fasting.

What does it mean to “cease striving” for 40 days?

Psalm 46:8-10 eloquently speaks to this:

Come and see the works of the Lord , the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. “Be still [cease striving], and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

In the psalm God calls people to trust in his protection, to behold the battlefield created through their warring, and heed the command to cease. That ceasing can come in the form of time away from responsibilities, silence, and more broadly to let go of our sense of control and contribution. To cease striving is to abandon a self-driven agenda, one that often creates internal and external conflict.

We face anxiety, strife, and even panic as we labor to see the lost come to Jesus. God calls us to step away from this fretting over burdens that are far too big for us to carry. He lets us encounter the internal disaster of burnout and calls us to his easy yoke. There will always be work to do, but he calls us to face life and ministry from a place of centeredness and rest.

How can I cease striving when I have responsibilities at work, home, school, etc.?

God calls us to an attainable rest in all life situations. A mother of small kids, a business executive, a teen and a full time evangelist all have the grace to cease. Tension arises when we misunderstand our role in God’s work. He does not need us. He delights to employ us as his servants, but foremost is the reality that we can do nothing without abiding in him.

When we consider responsibilities with a sense of privilege instead of necessity, it is easier to see what things can be set aside and what things must continue. When we carry burdens that are not ours, we feel stress and fear. When we carry what God has placed in our hands, we serve from a place of peace. We are freed from needless burdens, and we handle the ones entrusted to us from a place of gratitude.

The key is to prayerfully talk with God about his desires for your life. If we can take entire days off work, that’s wonderful. If you have the ability to take a long time away, that is great care for your soul. At the same time, if you have small kids the schedule and practice will probably look different. You may have short times every day to rest. You might have a day or weekend away. Whatever your life circumstance, talk with the Lord and he will provide creative ways for you to engage times of cessation.

Is it okay to take time off? Is that good stewardship?

Yes, it’s more than okay, it’s commanded! In the very act of creation, God presented a posture of rest. When he gave the law to the Israelites, mandatory Sabbath rest was at the core of community rhythm. In giving, the Israelites were ordered to regularly observe festivals and spend their time and money in worship and partying. Jesus told us that if we do not abide in the vine, we can do nothing. Hebrews says there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

In any business or ministry, caring for the souls of people is a critical investment. It greatly increases the Return on Investment and is significant asset protection. As a field worker, a tremendous cash and time investment is lost when people do not rest and return home after becoming overwhelmed by the pains of their new environment.

Further, children, spouses, employees, team mates and new believers all need discipleship in rest. If you never cease and rest, they will not cease. Your own modeling of rest builds tremendous resiliency into whatever work you foster. It also brings your loved ones into actual encounter with God, not a mere intellectual membership.

How can I prepare to engage the 40 Days?

The most important thing is to prayerfully consider God’s call for you. He knows your best way to engage the 40 Days. Here are some other helpful ideas:

  • Talk to people around you and tell them what you’re doing. This communication will help them understand end even support you. People will often happily do extra so you can rest.
  • Ask your boss or overseer if it’s okay to take some time away. Having that permission can bring peace of mind and let you more freely engage times away.
  • Plan ahead. Whether you are taking 30 minutes a day or a week on retreat, find people that can help cover your responsibilities. Consider all your logistical needs and make a plan to deal with whatever is necessary. Note that we have a checklist to help with this preparation.
  • Do this in community. Taking a whole family into a rest time help everyone give space to others. Having a team take a portion of the day to rest gives camaraderie and mutual encouragement. It also provides friends who can talk with you about the journey.
  • Pick a good location for times of quiet. Get away from distractions and leave behind or limit use on things like computers and cell phones.
  • Find good resources to help you engage. Engage practices that are helpful to you. Don’t trust to spontaneity if you don’t already have the experience to know this can work for you. Most people need some form of structure or they become hopelessly distracted. NOTE that we have many resources and worship ideas you can try.

How can I participate in the fasting aspect of 40 days?

Participants are welcome to fast in any way you like for any portion of the 40 days. This may be include fasting daily, weekly, over several days or the entire time. This may also be a food fast and/or include fasting from certain activities. It is best to pray and ask God for a good way to fast. He leaves the door open for us to draw near and make the interior sacrifice. Walk in freedom to choose what’s best for your life season.

Fasting is done for many reasons. During this 40 days, the call is to a fast of intimacy. As the body of Christ praying for and working among Muslims, we take time to step back from our typical lives and deepen our relationship with God.

Here are some links to some helpful coaching:

How to do a Biblical Fast – Discussion of fasting motives and practical tips on how to prepare and exit the fast

Prayer and Fasting – Discussion of reasons to fast and practical tips on how to prepare for, walk out, and exit the fast

Note that fasting times are great times to practice abiding activities. As you remove something from life, fill in that space with intentional connection with God. This is one of the most profitable ways to engage!

When practicing “abiding prayer,” how do I regard petition and intercession?

Abiding prayer is centered on the person and character of God. The actual expression of this relationship is as varied as relationships between humans. We each have different ways to connect with God and appreciate him. We also have unique ways we receive his life giving touch.

The key to this form of prayer is letting God be the agent. In petition and intercession, we see a problem and we ask God to intervene. In meditation, we consider a scripture and we bring our mind to bear. The abiding stance is one of presenting yourself before the Lord and waiting for his move. The posture is illustrated well through Esther and her romance of Xerxes. She had a clear need, but she patiently wooed the king by partying for many nights. During the 40 days, we guard our hearts by inviting the Lord to be with us one more night. We restrain the ask and deepen our relationship with him.

Still, there is great freedom to respond to God. When he moves, we interact. If he reveals a place of wounding, our response may be a broken cry for help. When he shows us his pain for the people we love, our hearts may ache and beg his mercy in response. They key is that we leave the initiation to him by releasing our agendas. Note that the Hezekiah Scroll is a place to engage this exact tension. When we recognize the need, this is a practical way to place it before the Lord, trusting that he sees and knows already.

Last, it is helpful to remember that abiding and work are not two separate actions. They are a movement, a flow of posture in our relationship with God. There are times to work overtime, and there are times to go on Sabbatical. The 40 days is a moment in time to especially focus on adoring our King.