Prioritizing Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29 NIV

How are you doing with rest these days?

There’s this interesting encounter Jesus had with a Canaanite woman who pleaded with Him to heal her daughter. It’s interesting because at first Jesus ignored her. Then, when her persistent pleading grew annoying, the disciples wanted Jesus to send her away. Instead of immediately sending her away, Jesus told her that He had come for the lost sheep of Israel. 

All this seems very un-Christ-like. Where’s His compassion? This would be a simple healing. It’s not like Jesus to ignore people who asked Him for help. 

“Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’”

Matthew‬ ‭15:23‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Eventually, her pleading convinced Jesus to act. But why the delay? Why the debate?

One thought we should consider is that Jesus had taken the disciples to Tyre and Sidon not to do ministry, but to rest. After John the Baptist’s death, when the disciples returned from being sent out two by two for a period of intense ministry throughout Galilee, He told them He wanted to get away with them to rest (and likely grieve). This planned rest was interrupted by the large crowd who followed and found Him when Jesus and the disciples got off the boat in Bethsaida. After a full day of ministry meeting the overwhelming, pressing needs of the crowd, Jesus fed the 5,000.

Was the journey to the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon intended to be a seaside retreat to escape the crowds and find desperately needed rest? Is this why Jesus didn’t want to heal the Canaanite woman’s daughter? News would spread, and crowds seeking healing would come to find the miracle working Messiah, making rest impossible. Was Jesus’ not responding to the Canaanite woman initially the equivalent of Him turning off His cell phone?

This interaction could be viewed as callous and uncaring when He initially ignored her, but could the reality be that in fact Jesus was demonstrating the priority of rest, especially in light of the fact that He’d soon tell the disciples He’d be going to Jerusalem to die?

Jesus knew it was about to get intense. And it did!

The crowds continued to grow. The demands continued to increase. Where a few months earlier Jesus drew a crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children in Jewish town of Bethsaida, after being in Tyre and Sidon He drew a crowd of 4,000 men plus women and children in Gentile region of the Decapolis. 

“Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.”

Matthew‬ ‭15:30‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We find Jesus again and again, in the midst of ministry intensity, getting away from the crowd. Perhaps this was to prioritize rest

“After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.”

Matthew‬ ‭15:39‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Magadan (possibly another name for Magdala) was a smaller town south of Jesus’ base of operations in bustling Capernaum.

“Jesus then left them and went away.”

Matthew‬ ‭16:4‬b NIV‬‬

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’”

Matthew‬ ‭16:13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Caesarea Philippi, north of Galilee, was a center for Pagan Worship, somewhere Jews would not go. The crowds from Galilee would not follow Jesus there, so was this another way to escape the crowds and retreat with His disciples?

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”

Matthew 17:1 NIV

The hike up the mountain with Peter, James and John where Jesus was transfigured was another way to escape the crowds to find a place to pray, reflect, rest, and be with the Father.

It was absolutely critical that Jesus and the disciples prioritized rest at this point because of the intensity of what was coming. The emotional toll would be great. 

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” ‭‭

Matthew‬ ‭16:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Jesus continually modeled the priority of rest.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Luke 5:16 NIV

“Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.”

John 11:54 NIV

“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives.”

Luke 21:37 NIV

Jesus prioritized rest. He got away from the crowds. He practiced solitude.

Jesus prioritized rest. He got away from the craziness. He practiced stillness.

Jesus prioritized rest. He got away from the challenges. He practiced soul-care.

How intense is ministry for you right now? What kind of emotional toll are the demands of ministry taking on your soul and in your relationships? Jesus prioritized rest. Are you? Burning the candle at both ends leaves nothing in the middle. You know what’s in the middle? 

Your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23 NIV

*For a deeper dive into the priority of rest, listen to our recent podcast on Unhurried Leadership with author and D•Conference speaker Alan Fadling.

*To learn more about prioritizing and practicing rest like Jesus, consider joining one of our Healthy Leader Cohorts this Fall as they study The Unhurried Life together.

*For a day of rest and refreshment where you’ll learn about Jesus’ model for healthy practices and rhythms as a leader, participate in one of our regional Repair & Prepare Retreats this Fall.