Note to reader: This is part two in an ongoing series on the relationship of heart health to spiritual health. You can read the previous post here. As always, seek your health care provider for medical advice.
“Answers in Genesis” is in the news lately because the new Speaker of the House is a fan of that ministry, whose stated purpose is to defend a literal six-day creation narrative and young earth as the interpretation of the first two chapters of the Bible. A favorite book of mine makes it clear that presenting a literal young earth to the world wasn’t and isn’t the point of the creation narrative. As I grow older, though, I’m increasingly coming to believe that the biggest danger among those intent on making a ‘young earth’ the most important topic of Genesis 1 is that the conversation veils the more important truths that Genesis 1 is trying to teach us.
Here’s one of those important truths, perhaps even THE most important truth of Genesis 1: “…and there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5) In this little phrase we learn the primal rhythm of all creation, which is that evening is the start of the day.
This declaration by our Creator is more than just an observation of sequence. In fact, it's unclear that it is even sequentially accurate. Since the first thing to be created was light, one would think the text would read, “and there was morning and there was evening, the first day.” Instead we start with evening. Why?
The answer is in keeping with God’s character throughout the entire Bible, which is that God is trying to teach us that everything always begins with rest and receiving. Production, generativity, creativity, working for justice, making a living, building things, caring for one’s family, and the forest, voting (if we’re granted that privilege), protesting, resisting power structures that incite idolatry, fighting racism, investing our time and money wisely, and literally every other thing we do, are all intended to flow out from receiving and rest.
Everything on the planet exists because it first received from the creator. No life “self generates” - all life is created, and if we believe that God is ‘above all and in all and through all’ as Paul declares in Ephesians 4:6, then we’ll believe that God is the source, the headwaters of all life. Which is to say: all life begins with receiving.
The principle doesn’t just apply to physical life though. Throughout the Bible, God is the initiator, and humans are called, before anything else, to simply receive and rest in that posture of receptivity. Consider:
“It’s not good for man to be alone” so God initiates and creates the woman.
“I have heard your cry and have come down to deliver you from the hand of slavery” so Moses’ adventures as a leader begins with receiving God’s call and align with God’s actions for justice.
When people are hungry in the wilderness, God initiates and provides food, and its given while they rest, after which they’re invited to wake up and gather.
“God so loved the world that he gave…”. God initiates and sends a human to save the world.
In story after story, everything always begin with the initiation of God. It falls to us as humans to rest in that posture of receptivity and from there receive what God offers Then, having been ‘filled up with all the fullness of God” we’ll have the resources to live lives of blessing, hospitality, generativity, and hope. There are the kind of lives that are both ‘what our world needs now more than ever’ and are also ‘in very short supply’ even among people who are religious and using God language while holding on to fear and idols of nationalism, consumerism, and individualism. None of the shouting, weaponizing, and dividing that is so prevalent looks like Jesus' call to rest, or the picture Paul paints of people whose lives display the fruit of the spirit.
THE DOCTRINE OF REST AND RECEIVING
“Every good and perfect gift comes from above” is God’s way of saying that everything we receive is a gift - every sip of clean water, every breath, every sunrise, every blossom, every bite of good healthy food, every moment of intimacy, every opportunity to serve and love and bless another - all of it is gift.
If you run a marathon or climb mountains, you know that you’ll only be able to go farther and faster if you build an aerobic base. This requires not acute moments of sprinting on a track or running up and down stadium stairs but, instead, a chronic, steady habit of elevating your heart rate so that you develop greater capacity in heart, lungs, and muscles. Consistency is the key!
Similarly, a consistent life of faithful receiving and rest becomes your LIFE BASE, and those who live out from this as their base will have much greater capacity to display genuine peace, joy, love, patience, and kindness. They’ll be more present in each moment. They’ll be less reactionary when offended. They will, as Jesus’ exhorts, not be eager to ascend to places of prominence, because they’ll be content to let their level of prominence or anonymity, honor or disdain, comfort or suffering, come and go as God allows. They’ll do this without striving because they will have tapped into the rhythm of rest that God has created.
So deep is the rhythm, so vital this calling, that Jesus declares it explicitly in one of his most famous invitations:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 1:28-30
Are the “unforced rhythms of grace” and “real rest” characteristics of people today? Why are we missing this?
OUR SUBSTITUTE FOR REST AND RECEIVING
“By any means necessary, we will do it!”
This is Abraham who, instead of waiting to receive the child God had promised, decided to make something happen. (Genesis 16)
This is Jacob who, instead of waiting to receive the blessing God had promised, decided it made more sense to gain said blessing through theft and deception. (Genesis 25 and 27)
This is Israel who, when told to simply receive, every day, the manna God provided, gathered more than they needed, and when told to gather two days' worth so that on the seventh day they could rest and not gather, rose early on the seventh day to gather anyway. (Exodus 16)
This is the religious leaders who were offended when Jesus preemptively forgave people. They’re offended when Jesus crossed social divides, between Jews and Samaritans, between men and women, between Roman citizens and the Jews they oppressed. He always crossed over, offering relationship, and healing, and hope, and forgiveness, and restoration, and dignity - without cost to the recipient. He even forgave the people mocking and humiliating him at his own execution.
It’s this same Jesus who declared that “unless you have faith like a child, you won’t see the kingdom…”. Why children? Because they’re good at receiving! Just check it out this Christmas. They demonstrate none of the reciprocity nonsense we adults display. They receive their gift, (hopefully) give thanks, and then get on with enjoying it! And by the way, they sleep well too - because a heart that is able to receive is a heart at rest.
Contrarians are quick to remind me that the world is a dark place, and that there are evil forces intent on the destruction of all that is good and right, that we need vigilance, need to fight the good fight. "Arise O Sleeper!" they'll quote, from the Bible, as a call to activity. Here’s my response:
Of course. Abraham received so that he can bless. Jacob received so that he can establish a family called to display God’s character. Moses received, and then began a forty year project of confrontation with evil power structures in the "world,” as well as complacency, faithlessness, idolatry, resistance to leadership, and outright rebellion among the “people of God.”
David received, and then killed the giant. Received, then fought battles.
Isaiah received and then preached.
Nehemiah received and then rebuilt a city boundary.
Jesus received and then taught, healed, forgave, confounded, raised the dead, cast out demons, let himself be handed over for execution, and rose from the dead.
Paul received, and then engaged in the lifelong work of breaking down dividing walls in Jesus' name and calling people to a rhythm of receiving and giving.
So yes, dear friends, there are battles to be fought, work to be done, beauty to be created, relationships to be reconciled, food to be grown, and cooked, and served, hospitality to be offered, books and music and films to be created, justice to be sought, environments to be stewarded, children to be raised and educated. There’s plenty of work to do, but the best work, the most fruitful work, is the work that is done out from a place of receiving. The best work is done by those who aren’t working in order to fill their identity cup; it’s done as the overflow of those whose cups are already full, full because they’ve been intentional regarding their habits of receiving.
The fruit of building on a rest/receiving foundation is, among many other things, literal physical rest. The posture of receiving first means that I move into the world with a sense of intimacy, presence of the divine, and calling, rather than a sense of being alone and striving to “make a difference” or “fix things” or whatever else it is I’m striving to do.
I can relax. My cup is already full so I do what I do out of obedience rather than zeal, out of calling rather than guilt, out of compassion rather than fear or anger.
I will sleep better.
I’ll be less anxious.
I will experience a peace that is unmoored from the state of the nation, or my bank account, or even my personal health. The peace is ‘beyond understanding’ but I assure you its real and available.
My literal, physical heart, will be healthier. Resting pulse and blood pressure won’t be stuck in “fight or flight” mode (remember Jacob on the run?), with all its cortisol, hyper-vigilance, and sweat. Instead, I’ll spend most of my time in rest mode - still fighting battles, surely. Still creating. Still engaged. But I’ll do all this in response to rest and receiving, and to rest and receiving I’ll return. Everything begins with ‘evening,’ with rest, and restoration, and receiving.
This whole concept is very difficult to embrace in a culture saturated with the values of individualism, and the notion you can build yourself into anything you want to be. Self made men and women don’t easily surrender their will, strength, positions, opinions, wealth - they don’t surrender much of anything easily. So when Jesus comes along with an invitation to let go, whether couched in health challenges, or the call to alter my world view in light of new information, or the call to lighten my wallet through acts of generosity, there’s often an inherent resistance. “I built this!” “I own this!” “Nobody’s going to take this from me!” So we fight or we ‘flight.’ Either way, fear’s the commander of the ship, and anxiety’s the co-captain and our physical heart is paying the price.
HOW DO I MOVE TO REST AND RECEIVE?
We’re all receiving from our Creator all the time. The question is whether I'm actively receiving by responding with faith and gratitude, or whether I’m living on the basis of the fundamental lie that I’m on my own and need to build a life for myself.
Every day I begin with receiving. I remind myself that I’m the offspring of a Creator who loves me, is for me, delights in me, gives me good gifts, and has specific tasks for me while I have the gift of life on this earth. I do this by praying the saturation prayer of spoken of elsewhere, and developed more fully in the book “Forest Faith.” I sit quietly and repeat, again and again:
CHRIST ABOVE ME, I’M RECEIVING - In my journal I’ll pause to give thanks for specific gifts, and just a moment's pause every day is enough to remind that, indeed, I’m a child, one who is receiving gifts constantly.
CHRIST BENEATH MY, I’M ROOTED - In my journal I’ll pause to remind myself of my truest identity, which has nothing to do with how I feel and everything to do with what my Creator says about me.
CHRIST AROUND ME, I’M CONNECTED - I’ll pause and give thanks for a person(s) in my life by name. I’ll pray for them, and perhaps even drop them a note of encouragement that day (still working on doing this more consistently)
CHRIST WITHIN ME, I’M CALLED - It’s a reminder that my Creator has given me gifts and put the spirit of Christ within me, not so that I can hide away in mystical bliss, but so that I can bless this broken world, contributing my little Christ light to the story of hope God writes in every generation.
When I start, resting pulse is about 75. When I’m finished it’s often around 60. That’s the sign that my heart has moved from a place of striving to a place of receiving. The front page of spiritsoulbody.org has a video where you can do this meditation with me.
The image I receive as I practice this meditation is that of being filled with light from above, beneath and around, so that I can fulfill my calling to be what Jesus invites all of us to be: “the light of the world.” Would you like to join me in a zoom meditation of this saturation prayer in December? Subscribe below so that you don’t miss the invitation!!