Rockbridge Academy Blog
“I’m not tired! Why do you always tell me I am tired when I am not tired!” Such were the protests from my early youth when my parents knew that I was overtired and lovingly sent me upstairs to bed. Little did I understand at the time that my rantings only added to their resolve to get me the sleep I needed.
How many of us still need this—someone to make us go to bed when we are tired, or insist that we take a break to rest? When so many things press in on us, demanding our time and attention, sleep, or rest of any kind, can seem like the most expendable part of our schedule. But to deny ourselves rest, a break, and even sleep is to behave like children lacking wisdom, obedience and faith.
Brain researchers have discovered something amazing that happens when we go to sleep. While our bodies are still, our brain is performing some important work. Like the cleaning crew that comes into the office after hours, your brain is also busy at night:
“In fact, when the lights go out, our brains start working–but in an altogether different way than when we’re awake. At night, a legion of neurons springs into action, and like any well-trained platoon, the cells work in perfect synchrony, pulsing with electrical signals that wash over the brain with a soothing, hypnotic flow. Meanwhile, data processors sort through the reams of information that flooded the brain all day at a pace too overwhelming to handle in real time. The brain also runs checks on itself to ensure that the exquisite balance of hormones, enzymes and proteins isn’t too far off-kilter. And all the while, cleaners follow in close pursuit to sweep out the toxic detritus that the brain doesn’t need and which can cause all kinds of problems if it builds up.” (“The Power of Sleep,” Alice Park, TIME, Sept. 2014)
When we are awake, the brain is busy handling the immediate demands of the day. Just as we cannot reflect and meditate at the same time we are teaching or having a conversation, our brains cannot run the “daytime show” while simultaneously cleaning up the place and dumping the trash. As teachers and parents, we understand this principle quite well. We don’t try to clean up while our kids or students are around. We wait until they leave or have gone to bed to clean up from the day’s activities. It is the same with your brain. Unfortunately, we often believe the opposite, thinking that skipping sleep (or rest) will allow us to get more done. God’s Word rebukes this notion:
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:2
God, our creator and sustainer, knows what we need, and has told us. But knowing is one thing, obeying is another.
We know intuitively and experientially that we are finite beings; we have limits. The Bible describes us as “dust,” like “grass” and “flowers” that blow away (Ps. 103:14-16). God, on the other hand, is “the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary,” (Is. 40:28). Yet God establishes rest as part of His creation from the beginning: the seventh day is a Sabbath. He commands us to recognize and obey this regular time of rest. And this concept of rest permeates the whole Bible. Type “rest” into your Bible search engine and a theme quickly emerges from verse to verse: rest is a gift from God, and those without it suffer and are cursed. This is stark language that speaks to the seriousness of our self-sufficiency. Weekly rest, our nightly sleep, even routine breaks during each day are acknowledgements that we are not God. Instead, we accept and obey our limits, affirming the order of Maker vs. creature. Rest becomes an act of humble obedience. Obedience that leads to faith.
Going to bed, or simply stopping to rest, can be an act of faith. Our to-do lists often haunt us. But God’s promise is clear, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt.11:28). This is one of those verses we hear so often that we carelessly cast it away presuming we’ve already grasped the concept. But have we? Do we believe it, not just as some hope for eternal rest, but here and now, today, this moment? Our "Best Self Journals" and "Full Focus Planners" cannot ever give us what only our Heavenly Father can give: that eternal and continual promise of rest. God causes us to lie down and sleep in peace (Ps. 4:8); we wake again for He sustains us (Ps. 3:5). Do you suppose God wants you to work beyond exhaustion or without refreshment? Then listen again, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). Pray that you would believe it. As Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
One more thing: “Good night, sweet dreams.”
Family, worship. Two words, each of which standing alone is richly warm and evocative. “Family” connotes community, belonging, and love. “Worship” conjures thoughts of reverence, jubilation, and communion. However, curiously (and sadly), when these two precious terms are conjoined into a single phrase (family worship), the associated words that come most immediately to mind are “boring” and “bland.”
Having lead family worship in our home for nearly thirty years with reasonable consistency and intentionality, I must confess that it is not one of my more successful endeavors. Although I have not had the courage to poll them, I suspect that “boring” and “bland” might summarize my children’s collective assessment. Nevertheless, by grace, my wife Deni, and I have persevered through the years clinging to the conviction that, in conducting family worship in some form on a regular basis, we are about a noble business the ultimate success of which is not only determined by God but is best left to Him to measure as well.
At our house, family worship has taken on many different forms over the years, but almost always it has consisted of three essential elements: God’s word, prayer, and singing.
1) The Scriptural Component—For many years, we used a family worship card distributed by our church that listed daily Bible readings designed to prepare us for the upcoming Sunday’s sermon. At other times, I have simply read a Psalm or other short passage. More recently, I have used a daily reading from a devotional book such as (a) My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, (b) C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, and (c) Note to Self by Joe Thorn. In the early years, when we had only young children, our Bible readings were “age appropriate.” However, in those middle years when our children’s ages spanned 17 to infancy, I refused to “dumb things down” and stubbornly taught to the eldest level, trusting that the younger ones would glean what they were able and calling on the older children to explain any difficult concepts to their younger siblings.
2) Prayer—The prayer component of our family worship has consisted primarily of thanksgiving and intercession. We collectively identify prayer items, and one or more of us leads in prayer about those particular matters.
3) Singing—Typically, we close our worship with a song, which could be a hymn, a contemporary chorus, or simply the doxology.
Beyond content and format, I have learned that consistency is critical to family worship. As in virtually all other worthwhile endeavors, whether it’s physical fitness or personal devotions, so it is with family worship: much more is gained by small incremental efforts consistently applied over a long time than by lavish outpourings that occur only sporadically. Of course, this does not mean that family worship has occurred in our home every day of every week for the past thirty years. However, it does mean that Deni and I, together, have battled hard alongside our children not to succumb to their apathy, my indolence, or the innumerable distractions presented by our varied schedules.
Consistency also should not suggest rigidity. In fact, consistency over the long haul is fueled by flexibility. For example, adjusting the time that we conduct our family worship to accommodate our schedules has been the saving grace to this daily endeavor. There was a period of a few years during which we shifted family worship from the dinner hour to the breakfast table because it offered a better fit.
If flexibility is the fuel, then brevity is the oil that helps to overcome the frictional forces that grind against consistency. Except for those occasional times when genuine discussion springs forth, our family worship times generally last no more than 5 to 8 minutes. While such brevity imposes limitations, it has been central to preventing family worship from being crowded out by competing demands.
So, why do it? We have persisted in this difficult devotion because it affords our family a corporate opportunity to exalt the wisdom, power, and love of our heavenly Father and to acknowledge our need for the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a propitious moment in the day for all of us—together—to be reminded of the gospel. In this sense, family worship is yet another means of grace, literally empowering us to live our lives in a manner worthy of our high calling.
As such, can it be said that family worship is “bland” or “boring?” If that is my perspective, then it is simply indicative of my need. And that realization should not discourage me to pursue this blessed opportunity as one who is desperate to drink more deeply of God’s precious grace—desperate for me and desperate for my family.
Jay Mitchell currently serves as an elder at Annapolis EP Church. He also served as the chairman of the board of directors for Rockbridge Academy. Jay practices law professionally, but adds his favorite avocation is teaching. He has been married to his wife, Deni, for over 40 years, and they are blessed with eight children (5 of whom are Rockbridge alumni) and 12 grandchildren. This article was originally published in the spring 2013 issue of The Rockbridge Reporter.
Since 2005, Mr. Nathan Northup has been faithfully teaching Bible at Rockbridge Academy in the upper school. He shares IN THIS VIDEO the heart of why we teach Bible at Rockbridge Academy. More than Bible knowledge, our desire is that each and every student would see and know and love Jesus, our Savior, and that they would be able to evaluate their whole range of life experiences in light of the Scriptures.