St. Brendan entered the boat, and with hoisted sail they set off westward into the summer solstice. They had a favorable wind and needed to do no more than trim the sail. But after fifteen days the wind dropped and they rowed and rowed until their strength failed. Then straightaway St. Brendan began to give them words of comfort and encouragement: “Brothers, you have nothing to fear, for God is our helper. He is our navigator and helmsman, and He shall guide us. Pull in the oars and the rudder. Spread the sail and let God do as He wishes with His servants and their boat.”
- Anonymous, The Voyage of Brendan, Irish, 12th century
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
- Psalm 46.10
There is a pattern for human life which is built into the very fabric of our being. It can be stated simply: work, rest, repeat.
This pattern is perhaps most obvious in the Lord’s instructions concerning the Sabbath. We are to work six days of the week, and on the seventh day – now, the first day, marking Christ’s resurrection – we are to rest. That is, not work.
Wait: Where’s the bit about fun and relaxing and leisure and goofing off and going on vacations and all that?
Yeah, that’s a problem. Many people are trying to force their lives into some pattern other than what God has built into the creation. First, they don’t want to have to rest all day on Sunday. Second, they want to limit their work to their jobs. Finally, they want to recover as much time as possible each week for all that feel-good stuff – stuff I do for me.
It’s not that we should never know such periods; it’s simply that we should know them within the framework of seeking the Kingdom, doing the will of God, and loving our neighbors with good works.
Brendan’s voyage is intended as an allegorical history, emphasizing the importance of the divine pattern. In the excerpt above, we see the little troop resting from their work. Later, they would take up their work again. Further on, they would rest from their missionary work in an island monastery named Ailbe. Then they would get back to work. Work, rest, repeat.
We need to bend our backs to the work God gives us to do each day, pulling with all our might on the oars of our resources and skills, applying ourselves diligently to all the work we’ve been given to do, and not just our jobs. Throughout the day, we should draw back from our work and seek a few moments of respite in the Lord – which is why Christians have throughout the centuries found praying the daily hours so satisfying and useful. Then, come the Lord’s Day, we should ship the oars of all our work, and let the Spirit refresh and renew us for the “repeat” that will begin again on Monday.
The spiritual life is like this, too, and this is the lesson Brendan’s hagiographer wanted us to learn. Getting started in the life of faith or some new venture for the Lord is the easy part, like Brendan and his men, heading off in their leather boat to follow Jesus over the western sea. But getting started – in prayer or Bible reading and study, say – is easy; staying the course, making steady progress, growing in grace and truth – this is work, and it’s where we begin to grow weary.
But we need to remember that the same wind of the Spirit that brought us to new life in Christ is always ready to fill and direct us on our course with Him, even when we’re resting. We need to attend diligently to our part, of course, working out our own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12). But none of our trying to improve, overcome some sin, be a better person, or accomplish some good work for the Lord will bear the fruit we desire apart from the Spirit’s blessing and power (Jn. 6.63). And that often begins to work in us during restful seasons of worship, meditation, and prayer.
Surprising things can happen in our walk with and work for the Lord if, after we’ve given it our best shot, we cease striving and rest in His Spirit. Following this pattern – work, rest, repeat – can help us to become more effective in our Personal Mission Field. Look to God’s Word for wisdom to guide your next steps. Meditate on His beauty and power. Give Him space to operate however He will in your heart and mind, and let Him point you in directions you may never have dared to ask or think (Eph. 3.20). Then, after you have rested and waited on the Lord for your challenge, take up your work again, and let the Lord empower you for whatever He wants you to do.
Be still in Him long enough, and you will eventually know His will, and how to perform it for all the work you’ve been given to do.
1. We have been redeemed for good works (Eph. 2.10). Can times of leisure, relaxation, and even fun be made to “work” for the progress of Christ’s Kingdom and glory? Explain.
2. Why is rest an important component of the way God has made us?
Psalm 27.14 (Joanna: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise)
Wait, wait on the Lord; persevere in His grace.
Hold fast to His Word; seek His radiant face.
Be strong, set your heart to abide in His Word;
His grace He imparts; therefore, wait on the Lord.
Help me to embrace Your pattern for my life, Lord, especially today as I…
The time of your life
And may I encourage you to seek the Lord about becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe? It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate onlinethrough credit card or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Dr., Essex Junction, VT 05452.
T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Davies, p. 159.