As I write this, I’m on vacation. Birds are singing and the mountains are beautiful. I have a cup of coffee in front of me, and everything is glowing as the sun comes up – my favorite time to write. It’s a nice little scene, isn’t it? Do you have a little rest-envy? OK then, let me tell you what it was like leading up to this…but wait. I probably don’t need to tell you because you have all probably endured the frenzied chaos of trying to get out of town, getting everything prepared and in order so that you can rest, right? You arrive at whatever your destination may be, hyperventilating and exhausted. If you’re like me, it may take a full day or two (or three) just to calm down so you can relax. Why are we like this? And, if we’re honest, we have to ask if this is the way God intends us to live.
I titled this little article Striving Toward Restbecause I truly believe that we are called to live out that oxymoronic command every single day. To striveliterally means, to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something; to struggle or fight vigorously. The verb rest means, to cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength. How on earth do these two concepts coexist?
Striving to rest is not about the pattern of working hard and then taking a sweet vacation. It’s not about being a conscientious employee/employer/parent/whatever all week and then collapsing in a pile on the weekend. It’s about the intentional effort to bepresentwith God and what he’s doing around us and in us. And it’s really hard work.
Did you know that one of the core narratives in the Bible is about rest? God created, and then He rested. Part of that rest was the simple act of standing back and marveling at, and enjoying, what he had made. The Garden of Eden was a place of rest with Adam and Eve enjoying freedom from worry and stress precisely because they lived in the natural presence of God in his perfect creation, untainted by sin. We’ve been trying to get back there ever since.
The beauty of what Scripture has to say to us is that its history, poetry, prophesy and gospel-teaching all point toGod’sdesire that we enter His rest. We want it; He wants it for us. Why then is it so hard? Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with our lack of belief. We can’t believe God would desire for us such loving things. We haven’t earned it; we don’t deserve it. And so, we work for it and decline the gift.
Look at the Israelites who wandered in the desert for forty years. God had promised them through many generations thatall the families on the earth would be blessed through them(Genesis 12:3). God brought them out of slavery and lead them through the wilderness under Moses. He promised, My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.(Exodus 33:14) They just couldn’t believe it. And so, they whined. They complained. They built and worshipped other gods. And, in the end, they didn’t enter that promised rest.
God has promised the same things to us – that His Presence will go with us, that He will lead us to a place beyond our imagining, where there is no more pain or fear; just perfect peace – an earth redeemed and restored, pure beauty. God promises a Rest (capital “R”), that is alive and vibrant and eternal, but he wants us to practice small-“r” rest now. How do we go about it? Maybe we are to do precisely what God did when he rested on the seventh day: stand back and marvel, and say, thank you. Hebrews 4:10 says, Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Have you ever stopped to think that it’s pretty arrogant to insist on working, doing, serving, and never resting? If the Lord of the Universe can take a break to enjoy the wonders of His creation, what are we saying when we believe that we can’t afford such a “luxury?” Are we too important to stop, take it all in, rest, and give thanks?
Jesus says, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Theyoketo which Jesus refers would be the determining factor in how weight would be distributed for an ox pulling a heavy load. Jesus doesn’t say to throw it off and cease working. He calls us to switch yokes. We are to continue to strive, but to strive towards something of greater significance. We are to strive to rest in the presence of God, trusting Him, believing Him. Again, referring to the Israelites, the writer of Hebrews says in 4:11, Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Does it surprise you that God cares enough about rest that, by refusing it, we are committing an act of disobedience?
As I look at my own resistance to rest, it has everything to do with my own pride, self-sufficiency, and need for control. None of that baggage can be hauled into a time of rest before our wise and loving God. In fact, it’s nothing short of the idolatry of self. I have to leave all that at the door. Like so many of God’s commands, the call to rest is one that calls our attention to Him, and refreshes us. God longs to take the volume knob of our life circumstances and crank it low—to hush us, as it were, so that we can remember our smallness, and His loving greatness.
And that’s rest worth striving for.