The practice of rest is an elusive one in our culture. We, as a culture, have built in periods of rest like weekends, have unionized and collectively bargained our way into paid vacations and medical leave acts, and have erected monuments in the form of theme parks that pay tribute to the family vacation. Despite these things, though, most of us are overrun, overstressed, and underrested. Time is a precious commodity; one which we can’t seem to really get a handle on despite our best efforts. You can blame it on all kinds of things:
- Blame it on technology because we can now, at any moment, be connected to work responsibilities that we previously had to leave at the office.
- Blame it on social media because it makes us seem busier than we really are because of the amount of time we spend on it.
- Blame it on societal pressure that tells us that in order to have fully developed and well-rounded children they simply must participate in any and all activities available.
All of these things might be true, but they are only true symptoms of greater obstacles. To get at the heart of what’s keeping us from true rest, we must first understand what true rest is. And the writer of Hebrews helps us with this:
“Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).
Rest is not necessarily sleep; it’s not necessarily increased leisure; it’s not even necessarily inactivity, though all of those things matter. Rest goes deeper. Rest is a state in which we live which we can only enter into through the gospel which tells us that because of what Jesus has done on our behalf, we can, at last, stop striving. We can live in a sense of wholeness and peace of heart because Jesus has finished His work on our behalf and for the glory of God at the cross. We don’t have to earn God’s approval; we don’t have to jockey for position; we don’t have to warrant any measure any more. It is finished, and we are the firmly established and beloved children of God.
If that is what true rest is, then, we can rightly identify what’s keeping us from living in this rest. Here are three such obstacles:
Why are we unable to rest? Why can’t we put down the project at work? Why can’t we stop worrying about the future? Why do we stay up at night plagued with anxiety? It’s because we are failing to believe all the things that the gospel confirms for us: That we have nothing left to prove before man and God. That our identify is secure as a child of God in Christ. That God will give us our daily bread as surely as He sacrificed His Son for us. That come what may, we will never be separated from His love in Jesus.
These are the things that keep us from resting, and these are the things the gospel tells us. The first true obstacle to rest, then, is faith. Do we truly believe that it is finished in Christ, or are we living in such a way that there is still just a little bit more to do?
A second obstacle to true rest is, ironically, laziness. See, when we embrace by faith that the eternal work of Jesus is sufficient for us, it doesn’t actually make us lazy. Instead, it motivates us to work and work hard for the kingdom. But when we know that Jesus has won the war for our souls, our work isn’t done with the frenetic energy of earning approval; it’s done with the zealous joy of one who already has it. If we think that the death and resurrection of Jesus means we can be lazy, we have drastically misunderstood what it means to be adopted into God’s family.
It’s ironic, but if we dull our minds and hearts with laziness, we will find ourselves not resting, but atrophying. We will grow more and more cold to the promises of God in Christ, and in so doing, we will actually find ourselves resting less and less as the days go by.
A third obstacle to rest is intentionality. To put it in the opposite way, one of the real reasons we fail to rest is because we don’t do so on purpose. This is the exhortation in Hebrews 4:11: “Let us then make every effort to enter that rest…” No one is going to unintentionally slip into a state of rest. We do so by intentionally believing the gospel. When we do, that belief influences every area of our lives. We rest in our parenting knowing that God holds the future of our children. We rest in our work knowing that God will provide for our needs. We rest in our marriages because we are open and authentic with each other as we model the gospel. But we rest in all these things only when we make every effort to do so. This is where resting as a state of being becomes a discipline. In other words, and ironically I might add, we must work hard at resting. We must work to make sure that in whatever we do, we are doing it not to replace or further what God has already done, but because of it.
So today, friends, I’m resting. But that doesn’t mean I’m not at work. It doesn’t mean I’m not physically tired. It doesn’t mean I’m going to have a day of leisure. It means instead that I am going to speak to my soul and say the same words that Jesus offered time and time again: “Peace to you.” He offered that greeting then and now for the same reason – that He is risen. And because He has risen, it is finished.