Unhinged from Worldly Rest: On Finding God’s Rest According to His Word
Why does rest seem elusive? Why are the “green lights” always hued (except for when driving, legitimately in a hurry)?
This world has a problem. Well, scratch that, because it has countless problems all rooted in sin and therefore death…
But this particular problem is a nasty one because it robs us of an understanding of God’s design for abundant life. We live in a world where burnout is normative. But why? I think, because rest is an ever-reached-for carrot dangling on a stick above labouring rabbits who’ve become oblivious to God’s tender care and provision for their every need.
That was a mouthful. Let me back up.
When we live from a place of doing we become wrapped up in ourselves as creators rather than intentionally looking to and for God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. This is vanity in the making, a pride-filled pursuit, and therefore, it’s sure to collapse. Burnout is coming. It can’t not. Enter the vision of rest, that dangling carrot. Just one more push, just one more lunge…so close, and yet so far away.
Until it isn’t. Because we’ve earned it. And so, we sit back. Feet up. Glorying in ourselves and our deserved rest.
This isn’t what God had in mind.
God’s rest, a Sabbath rest, is rooted in the Hebrew word šāḇaṯ which translates as to cease, to desist from labor, to exterminate, and even to cause to fail.
And I wonder, does God’s institution of rest literally anticipate the failure of our human efforts? Surely Scriptures tell us time and again to forsake pride and selfish ambition because they lead only to death. Maybe, a piece of God’s Sabbath rest springs from His knowledge that apart from His rest, human ambition is vanity. It’s fool-proofed for failure.
God instituted a Sabbath rest as a holy command for His people to cease from their labor and remember their Creator and Sustainer. The idea seems simple: Sabbath was a sign between God and His people that they lived from a different mindset than the world; they moved at a heavenly pace which included stillness and rest.
But what happens when God’s people live of the world rather than in it but not of it?
The Israelites yoked themselves to their neighbours, adopting un-ordained practices that suited their human interests. Their lack of separateness caused a new rhythm to develop in their hearts, leading them away from God’s design and into a pursuit of rest merely as another rule to follow. A lifeless law.
No longer did they believe that God had good things in store for them. No longer was rest a glorious pursuit. They were marred by unbelief and therefore inept to receive of God’s promise.
And to whom did [God] swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
– Hebrews 3:18-19 ESV
Striving for that dangling carrot called rest is further evidence today of hearts unwilling to yield to God’s design by faith. It’s a works-based judgement of human effort and acquisition that eliminates the need for grace. But we fall for it, time and again.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
– Hebrews 4:9-10 ESV
In Mark 2:27-28, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees who held fast to the law of the Sabbath by explaining that,
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Because we know that Jesus came to fulfil the law not abolish it (Matthew 5:17), I believe Jesus fulfills the law of the Sabbath too. He is Lord of the Sabbath, and therefore reigns above the concept while still directing us into it.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus tells us to come to Him and He will give us rest. The same Sabbath rest? I’d say, yes.
- Coming to Jesus, we cease from striving on our own merit. We surrender at the foot of the cross and in humility are lifted into a new life by the Spirit.
- Coming to Jesus, we are freed from the weight of sin and refreshed by God’s still-present rhythm of rest found in grace.
Rest. Refreshing. Revitalization. Life. Jesus reminds us in John 6:63 that,
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
What is the remainder of Jesus’s command in Matthew 11:28-30, beyond coming to Him?
He tells us to take His yoke upon ourselves and to learn from Him in order to find rest for our souls.
What is His yoke? Like the image of oxen with wooden yokes upon their back, Jesus’s yoke steers our wayward, flesh-y, sinful selves into righteousness by the Truth of His Word. It’s easy because it’s found apart from striving and, rather, in surrender. By learning from Him we grow in grace—rooted and established in righteousness by faith—and have confident assurance of the eternal rest to come.
That dangling carrot of worldly rest is enticing, but bitter to our souls. God’s rest has the promise of satisfaction beyond compare. It’s worth striving for (check out my post on the paradoxical concept of striving to rest HERE).
Are we willing to untie the carrot and pursue rest as God designed it to be? For some that will include, in part, an intentional one day a week of resting from work to witness God’s provision and promises anew. For others, it becomes a matter of daily surrender of motives and heart attitudes to find His refreshing and abundant life.
This is no longer about law, but about grace. And grace teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives…(Titus 2:11-13)
Grace opens the door to God’s rest by faith. Come. Enter in. And be free!