Let’s free associate: when you think about rest, what goes through your mind? What does rest mean to you and how do you obtain it? Here are a few examples of how some people pursue rest.
- A husband comes home from a long day at work and crashes in front of the television.
- A wife hustles from the car line at the school where she just dropped off her kids to rendezvous with a friend at Starbucks.
- A friend is struggling through life. The disappointments are steady. She finds rest through medication.
- A teen spends a couple of hours surfing the net; a routine which helps him escape the madness of his world.
- A family leaves for their planned vacation. A week later they collectively crave another week to recover.
The one thing these attempts to find rest have in common is how the different strategies are cultural, not biblical. Most people perceive rest as being a behavioral escape from life rather than a permanent condition of the soul.
Wrong thinking about rest is what makes it so elusive. If you don’t know what it is, you will not find it. The average worker lives for the weekend, as though the primary purpose of the weekend is a time of rest.
Rest is not the purpose of weekends. Our culture concocted weekends to get away from work, not as a cure for the rest problem. When the Bible talks about rest, it never speaks about weekends, vacations, evenings out, catching a movie, or any other commonly perceived idea that is supposed to refresh us.
Seeking escapes from stress is different from entering into rest. Let me press the point further. Weekend retreats, Bible conferences, or youth camps are not designed to give you the Bible’s version rest either. Biblical rest is not a punctiliar action in the timeline of life, but a gift the LORD gives to you.
Resting in the storms of life
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 (ESV)
There were several men on a boat, in a storm. One of them was sleeping. The rest of the people were frantic, fearful, and faithless. One of them knew the secret to rest. The remainder anticipated a time of rest after they escaped the storm.
Are you like the disciples? Your storm may be your job, marriage, family, church life, peer-pressure, economic struggle, persecution of various kinds, as well as other disappointing events and troubling people in your life.
You’re not on a boat, but you are in a storm. It is possible you are not at rest, but frantic. You are fearful. Sleeping in your storm like Jesus did may be as foreign to you as Jesus dying on a cross to save you.
Is your native thought, like the disciples, to escape your troubles? The temptation to believe rest will come after the storm passes is common. Soul recovery does not happen that way.
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. – Ecclesiastes 1:8 (ESV)
A search for rest by changing your venue or circumstance is like chasing a mirage in a desert. It will leave you weary. What you think you see will not satisfy and what you hope to hear will not fulfill. This kind of worldview and practice is carnal and insatiable.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” – Ecclesiastes 12:1 (ESV)
As your body continues to waste away (2 Corinthians 4:16), you’ll become increasingly hardened, cynical, frustrated, and hopeless. Your quest for the culture’s version of rest will not bring pleasure. For those people, God quickly becomes a faint byline in their minds, which leaves them giving up and despairing.
The LORD’s rest is different
Let us therefore strive (work) to enter that rest. – Hebrews 4:11 (ESV)
Rest is a provision from the LORD, not something found in the world. God is the author and dispenser of it, and, thankfully, He planned for you to enter into His rest.
God’s priority for your rest is a serious matter that requires your utmost attention because the devil broke the shalom your soul craves, which is why you’re tempted to find peace through man-centered methods (Genesis 3:7).
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7 (ESV)
To rest is to be Godlike (Genesis 2:2-3). When God rested on the seventh day from His creative acts, the rest was not from exhaustion. The LORD is omnipotent. He was not tired.
The rest God took was a rest of satisfaction rather than a break because He was physically whooped. Work and rest are not at odds with each other. The LORD never stops working, and He is always at rest.
The rest He took after He had created the world was a rest of satisfaction, contentment, and pleasure as He reflected upon His acts. He was not taking a break or looking for a day off from work. He was enjoying what just happened.
Creator God found rest (satisfaction) from forming the world. The Son of God experienced satisfaction (rest) during a dark and stormy night. Rest is not dependent on contexts, but it is a condition of the soul.
The LORD’s rest is communal
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. – Hebrews 4:1-11 (ESV)
When the world thinks about rest, their thoughts almost always go toward self-centered, individualized, relaxation, for the pursuit of personal enjoyment. This kind of rest has a “separation from community” component to it.
Though there can be some benefit to taking breaks from people, this is not the kind of rest the LORD wants for you. The rest of the passage in Hebrews 4:1-11 speaks of a community language: us, them, and they.
The writer is not talking to a person, but to a body of individuals. The kind of rest God is calling you to is a communal rest (Hebrews 13:3). He is appealing to “us” to rest. It’s not a call for an individual to chill out for a while on an island, but to collectively enjoy rest as a right and privilege for the whole body of Christ.
The LORD wants all of His children to enjoy His rest. You are the body of Christ, and you all should be working hard to find this rest. Though you will benefit from the fullness of this rest in heaven, you can enter into it today.
God’s forever future and perfect rest-filled world has come backward into your present day through the person and work of Jesus. Though it is not entirely here, it is truly here.
You can enjoy the eternal reality of rest right now. The community of God can partake in His eternal unshakeable rest while you wait for the fullest enjoyment of it in the future.
The LORD’s rest is serious
He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” – Mark 4:40-41 (ESV)
What if the Son of God did not have rest in the storm, but was just as frantic and fearful as his friends were on the boat that night? If that were the case, their reaction to Him would have been different.
The rest God gives to you is radically different from what the world expects and seeks. The Gospel is a counter-intuitive way of living (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). There is a reason for this: the LORD is glorified as His calming and sustaining power works through you (2 Corinthians 4:7).
If Jesus acted like them, He would not be worth following. Who wants to follow someone who can have their shalom so easily discombobulated? You do not need the rest the world can offer. You need the rest God provides.
Not accessing God’s rest is what makes a lack of God’s rest so dangerous. To not have it or not to enter into it is to make a joke out of the work of Christ. Think about all the work the LORD went to give the children of Israel rest.
To not enter God’s rest is like trampling the blood of Jesus under your feet. To stand on the wilderness side of the Jordan River, refusing to obey the LORD by not entering into His rest is high treason.
The Hebrew writer called it disobedience: “Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” See Hebrews 4:11 Finding and enjoying the LORD’s rest is a matter of faith and obedience.
How to work for God’s rest
When the winds and storms come into your life, and you are resting in those challenges, God is exalted, you are satisfied (at rest), and people are amazed.
- You are not diminishing His work in you, but drawing attention to the greatness of your God.
- You are making a bold statement about your satisfaction in Him and how it trumps your situational difficulties.
- Your confidence in God is other-worldly shalom that surpasses human comprehension (Philippians 4:7).
Just as the disciples asked, “Who then is this,” your sphere of influence will be just as perplexed and curious about what’s up with you (Mark 4:41). Don’t you want to give your friends a taste of something that is different from waiting for a dissatisfying weekend?
- How are you striving for God’s rest in a world where there is no rest?
How do you enter into the LORD’s rest?
Faith – And they said to Joshua, “Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.”
Obedience – Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. – Joshua 2:24-3:1 (ESV)
Did you see what Joshua and his friends did to enter into God’s rest? They believed, and they obeyed. That’s it. Unbelief and disobedience mean the LORD has not given “all the land into your hand” and you are not going rise “early in the morning and set out” for God’s rest.
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:17 (ESV)
You enter into rest by obedience and belief. Obedience is about radical-believing-dependence, which is what it takes to join the rest in the here and now.
- Do you believe you are more than a conqueror because Him who died for you (Romans 8:37)?
- Will you enter into His rest as an act of obedience, as you base your faith in the Gospel?
Rest is not about laziness, but about working because of God’s provision that highly motivates you. You anchor biblical rest in the character and work of God. Real rest in God should excite some activity in you to strive for a greater experience of God.
Taste the LORD
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! – Psalm 34:8 (ESV)
Jesus found refuge (rest) while in the storm. He tasted and saw how the LORD was good. He was a blessed man. The most rest-filled people are those who are relentlessly pursuing God while finding their rest in Him.
This requirement brings you to the Gospel. Either it is real, or it is not. Either it can do for you what the Bible says in can do or it cannot. You are called to engage the Gospel by practicalizing it into your life.
If you do not have God’s rest, you must begin with the Gospel. Have you tasted it and found the LORD to be good? Are you affected by the person and work of Christ to where your faith and obedience is animated and evident to all? If not, may I recommend two things:
- Stop the futile search to find rest in the world. Weekends, materialism, relationships, status, jobs, or any other means to escape from trouble and disappointment will not deliver rest.
- Strive to taste the true and living God. Find rest in the depths of God. Be warned: you will have to fight, strive, and work to engage, enter, and enjoy God’s rest.
You will find rest on a cross, not at the beach, soaking in the rays.