There is something about the title of this article which sounds counter-intuitive to our self-reliant and self-protective lives. Even so, doesn’t it have a biblical ring to it? You die to live (Matthew 16:24-26). You humble yourself to be exalted (Matthew 23:12). You give up to gain (Philippians 3:7) You get out to get in (Hebrews 13:13).
This mystery with God is the crux of the matter and the ongoing tension in our souls. I know I must die to live, but I don’t want to die to live. Lord, help me. What I can see has a stronger hold on me than what I can’t see (Hebrews 11:27; 10:38).
How about if we apply the counter-intuitive nature of the gospel to the idea of the rest-filled soul? Do you generally consider yourself a rest-filled soul? Are you easily controlled by anxiety, worry, or stress when circumstances are perceived to be greater than your ability to withstand them?
I’m thinking of the duck making its way across the lake. From an external observation, the duck and the lake seem to be a synchronized unit of calmness in motion. It’s only when you look underneath the water when you realize the duck’s feet are a flurry of action, keeping it afloat while moving forward.
Can’t we be like this? In this way, Christians are no different from our world. We present ourselves to the public as the person we want them to see, but our souls are secretly churning with a degree of restlessness.
Acquiring rest will only come through faith-filled fighting. We should relentlessly pursue rest. Not to be at rest is to be set up for danger and disappointment.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:11-13
There is always good news when you open your Bible. The good news we find in this passage is the solution which allows us to secure a rest-filled condition for the soul.
This passage is familiar to you. I’m sure at some point in your Christian upbringing you memorized Hebrews 4:12. It’s essential memory work for all Christians. We should be able to quickly pull out this Bible bullet when we want to laud the Word of God.
Did you know this passage is about how to find rest? The context for chapter four is a counseling session on the importance of finding rest and the danger if you don’t find it.
Hebrews 4:12-13 was not meant to be a stand-alone commentary on the Word of God. It can be, but that is not the point of the passage. These two verses are contextualized in a passage which is talking about rest. You see this with the conjunction therefore (11) and the preposition for (12).
You could say it this way: Let us strive to enter into that rest “because” the Word of God is able to help you find it. You should be willing to strive for undisturbed shalom of the soul because God’s Word is amazingly astute in helping you to attain it.
This three verse passage breaks down into three simple calls to action. If you follow this process, you will find and enjoy the rest God longs for His children to possess.
- Verse 11 – You are required to strive for rest.
- Verse 12 – God’s Word will identify how you need to change in order to find rest.
- Verse 13 – You are accountable to what God reveals to you.
Believe it: God’s rest is available to you through all the trials and troubles you are experiencing. Please do not harden your heart. Be encouraged because God’s Word can dissect your heart and reveal to you where you need to change and what you need to do.
In the book of Hebrews rest is our eternally unshakeable relationship with God that can be entered or ignored right now. – Jim Thompson
Rest Comes by Striving
There is a deep satisfaction found in the good of the gospel. The problem is we can become dissatisfied, disappointed, and discouraged by the journey of life. When this happens we develop gospel amnesia.
Though you cannot lose your salvation, you can lose your rest by going back to self-effort as a means of striving for your preferred expectation for rest. It’s amazing how easy our rest in God can be disturbed.
It can happen with a phone call from a friend, conveying news which is bad. It can happen through the allurements of our world. It can happen when someone disappoints you by not meeting your expectations.
The one obstacle which stands in the way of our entering into and remaining in God’s rest during times of trouble is the condition of our own hearts. – Charlie Boyd
The potential of having a hard heart is as easy to have as it is to crave food or air. These temptations are always before us. This is a serious matter which requires our utmost diligence. Our desires for acceptance, preference, comfort, and control can capture us in a moment.
If it does, our hearts will be hardened and we will cut ourselves off from the rest God offers. There is no neutral position in this fight. Either you are striving daily to enter into God’s rest or you’re losing ground and your ability to discern the real problem becomes more and more elusive.
Rest Comes by Exposure
The way we rest and stay at rest is to constantly expose ourselves to God’s Word in a way which allows His Word to explode the sinful desires of our hearts. – Charlie Boyd
It will be helpful for you to answer a few diagnostic questions before you proceed. Are you willing to go under the knife of God’s Word in order to figure out what is keeping you from rest?
Rest is not external slumber, but internal contentment in God. If you’re not at rest, the solution will not be found in your circumstances, but in your heart. The person who is not at rest has a restless heart.
This means your heart must be exposed by God’s Word, which is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
- Do you really want rest?
- Do you really want to grow in your sanctification?
- Do you really want to be exposed for the person you really are?
If you’re hungry for this kind of rest, then let’s proceed to the Lord’s operating room, asking Him to reveal the secret things which are tucked away in your heart. He is looking for those idols which grip the heart and control the mind.
Nothing will penetrate your heart quicker, deeper, and more profoundly than the Word of God. It is precise, decisive, and accurate. It will keep you from getting a hard heart. With surgical precision, it will reveal the person you really are while giving you a practical plan for changing.
Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. Everything about us is naked and exposed before His eyes–things which He is holding us accountable. The bad news is we can’t see what He sees. We’re blind to our sin. The good news is God can see our hearts and He will inform us of our problems if we’ll humble ourselves to listen.
Your heart may be more entangled than you realize, but it’s not more entangled than what your loving Father knows. There is rest found in spiritual surgery when you humbly lay yourself bare before God.
Rest Comes by Surgery
Surgery is scary. You have to trust. You have to be vulnerable. You must be willing to go through the process. Are you in faith for the process of spiritual surgery of the soul?
Your answer is wrapped up in the faith you have in the surgeon. Do you believe God can (1) expose you, (2) cut out the sin, and (3) heal you? Are you willing to allow Him to do this?
The word exposed in Hebrews 4:13 is a word which depicts a lamb holding its neck back to have its throat cut. This is powerful imagery of what we are called to do before the Lord.
God’s Word tells us what God sees in our hearts. He sees the work which needs to be accomplished in our lives. He is omnisciently aware of our need to change. There is never a moment when God’s Word does not see exactly who we are. This brings us to our tension.
The unrest in our souls always revolves around what we want versus what God wants. This is the undeniable battle in our minds. We want or desire things and we’re afraid of not getting these things.
This tension puts us in a tug-o-war with the Lord. To make things more challenging for us is how some of our desires are not bad. Many of you have prayed for a better marriage, hoping not to be relegated to a bad marriage.
All parents pray for God-loving children while living in the fearful tension of our children walking away from the Lord. We have similar good desires regarding money, health, homes, and jobs.
The danger is when these good desires become unruly demands, you will forfeit God’s rest. – Charlie Boyd
The temptation you and I will fall into is a self-reliant effort to get what we want, regardless of what the Lord desires for us.
What do you crave, want, pursue, wish, long for, hope to get, feel you need, or passionately desire? God has an interpretation of this that cuts to the marrow of who you are and what you live for.
He sees our hearts as an embattled kingdom ruled either by one kind of desire or by another kind. On the one hand, what lusts of the flesh hijack your heart from God’s rule? On the other hand, what holy passions express your love for God?
Our desires are not a given, but a fundamental choice. Desires are most often unruly, disorderly, inordinate affections for XYZ, a good thing that I insanely need.
Sometimes they are natural affections for xyz, made sane and orderly by subordination to passionate love for God that claims my heart, soul, mind, and might. Our desires are often idolatrous cravings to get good gifts (overthrowing or ignoring the Giver).
Sometimes they are intense desires for the Giver Himself as supremely more important than whatever good gifts we might gain or lose from His hand. That’s the first unique thing God shows us about human psychology.
This cosmic battleground is something none of the secular psychologists have seen or can see, because they can’t see that deeply into why we do what we do. Their own motives give them reasons not to want to see that deeply and honestly. It would mean admitting sin.
Consider this example. A woman commits adultery, then repents. She and her husband rebuild their marriage, painstakingly, patiently. Eight months later the man finds himself plagued with subtle suspiciousness and irritability.
The wife senses it and feels a bit like she lives under FBI surveillance. The husband is grieved by his suspiciousness because he has no objective reasons for it. “I’ve forgiven her; we’ve rebuilt our marriage; we’ve never communicated better; why do I hold on to this mistrust?”
It emerges that he is willing to forgive the past, but he attempts to control the future. His craving could be stated this way: “I want to guarantee that betrayal never, ever happens again.”
The object of desire is good; its ruling status poisons his ability to love. The lust to ensure her fidelity places him in the stance of continually evaluating and judging his wife, rather than loving her.
What he wants cannot be guaranteed this side of heaven. He sees the point, sees his inordinate desire to ensure his marital future. But he bursts out, “What’s wrong with wanting my wife to love me? What’s wrong with wanting her to remain faithful to our marriage?”
Here is where this truth is so sweet. There is nothing wrong with the object of desire; there is everything wrong when it rules his life. The process of restoring that marriage took a long step forward as he took this to heart.
What we need most is for our hearts to be laid bare by God. What we fear most is to be laid bare before God. Don’t get caught up in the “it’s a good desire” conundrum. Let the Word of God speak loud enough for you to listen to where your desire, whether good or bad, is subjected to His power.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. – Hebrews 4:7
Dear Father, Will you cut out of me anything which does not look like Jesus? Will you give me the grace to let go of even my good desires if they are not your desires? Will you give me a context of friends who are willing to help me fight for rest?
A Homework Suggestion
This article is part of a series of sermons on having a hard heart and missing the rest we can have in God. This series perfectly applies to all of us. Consider offering these four sermons and four articles as part of a homework assignment to those you are discipling.
The sermons are from two of my pastors. The articles are my sermon notes from a series we did in the book of Hebrews. After each sermon, read the corresponding article for the sermon. All the sermons can be found at Southside Fellowship. Here’s all four in order.
- Diagnosing a hard heart. A post-Easter follow-up – (Sermon preached on 04.07.13 on Hebrews 3:7-19)
- When you can’t see what you can’t see, you need a friend. Here’s what to do. – (Sermon preached on 04.14.13 on Hebrews 3:12-13)
- We should relentlessly pursue rest. Are you a restful soul? – (Sermon preached on 04.21.13 on Hebrews 4:1-11)
- You can experience God’s rest if you give up what you want. – (Sermon preached on 04.28.13 on Hebrews 4:11-13)