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This mystery with God is the crux of our lives 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 the things I cannot see” (Hebrews 11:27; 10:38). How about if we apply the counterintuitive nature of the gospel to the idea of the rest-filled soul?
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. When you look underneath the water, you realize the duck’s feet are a flurry of action, keeping it afloat while moving forward.
Can’t we be like this, too? It’s not accurate to think Christians are different from our world when it comes to these temptations. We present ourselves to the public as the person we want them to see, but our souls are secretly churning with varying degrees of restlessness. Acquiring rest will only come through faith-filled fighting for it. You should relentlessly pursue rest. Not to be at rest is a set up for danger and disappointment. This text from Hebrews will help you explore the issue of striving for rest.
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 that allows us to secure a rest-filled condition for the soul. This passage is familiar to you. At some point in your Christian upbringing, you may have memorized Hebrews 4:12. It’s essential memory work for all Christians. Many folks can pull-out this critical Bible bullet when they 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 secure it. The intent of Hebrews 4:12-13 is not to be a stand-alone commentary on the Word of God. It can be, but that is not the point of the passage. You must contextualize these two verses in a section that 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 can help you find it. You should be willing to strive for the soul’s undisturbed shalom because God’s Word is amazingly astute in assisting 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.
Before you go further, you must fix this truth in your mind: God’s rest is available to you through all the trials and troubles you are experiencing. Please do not harden your heart through discouragement. 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. He will use your troubles to show you the real truth about your heart.
There is a deep satisfaction found in the good of the gospel. We can become dissatisfied, disappointed, and discouraged by the journey to that sweet spot. When this happens, we develop gospel amnesia. Though you cannot lose your salvation, you can lose your rest by going back to self-effort to strive for your preferred expectations. It’s incredible how easy we can disturb our rest in God.
It can happen with a phone call from a friend, conveying bad news. It can happen through the allurements of our world. It can occur when someone disappoints you by not meeting your expectations. 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 matter is severe and requires our utmost diligence. Our desires for acceptance, preference, comfort, and control can capture us in a moment. If it does, we will harden our hearts, which 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. If you do lose ground, your ability to discern the real problem becomes more elusive.
To proceed, I want you to answer a few diagnostic questions. Are you willing to go under the knife of God’s Word to figure out what keeps you from rest? I’m not addressing external slumber but internal contentment in God. If you’re not at rest, you will not find the solution in your circumstances or the need for another vacation. The person who is not at rest has a restless heart.
You must expose your heart to God’s Word. “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” (Hebrews 4:12). Here are my diagnostic questions.
If you’re hungry for this kind of rest, let’s proceed to the Lord’s operating room, asking Him to reveal the secret things tucked away in your heart. He is looking for those idols that 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. It will reveal the person you are while giving you a practical plan for changing with surgical precision. You cannot hide anything from God’s sight. Everything about you is naked and exposed before His eyes—things that He is holding you accountable for being and doing.
The bad news is that you can’t see what He sees. You’re blind to your sin. The good news is God can see your heart, and He will inform you of your problems if you humble yourself to listen. Your heart may be more entangled than you realize, but it’s not more entangled than your loving Father knows. There is rest found in spiritual surgery when you humbly lay yourself bare before God.
Surgery is scary, which is why you have to trust. Though you are vulnerable, you must be willing to go through the process. Are you in faith for the operation? Your answer has everything to do with your confidence 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 that depicts a lamb holding its neck back to have its throat cut. This imagery is powerful, and the Lord calls us to do this before Him. God’s Word tells us what God sees in our hearts. He considers the work that needs completion in our lives. He is omnisciently aware of our need to change. There is never a moment when God’s Word does not precisely see who we are, which brings us to our tension.
The unrest in our souls always revolves around what we want versus what God wants. This battle in our minds is undeniable. We want things, and we’re afraid of not getting them. This tension puts us in a tug-o-war with the Lord. To make things more challenging is how some of our desires are not bad. Many of you have prayed for a better marriage, hoping a bad marriage is not your lot.
All parents pray for God-loving children while living in the nervous tension of our children walking away from the Lord. We have similar good desires regarding money, health, homes, and jobs. The temptation you and I will fall into is a determined effort to get what we want, especially good things, regardless of what the Lord desires.
What do you crave, want, pursue, wish, long for, hope to get, feel you need, or passionately desire? God has an interpretation of this, and it cuts to the marrow of who you are and why you live. He sees your heart as an embattled kingdom ruled by one kind of desire or by another.
Consider this example: a woman commits adultery and 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.
His suspiciousness grieves him because he has no objective reasons for it. “I’ve forgiven my wife; 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. You could state his craving this way: “I want to guarantee that betrayal never happens again.”
The object of desire is proper—a loving marriage, but its ruling status poisons the husband’s ability to love. The craving to ensure her fidelity places him in the place of continually evaluating and judging his wife, rather than loving her. There is no guarantee this side of heaven for what he wants. He sees the point: 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—a fantastic marriage; everything is wrong when it rules your life. The process of restoring that marriage took a significant step forward as he took this truth to heart. What you need more than your preferred desire is for your heart to be laid bare by God. Stated differently, what you 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 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?