Morning Lilies' (C) Malcolm Duncan. Taken at Angkor Wat, February 2013.
"The Rhythm of Rest" (This is the text of a message I brought on my visit to Cambodia in February, 2013.)
'Therefore, as the Holy Spirit say,
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, 'They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.'
As I swore in my wrath,
'They shall not enter my rest.'"...
...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.
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 3:7- 4:13 (E.S.V.)
Entering God's Rest.
God promises us rest. Like a satisfying long drink of cold, refreshing water, rest nourishes, nurtures and strengthens us. Yet in Hebrews 3:11,18 and 19 the writer makes it clear that the people of Israel did not enter the rest that God had promised them. Their failure to 'enter' their rest was caused by their disobedience. They forfeited the ability to enter into the rest God had promised them because they were not willing to submit their lives to the lifestyle trust and obedience to which God had called them. Verse 19 tells us, 'they could not enter because of their unbelief'. The writer quotes from the Exodus, the Conquest (Joshua 23) and from Psalm 95:7-11. By putting these three passages side by side (passages that span hundreds of years of history), whoever wrote Hebrews is arguing that the 'rest' God had promised His people still awaits them in some way. Hebrews then picks this up when it argues 'there remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God' (Hebrews 4:9ff). God's call to rest is still valid (Hebrews 4:1) and the pathway into it is still the same - faith (Hebrews 4:3).
This is a complicated passage of Scripture, but when we explore it a little. we discover some beautiful jewels of hope and possibility when it comes to rest.
What is 'Rest'?
Many of us rest when we are tired. We rest because we have been busy. We rest because we have had 'a lot on'. We rest because we need to 'clear our head'. None of these are wrong reasons for rest, in an of themselves, but they spring from a wrong understanding of what rest is.
Rest, Sabbath and God.
The Hebrews writer places three ideas side by side. God's work in creation (Hebrews 4:10); rest from from our work and Sabbath (Hebrews 4:9). Looking at all three helps us to understand 'rest' in a completely new, and perhaps refreshing, way.
Satisfaction not exhaustion.
God did not rest in creation because He was exhausted! Whether you read the creation narratice literally or metaphorically has no bearing on the point I want to make here. God did not reach the Seventh Day and exclaim, "I am exhasuted from all of this work, I need a break!' Instead, we read in Genesis 2:1 that at the end of the Sixth Day, God looked at all that He had made and He saw that it was 'finished' or 'completed'. Some versions of Scripture translate the word 'finished' as 'God was satisfied'. In other words, God rested on the Seventh day out of a sense of completion and satisfaction and not out of a sense of exhaustion.
We so often rest because of exhaustion! Hebrews 4:3,4 tell us that the pattern of our rest show flow from God's pattern and God's pattern of rest is one of completion and satisfaction. Of course we must rest when we are tired, but when this is all we do, we are putting ourselves in a wrong place. We are resting for the wrong reasons.
God's pattern of satisfaction is one from which we can learn so much. Are we 'satisfied' with our work? Are we ever satisified? Do we work continually because we somehow feel that we are never doing enough? Do we work and work and work because we take our worth from our work rather than our identity? The Scriptures show us a pattern of rest that flows out of satisfaction and a sense of security, completion and pleasure, not just out of a sense of being forced to stop because we cannot do any more.
We will come back to the idea of Sabbath in the next post, when we look at the 'Rhythm of Rest', but for now it is enough to say that Sabbath is a principle that forces us out of the central position in our lives. When we refuse to rest, we are implicitly stating that we must keep going - that we are indispensible. What at first appears like a result of commitment and zeal is actually a result of pride and selflishness. When we refuse to rest, we are stating that what we are doing cannot work without us. That automatically also says that God is not the centre of our lives. When we refuse to rest, we deny Him the opportunity to demonstrate that the successed of our lives flow from His energy and not our own. 'Sabbath' not only provides us with a chance to rest physically, it is a reminder that we are dependent upon God and His means and strength and not independent of them.
Three Reasons for Rest.
We rest because God has shown us that His pattern is rest. We rest because He has commanded us to (Exodus 20:8, although this is the only commandment that Jesus did not repeat and I will explain why in the next post). We rest because of the plea of Jesus to us to rest. Matthew 11:28 invites those who are 'weary' and 'heavy-laden' to come to Jesus and rest, to take His yoke upon us and to learn from Him because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.'
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this beautiful invitation like this:
'Are you burned out? Worn out on religion? Then watch how I do it. Walk with me and work with me....learn the unforced rhythms of grace.'
That leads me to what I will pick up in my next post, but for now, reflect on the fact that the reasons for rest are:
- God models it.
- God commands it.
- Jesus calls us to it.
A Command of Equal Force to the Command to 'Go'
One last thought, the call of Jesus to 'rest' has equal force as the call of Matthew 28 to 'Go into all the world and make disciples'. So many of us see the command of Matthew 28 as powerful and transforming - why do we treat the command of Matthew 11 as an option? Indeed, I would suggest that if we don't hold both of these commands in equal weight and worth, then we will be out of balance and will end up unable to function.