Biblical Rest must be high on the list of the things we desperately need to figure out as Christ’s church in the 21st Century (especially in the West). We inherently sense our need for rest, because we’ve become a 24 hours per day, seven days per week culture. Unlimited information and services are now instantly accessible to us, and we have in turn become instantly and unlimitedly accessible to others.
One might assume that this kind of environment would yield maximum productivity, prosperity, and peace. But we know better. Anxiety, depression, and even suicide are all rising at frightening levels. And while there are certainly a wide variety of contributing factors for this, at the core is surely the absence of Biblical rest.
Let’s look briefly at what it means to do Biblical Rest, both as a state of being, and as a practice, and then examine three lies we believe that prevent us from entering into that rest.
Biblical Rest as a State of Being
We should take note here that the opposite of Biblical Rest is not inaction. The opposite of Biblical rest is unbelief (Heb. 4:3). In the case of the Hebrews, asking the people of an agrarian society and culture to cease work for an entire day every week was not meant as a meaningless religious standard to meet, but as an exercise in trust of the God who says he will provide.
You can’t read the four New Testament Gospels without seeing the overwhelming problem that the topic of “Sabbath” caused for Jesus. His propensity for doing ministry (especially healings) on the Sabbath was clearly one of the driving forces contributing to his arrest and execution. This was largely because Jesus’ contemporaries failed to see that Biblical Rest was about something deeper than whichever particular actions one chooses to do on a given day of the week. They assumed that God’s rest was simply an issue of keeping rules about inactivity. But as they did in so many other ways, they failed to see God’s heart through the Law.
As a man (yes, the unique God-man, but man even so) Jesus ministered as a highly active, and even busy human person, yet he was never in a hurry. He seemed to be always working, and yet he was always resting. Jesus rejected the kinds of lies we’ll examine in this article that pull us away from God’s kind of rest. In fact, God’s rest is the very thing Jesus offers to those who come to him (Matt. 11:28).
Biblical Rest as a Practice
There’s an old adage about busyness and activity not necessarily equating to actual productivity. We would likely be wise to consider the parallel truth; departure from work does not necessarily equate to actual rest. Have you ever gone somewhere on a long weekend, and returned home only to feel like you need a weekend to recover from your weekend?
Biblical rest is more than mere leisure. This is not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with entertainment, travel, or other types of vacations. But the kind of rest our souls need can’t be found on a sandy beach, inside a roaring stadium, or with a mouse who lives in Anaheim. It can only be found in Jesus, and it must be pursued relentlessly, one decision at a time.
Jesus’ exhortation to busy Martha was not to simply take a break from all her serving, but more specifically to draw her to himself. He didn’t just say, “Geez Martha, take a breather. Put up your feet.” Again, there’s nothing wrong with stopping to put up our feet. But in the face of so many worries and concerns vying for our attention (and they are legion), like Martha we must choose the one thing that is always better; sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).
Martha was so worried and preoccupied by throwing a party for Jesus, that she neglected to sit and enjoy the presence of Jesus. And she didn’t even need a smartphone to distract her.
The Lies That Threaten Rest
Here then, are three lies we believe that prevent us from getting the Biblical Rest God intends for us.
- God will love me more if I work harder
This first lie really defines all the others, and is at the core of man-made religion. Religion basically says that God will love me… if. “If” I pray, “if” I say no to drugs, “if” I stay faithful to my spouse, etc. Or for our purposes here, “if” I work hard. “If” I do more. “If” I work harder than anyone else, God will love and accept me.
To be sure, the Christian work ethic is a high one (Eph. 6:7 ; Col. 3:23). But when our identity becomes wrapped up into our work, or when we start to think that God will love us more if we work harder, then we’re not actively believing the Gospel! The beauty of the Christian message, and what makes it unique, is the truly unconditional love of God for us in Christ.
If we buy into the lie that God’s love or approval hang on our performance, we will be far from experiencing Biblical Rest. Even when we’re not physically working.
- I have to stay perpetually connected
The advances we’ve made toward instant communication and availability in the last twenty-five years are downright frightening. Not long ago, you could leave your home, turn on your answering machine, and be “unavailable.”
Today, we’ve bought into a culture that tells us that it is frankly rude to not instantly answer every phone call, email, and text message. Our smartphones now tell us if and when people have seen our messages, and even whether or not they are literally in the process of replying!
If we are to experience Biblical Rest, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of chronic availability. We can never give ourselves fully to Jesus if we live in a constant state of urgently giving ourselves instead to every single communication that comes our way.
- The Sky is Falling
A third lie we believe that shipwrecks our ability to rest is that we think everything is an emergency. Life will relentlessly present us with things to worry about, and if we’re not careful, we’ll start to believe that each one of these issues carries world-ending significance.
But we must stop and ask how important these things really are in God’s economy.
Jesus himself told us not to worry about things as basic as what we’ll eat, or what we’ll wear (Matt. 6:31). If God is our heavenly Father, we don’t need to be anxious about these things.
We on the other hand are experts in worrying about how clean our yards look, how late traffic is making us, and how many people saw our latest Facebook post.
Finishing the Summer
At time of writing, we’re just passing the midpoint of Summer, and many of us are still thinking “vacation”. As we do, let’s make sure we’re pursuing true, Biblical Rest. The abundant life, the living water, the rest for our souls that we so desperately desire (and need) is a person, and he is calling us to himself. Amidst all our various activities and pursuits, let’s seek Jesus and his kingdom!