Rest. What a wonderful word. It brings with it feelings of relaxation and refreshment; a chance to renew the spirit and bring a freshness back to the old routines of life. Many of us look forward to periods of rest so we can separate ourselves from the everyday mundane pace of work and enjoy some much deserved down time. We daydream about the perfect vacation and the refreshment it will bring to our soul. It is something that each and every one of us looks forward to and cherishes deep within our hearts; however, each one of us knows that rest is only a temporary manifestation in our lives and that, at some point, we must return to the world of work and begin the process all over again. It seems that while rest is a word that each of us dreams of, we are only able to possess it for a short period of time. In today’s fast paced world, rest is something that only lasts for a fleeting moment then it’s gone.
It is something that each and every one of us looks forward to and cherishes deep within our hearts; however, each one of us knows that rest is only a temporary manifestation in our lives and that, at some point, we must return to the world of work and begin the process all over again.
While I was a busy homeschool mom with three kids extremely close in age, I dreamed of the day when they would finally find their wings and fly. No longer would I be tied to hours of planning, prepping lesson plans, grading, compiling portfolios, and maintaining copious logs all to prove that an appropriate education was taking place within the walls of our home. It was exhausting, time consuming, and had taken over my entire life for 20 long years. Do not get me wrong, I have no regrets in regard to our decision, it was just a very long and tiring season in my life and I dreamed of a day when it would no longer consume all my energy. I see now, in hindsight, that I had no idea what it was that I was asking for, in what form that rest would come, and what incredible changes it would bring to my life. In the spring of our youngest child’s senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. At the time, we had enrolled our son in a private school and I had taken a job as a high school English teacher. This was a dream come true and I was looking forward to a career as a teacher after our son had graduated; however, that was not what God had planned for me. The diagnosis of cancer forced me to quit my job and I suddenly found myself propelled into that season of rest that I had at one time so desperately dreamed. A situation, I quickly discovered, that was not what I intended or wanted.
As Americans, I think that we have come to associate our well-being and self-worth with our work. While we may dream of that Sabbath rest, it is not something that we want to endure permanently. Our work defines who we are and gives us a sense of purpose; when it is taken away, we no longer have a beacon in which to guide us on the path of life and we are left like a ship without a sail. Due to our view of work, we can never enter into that rest that God has promised his people. We will always be tossed about on the waves, directionless, chasing after something but never quite knowing exactly what it is in which we are searching. We know that God has promised us rest, yet we can never attain that promise, leaving us searching and never receiving. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us why we can never attain that promised rest:
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God rested from his” (NIV Heb 4.9-10)
True rest remains elusive because the American culture looks upon rest as a negative. We are to be busy, bogged down with work, and solely focused on attaining for ourselves a piece of the American dream. This is an unending, exhausting pursuit. Being abruptly thrown into a form of Sabbath rest due to cancer, I can honestly say that I have been living with the fallout of embracing the American Dream and all of its hollow promises. It is my deepest desire to be able to define myself by the job that I have and to feel that I am a productive member of society through gainful employment outside the house. This has always been my dream. Cancer stole that dream away from me and I am not sure that I have completely recovered from the shock. I have to admit that I have even referred to myself as one of Hitler’s “useless eaters” because my life does not give back to the State in the form of taxes from an income. Instead, I sit at home and consume precious resources and give nothing in return. This, it is painful to admit, is a lie straight from the pit of Hell.
One of God’s greatest gifts to his people is rest. This was his ultimate desire to give to Israel when he freed them from bondage in Egypt. In fact, God had planned this gift of rest for his people before the beginning of the world. The author of Hebrews tells us that:
“And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words, ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work'” (NIV Heb 4.3-4).
As all of Israel stood on the brink of the promised land, God had already given the people into their hands. All they needed to do was act in faith, follow the commands of God, and go possess the land. There was no more asked of them because God had already finished the work before he even began to speak the world into existence. If the people of Israel held this truth in faith, they would have entered into God’s perfect rest; instead, they saw with their own eyes, made an assessment with their own understanding, and failed to take hold of the promise in faith. As all of Israel stood before the Tent of Meeting, there were still seven tribes out of twelve that had not yet received their inheritance (NIV Jos 18.1-2). As Joshua addresses the assembly, he asks a very pointed question:
“How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you” (NIV Jos 18.3)?
There was no reason why seven of the tribes were still not in possession of what God had promised. It had nothing to do with God failing to make good on his covenant promises, it had everything to do with the faith of the Israelites and their actions. Again, the author of Hebrews writes:
“For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (4.2).
For those of us hearing this message in modern day America, I think we fail to possess the promised rest because we have placed our faith in works and not in the promises of God. I know for me personally, my faith was tied up in my dream of work, of making a name for myself through my own actions and not embracing all that God says that I am and has called me to be for his glory. I have lost faith in the truth of my identity in Christ and exchanged it for faith in an identity that I can create for myself via my own works. This is why I feel like a “useless eater”; I have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and I desire to serve both myself and the State, not the one true and living God.
This generation of Israel had seen the hand of God at work in their midst. They watched as the walls of Jericho collapsed. They witnessed tribes stronger than they fall in defeat before them. Kings admitted their hearts grew faint at the thought of all that had taken place in Jericho and easily fell into their hands. This generation saw first hand the promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; yet they failed to lay ahold of promise through a lack of faith. Funny, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are among those commended in Hebrews 11 for living in faith even though they never saw the promises fulfilled in their lifetime (11.13). They counted God as faithful and welcomed these promises from a distance. Joshua’s generation, in contrast, saw with their own eyes the works of God and the realization of the promise and still they could not embrace all that was given to them because they lacked faith.
This generation saw first hand the promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; yet they failed to lay ahold of promise through a lack of faith.
This makes me think of Thomas and his stubborn refusal to believe the reports of the resurrected Christ until he could see with his very own eyes. Once he was confronted with Christ in the flesh, his stubbornness disappeared and he could boldly declare, “My Lord and my God” (NIV Jn 20.28). What really captures my heart in the story of Thomas is the words of Jesus in regard to those who would come after:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (NIV Jn 20.29).
This is the today spoken of in Psalm 95:7-8. As his voice calls out, do not allow hearts to be hardened, instead reach out in faith and take ahold of the rest that is promised for God says that:
“…for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (NIV Heb 4.9-11).
While I do desire to work again, I have come to the realization that God has blessed me with this season of rest for a very specific reason. My heart is burdened with pain from the past and I find myself being dragged down with the realization that many things I thought were real are, in fact, a lie. I am broken and beaten down by this realization and it has consumed my life and has altered my mental well-being. God knows that I need to find forgiveness and healing from this pain and has, in his ultimate wisdom, given me the blessing of rest in order to restore my soul; however, through lack of faith, I have failed to embrace the promise he has laid out before me. I have read these words so many times and found a comfort in them, but I have failed to embrace their truth and the promise of relief they bring. I know I am not the only one who can find healing and release by taking these words in faith:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV Mt 11.28-30).
How many have read these words and failed to take them in faith? How many have been burdened and made weary by a cross that is impossible to bear? How many long for peace and rest yet fail to do this one simple thing? I know I have and I know that it has been through an act of conscious rebellion that I have failed to relinquish my pain to Christ and experience true freedom. I love the bondage of Egypt. It keeps me fed and gives me purpose. It allows me to play the martyr and seek after sympathy. I want to hold on to my pain because I firmly (and erroneously) believe it is what defines me. I am afraid that without my pain I will cease to exist as a unique individual. Lies. All lies from the pit of Hell and targeted expressly to keep me in bondage to Egypt and not allow me to experience the milk and honey of the promised land. This is the today spoken of through the psalmist. This is the day that the Lord’s voice calls out and offers rest. Do not allow hearts to be hardened. Instead, release the pain by taking on the yoke of Christ and let him carry the burden, then sit back and embrace the rest.