As beautiful as rest is, I cannot at this moment think of something else that has brought about so much legalism, so much debate, and so much judgmental comments as to what is rest and what is not.
It started back in the Old Testament, where standards laid out in Levitical law (which were strict to begin with) were added upon, so that it got even more complex. Jesus argued about Sabbath law with the Pharisees. Even in books like Laura Ingalls Wilder Farmer Boy she describes Almanzo having to sit still the whole day, as play (even for children) was not allowed on their day of rest.
When I first got married, and we would often go out to the extended family’s lake cabin in the summer on Sundays, I found out (very slowly, because no one ever said anything directly to me and it took me awhile to figure it out) that it was not looked well upon that I brought my knitting with me as I sat and looked over the lake with the rest of the family. Handwork was not done on Sundays on the farm, traditionally. (I think different generations view different activities as leisure vs. work, but that’s another musing.)
As a principle, the family farm that we live on still stops the combines and does not harvest on Sundays. We are one of the few farms left in the United States that does this. My uncle, not on the farm, tells me the story of visiting Israel, and an Orthodox Jew he met, who had been standing in an elevator for several hours on the Sabbath, waiting for someone to come by and push the button on the elevator so he could go up to his apartment. Pushing buttons was considered work, and he would not do it.
So what defines rest?
As we stated last week, sometimes it’s really hard to rest, most especially when we see work that still needs to be done. One might say that you have to work hard to rest.
From the Christian perspective, you can have all the illusion of obedience, but still have a “stiff neck.” You can have a hard heart, no connection with God, and do your best to do everything just right. Rest absolutely falls into that category. Yes, we are blessed when we obey, as it’s the nature of doing the right thing. But we cannot find rest through our own “works.” You see, deep rest, true rest goes so much deeper.
Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 talk about Jesus being our rest, and how we enter into his rest through belief. Specifically, Hebrews 3:18-19 is about how the people of God were unable to enter his rest because of unbelief.
We don’t enter into rest by observing the law, we enter into rest by believing that Jesus completed the law.
The book of Hebrews makes this very clear. This moves resting from the category of something we HAVE to do, to something we GET to do. Resting is no longer this law we must fulfill but this blessing God puts before us.
The question then becomes, do we trust it? Do we think it’s for us? Do we really believe? Will we exercise our faith? Will we take this blessing? When the Sabbath moved from a law we must fulfill to this gift found in Jesus, we must understand that “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2) and being molded and comforted, and defined by his word, we are entering into rest.
Rest is a bodily need. Jesus compares himself as the fulfillment of those daily needs throughout the New Testament. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) “I am the living water.” (John 4:14) he told people to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28-29) and here in Hebrews, he is defined as our rest too. We need bread, water, and rest daily. If we find our rest in him, then we must actually fix our eyes on him, being taught by him.
Can we also take notice, that as the God rested on the seventh day of creation as a model for his people to follow, so Jesus on earth rested and spent time in prayer, daily and often throughout his ministry. He did this even more when there were crowds around, and lots of activity. Surely someone as perfect as Jesus didn’t have to go be by himself and pray that often.
I think it’s safe to say that Jesus’ ministry on earth was exhausting. People constantly needed him. You nearly see him running away from crowds following him on a daily basis. He could heal people. That was a huge draw. He said things people just don’t say. People didn’t want to miss the drama of that. Plus, there was something about him. He spoke with such authority that people listened to him. Miracles were seen often, and I’m sure at times he felt like a circus show.
Where did he get his strength? Obviously, he was God, but in Philippians 2, it talks about how he humbled himself, and emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. Hebrews 4:15 talks about how he is our high priest who actually understands our troubles. I think Jesus felt weak and overwhelmed often…yet he did not sin. His solution? He would have some prayer time, in a quiet place with his Father. Sometimes it was at the end of a long day. Sometimes it was in the morning. Sometimes it was right smack in the middle of the day. But when he needed rest, he knew where to go.
In fact, for him, he had no problem with his disciples harvesting grain as they walked through a field on a Sabbath to get a snack. He had no problem healing on the Sabbath. He blatantly didn’t care about legalistic man-made interpretations of laws. What he cared about was communion with his Father.
Perhaps he was trying to show us something.
Our family still enjoys that my husband gets to take Sundays off, even through the busy farming seasons. Honestly, that day off is our sanity as a family. I see so much wisdom in the pattern of taking a day off of work. My father in law has told me stories about times when the forecast said hail in the middle of harvest, and they still firmly took Sunday off, and could see later that the hail pulled up to the edge of their field and stopped. That doesn’t mean we’ve never had fields hailed upon (because we do…often). It just means that sometimes you have to exercise your faith and say, “You know what, God is enough. He told me to rest, and I will.” The beauty of it, as well, is that they get so much more done in the 6 days they do work than if they had been trudging along for 7 days. I firmly believe that. They are more alert. They make better decisions. They have a moment to let their bodies and mind rest and refocus.
The main question to be asked is are you following the law, or are you exercising faith. It may seem like a small difference, but in fact it’s a big question.
So what does this mean? Does this mean that Jesus completed the law, so we no longer have to rest? Does this mean that we should take one day a week off, or maybe we should have a daily prayer time instead?
It means that Jesus is our high priest. He is our Sabbath. He is the source of rest. Since he is the completion of the law, we must look to him, and his words to the great “How then shall we live?” question that has been asked by theologians for ages.
Walking in the law now means walking with Jesus. Not because his ways are a new law, but because they are the law completed.
He covers all of our mistakes, and all us falling short with his own blood. He shows us the way we should walk in each circumstance, sometimes as we are doing it. Following him must mean abiding in him, fixing our eyes on him.
When we are not spending time with him, in the Bible (the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit, as my friend Sally recently said) either in one big chunk of the day, or throughout the day, then how can we be finding any rest?
Martin Luther, the great reformer once said: “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Now, I don’t spend hours a day in prayer. I wish I could be like a monk sometimes. But one has to see a pattern here. Some of the most effective, influential, and godly people in history have one thing in common: they went to the source for their rest, and they went there a lot.
People trying to do it on their own will be left with only their own strength. People trying to do it on their own go day in and day out, in a zombie like fashion, telling themselves they can’t stop, they can’t rest. They believe can do it, they’re strong enough. They have to. There is no one else.
But they can’t, and they fall. Their influence is gone, the memory of their work is temporary, because they’re not going to the source for their light, they’re just trying to shine their own.
Spending time in prayer and Scripture isn’t a good work. It’s a good rest.
You know what else is a good work? Actually sleeping. I remember a time before Ingrid was born, when I was getting so good at having daily time in God’s Word. I got up early, and had my quiet time every morning for a few months. It was the most consistent I had been as a Christian in my whole life. I was just so proud of myself.
Then Ingrid was born. I tried. Really I did. It was actually pretty ridiculous as I had so little sleep, and I would set my alarm and climb out of bed with my stiff, sore body that had just given birth, and fall asleep over my Bible, because I was on such a good streak, I didn’t want anything to stand in my way.
It was during that time, when God gave me actual, physical rest. Really, what was I trying to prove? What was I trying to accomplish? A great streak of no missed mornings? Jesus insists on only meeting with me a 7am sharp like some hospital nurse waking me up for vitals? Was it some sort of notch in my belt of how often I had devotions? I strongly felt God telling me to rest, and assuring me I’d know when to start the practice of getting up again.
And I did know when it was time. I had to learn some more things, though.
Those who know me know I don’t turn away dark chocolate, or my morning coffee. I don’t turn away gifts that feed my soul. I realized I was believing this lie that time in God’s Word was a chore that I had to complete, like soggy, canned vegetables to be eaten.
I had to claim the truth. But even that was a struggle. The problem with that is that I believed in my brain that time with God was rest, but I believed in my heart that it was hard. If it was hard it then it was work. Facebook was easy. Blogs were easy. Reading a different book was easy. Chatting on the phone with a friend was easy. I knew it was an illusion, but I struggled.
So then I asked God to make me crave him more than coffee. I prayed this silly prayer every day. I rationalized, that when I get up in the morning, if it’s too late, I won’t say, “Oh shoot, we try to start our school day at 8:30. It’s 8:15 and the kids haven’t eaten. Oh well. I guess that means I can’t have my coffee today. If I can’t have it at 7:30am, I don’t want it at all.”
My husband wouldn’t believe me. He’d pour me a large cup and hand it to me before he headed off to work saying: “You’re late. You’re going to need this.”
I missed it. I started craving it like crazy. I had to find other ways during that season, of just reciting Scripture in my head while I was snuggling a baby, and that became my rest. Sometimes I’d just sit down in the middle of what I was doing and open my Bible and pray, even though it was not ideal, but I needed it. I sometimes put on music that got the Word in my heart, and that became my rest.
I realized that if I just wanted a perfect attendance card for daily devotions, God wasn’t giving out any awards for that. And in fact, I needed to realize that spending time in prayer and reading the Bible wasn’t a job I could do for God, it was time he was offering me. But the rest he provided was practical in a spiritual way, but also practical in a physical way. God is concerned about both. In fact, fear of knowing that I would fail to complete some invisible gold sticker chart of perfect attendance in devotions, kept me from devotions. I didn’t want to commit because I knew I would fail him. Looking at my dusty Bible made me feel a longing, and a sadness that I couldn’t live up to what I thought God wanted from me. I fell right back into the path of thinking I had to earn grace. I couldn’t get it through my head for a long time, that it wasn’t for him.
It was for me. And I didn’t have to feel guilty, because there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ. There’s just the next step in the walk.
If resting becomes something legalistic, then it’s formulaic. We ought to remember that the only formula Jesus gave us to produce good fruit (do amazingly good works) was to abide. That is simply the only formula he gave. There was no “Top 5 ways to be in influential Christian” sermon he gave, or “How to get it all done” sermon. He said abide. Go to the source. Drink and be refreshed in him. Be restored by him.
Because you’re going to need this. We need this time with God to be effective. We need to realize not just in our heads, but in our hearts that we cannot do this life apart from God. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10.
If you want a reminder about next week’s post on rest, or other topics, you can follow me on Facebook, or sign up for email reminders on the sidebar of the blog. Next week, I’m going to speak directly to other mothers, and brainstorm some ways we can as a community get some rest even though we’re needed 24/7, both in a spiritual sense, and a physical sense (I’m talking naps people). For the beginning of this series on rest, and some background information, you can go here.
If you are on social media, I would appreciate (if you’re so inclined) you sharing a link to this post (or any of the posts to come) with your friends, most especially those you feel could use a good encouragement and source for rest.