There is rest in the goodness of the Lord my God…
Those are lyrics from one of my favorite songs, Abundantly More, by North Point Worship. Without question we are all in need of rest for one reason or another. For most of us, the global pandemic has made life feel uneasy, chaotic, and weird right now. Fear, uncertainty, and anxiety, abounds. In the middle of this turbulent time I wanted to write about a rest like no other- and in doing so I have been blessed by the truth that triumphs. I pray it will be a blessing to you as well.
If you’ve ever trained for a race of any kind, you know part of training includes days of zero physical activity, or “rest days.” When training for a marathon I typically welcome these days, especially after a long run. However, resting becomes very difficult during the week leading up to the race. This special time of training is known as “tapering.” Many runners have a love/hate relationship with the taper, and I am no exception. It truly is a bittersweet experience: On the one hand, it’s nice to have extra rest and lighter running days; on the other hand, it’s a major mental game not to freak out as your mind tries to convince you that you’re getting out of shape. I’ve resorted to telling myself taper week is like a magic trick- that this unusual time of rest results in running a strong (and hopefully fast) race. For the most part, this mind hack keeps me sane. Still, there exists a sense of tension in the rest.
Rest can feel like that sometimes. Tense. Uneasy. It’s puzzling that rest can be so uncomfortable, but this is often the case. This leads me to wonder if we really understand what it means to rest. For instance, most people think of rest as watching a favorite television show, engaging in a hobby, or napping. But as I’m writing this I’m struck with the thought that perhaps we have the wrong idea about the nature of rest. Perhaps we mistakenly equate resting with relaxing. As I think of it, I can’t recall a single Bible verse that mentions the word “relax.” However, many verses come to mind when I think of the word “rest.”
In the first chapter of Genesis we learn that God ordained rest as part of the seven day rhythm of life. This pattern was set by God when He rested from His work of creating all that exists in the universe. This rest was taken not because God was tired or weary, but so that we would have an example to follow. This day of rest, the Sabbath, was God’s gift to us- an invitation to delight ourselves in His rest. Jesus speaks of this in Mark 2:27 when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” So important was this to God that in Exodus 20:8 He commanded His people to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
The Sabbath was not only a time to abstain from physical labor, but it was a time for God’s people to remember His faithfulness in both creation and in their liberation from Egpyptian slavery.* During the times of the Old Testament, slaves were not permitted a day off from work. By resting on the Sabbath, God’s people were reminded of their freedom from slavery. Within this remembrance was a focus on God as sovereign creator, provider, protector, and deliverer. While rest from physical labor was needed and observed, the Sabbath provided spiritual rest through reflection of the love, faithfulness, and goodness of God.
The same is still true today. We find spiritual rest anytime we pause to reflect on the attributes of God. Whether through quiet prayer, reading the Word, or singing songs of praise, time spent in His presence allows for the restoration we desperately need. I have found this to be true over and over again in my own life- whether in the midst of a pandemic, waiting in the school pick up line, or on the bathroom floor with a sick daughter- every time I shift my focus to the the holy God who loves me I find rest. Every. Single. Time. Remarkably, this rest is available to us any time of the week, any minute of the day. The God who created us graciously calls us to rest in Him.
When I first began writing this post I came across Exodus 33:14: “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Initially I took this verse to mean the rest provided by God was that of refreshment and peace. However, upon closer look I discovered that when God spoke these words to Moses the “rest” He was speaking of was the Promised Land.** After the exodus from Egypt God promised His people a land that would be their own, a land flowing of milk and honey. Amazingly, the rest promised by God in the above verse was a home.
Perhaps one of the most loved words in every language is the word “home”- a place of warmth, comfort, and ease. A place of belonging. God did indeed lead the Israelites to a new geographical home, but ultimately the triune God is our rest, our home. For those in Christ, God the Holy Spirit resides within us and is our comforter and guide. No matter where we live physically in this world, the Spirit is ever present in us producing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is beautiful rest within us. And it is through God the Father we have belonging as a son or daughter. To know we are loved by the God of the universe and in turn to love Him is where we find rest for our heart; for our heart’s home is in Him.
The fullness of our rest is given to us by God the Son, Jesus. The words he spoke in Matthew 11:28-29 are some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture: “Come to me, all who labor and are haven laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” As great as it feels to collapse into bed at the end of a physically exhausting day, I would argue that nothing beats finding rest for your soul.
In the above passage the labor Jesus was speaking of was the labor of being under the burden of the law- the tireless work of keeping the requirements of the Old Covenant.** Jesus knew the hearts of the Israelites were filled with endless feelings of uncertainty and guilt because of this labor. After all, he was the only person in all of history who was able to keep the law perfectly. Jesus was saying to the people that he could offer rest for their souls through the assurance of their salvation! Because Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly, freedom was granted from it. This was great news for them and for us all!
Although you or I may not have been trying to keep the law of Moses, at some point we will wrestle with how to be made right with God; for often we wrestle with the burden of “working our way to salvation.” However, despite good deeds done, we know we come up short. As A.W. Tozer stated, “The burden is not a local one, peculiar to those first hearers, but one which is borne by the whole human race.” This is a universal struggle from which nobody is immune. Until our hearts find rest in a Savior we will continue to feel burdened and restless.
The rest given by Jesus is indeed the assurance of our salvation- a salvation which is evidenced by his nail pierced hands and resurrected body. A salvation which is received by grace through faith. A salvation of the fulfilled law credited to us from Jesus himself. This is the gospel that saves, for our salvation has been paid in full and is found in no one else. In his book, The Naked Gospel, Andrew Farley writes: “Just as God declared His creation ‘good’ and then rested, Jesus announced from Calvary, ‘It is finished!’ and then sat down at God’s right hand.” Hallelujah! The cross and the tomb have sealed our everlasting rest…for the promised land of our eternal home is heaven.
I find myself thinking of heaven quite often, but it has been on my mind more than usual this past week due to the passing of my grandfather. As I close my eyes I envision the pure shining brilliance of the City of God. I try to imagine what it must be like to be encompassed by light, warmth, and pure love, to be rid of every physical and emotional burden. But mostly, I imagine seeing Jesus face to face. Every day I praise God for the hope of heaven. For although we are still on this earth, I find rest in the promise of an eternal life. But one day I won’t have to imagine, for that promise will be fulfilled. One day I’ll stand on those streets of gold with my Savior by my side.
To have this hope is our true rest. Indeed, the truth of the triune God regenerates our weary souls in a way that nothing else can. It is unmatched by even the most luxurious vacation ever conceived by man. For the rest that comes from worshiping the God who is our creator, father, comforter, and redeemer will never fail us. And best of all, there is no tension to be found in His rest. He is now and forevermore our perfect resting place.
The Pursuit of God, Tozer, 1948
The Naked Gospel, Farley, 2009