The enemy of rest is not busyness alone. According to Hebrews 3:18-19, the prime enemy of rest is unbelief.
Typically, this unbelief surfaces when a situation we face triggers turmoil in our soul – and instead of acknowledging our feelings, desires and thoughts, and submitting them to God, we take matters into our own hands. We let our inner disquiet drive us.
The absence of rest kills. It reduces our minds to mush. It opens our bodies to disease. It replaces vitality with stupor and a crazed, mechanical running to keep up.
In spite of all that constantly fights against it, may the Lord bless us with grace to return to our rest.
Our Lord sees how very confused we are about rest and work; how backwards our understanding of life, both here and beyond the grave.
courtesy Pavel Jedlicka
Jesus did not die and rise again in order that we might kill ourselves with busyness and deep unrest in this world – and then sit uselessly on clouds forever after. He gave himself that we might begin to experience now what we’ll know in fullness later. He came to give each of us an abundantly fruitful, forever life, lived from a place of rest.
Ages ago, a shepherd-turned-king named David sang,
The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing. (Ps. 23:1)
Centuries later, Jesus echoed and enlarged on David’s words. He said:
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. (John 10:1011 MSG)
In other words: “I am the Lord your shepherd; you lack nothing. Quite the opposite, actually.”
Peter the apostle affirmed that it’s true:
By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. (2 Peter 1:3 CEB)
Ages ago, the tribe of Joseph sang a very different song. I’ve sung this song on occasion – okay, on a lot of occasions. Maybe you have too. It goes something like this: “Lord, what you’ve given us isn’t enough.”
Joseph’s descendants were numerous, but no more numerous than some of the other Israelite tribes. Yet, when Joshua divided up the land of Canaan in the way God specified, Joseph’s clan complained that their allotment was too small. In reality, they despised the good land they’d been given because: (a) it had hills, where crops wouldn’t necessarily thrive; (b) it had lots of forests, which would take lots of work to clear, and (c) it had plains, where Canaanites with iron chariots lived.
Joshua told Joseph’s tribe (my paraphrase): “You lack nothing. The area that you can easily occupy may be small. But that should motivate you to rise up and work. And because you have strength and numbers, and because God himself has given you this land, you can clear it and possess it” (see Josh. 17:14-17).
So, I ask you: What do you think you lack? In what areas do you fear not having enough? What has God done that makes you want to shout, “Not fair!”
With those things in mind, which song will you choose to sing? The song of Joseph’s clan? “The Lord has short-changed me. I don’t have what I need.”
Or, David’s refrain? “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need” (NLT).
Today, I remind myself once again: When the Lord Who Shepherds is your keeper, protector, nurturer and provider, you lack nothing. You have all you need to be who he created you to be and to live out his purpose for your life.
As you rest in that truth, he shows you what you do have. He teaches you how to use it. He multiplies what may seem small. He empowers you to possess the abundance that Jesus gave everything to provide for you.
I’ve been helped on this journey by surprising insights gleaned from people in Scripture – about what rest is and how it looks. One of the first insights, and one of the most crucial, came from the ancient Israelites:
Entering rest requires pressing in to go where you haven’t believed it possible to go.
Here are 11 other signposts, placed in the path by people who came before.
Also from the ancient Israelites:
Our Lord has designed rest as a place to live – and as a pause we regularly take. We enjoy either aspect of rest only as we learn to embrace both.
The enemy of rest is not busyness alone. The prime enemy of rest is unbelief.
From Jesus’ disciple, Nathanael:
Entering rest requires recognizing when I’m sitting under a fig tree that can never produce what it promises. Seeing, I refuse the lie: “Cling to the status quo, and all will be well.”
From Martha, Mary’s sister:
Rest is refusing false responsibility. It’s not doing what Jesus says is not necessary. That requires learning to recognize his voice. It requires humbling my soul, because being “worried and upset about many things” may make me feel quite important.
From Mary, Martha’s sister:
Rest is refusing false guilt. It’s calmly staying the course when I’m doing what pleases Jesus, but others disapprove.
From the tax collectors, Matthew and Zacchaeus:
Rest lies in identifying what it is I’ve believed would make me whole or happy, and laying it at Jesus’ feet.
From Mary Magdalene:
Rest is knowing my Lord and his truth, Spirit-to-spirit. It’s letting him calm me and refocus me when my mind and emotions have run, screaming, the wrong way. It’s hearing in my inmost being when he himself calls my name.
From the man called Legion:
Rest is freedom from double-mindedness. When I live from a place of rest, my words and actions match.
From Mary, the mother of Jesus:
Rest comes when I surrender to Christ. I’m not the one calling the shots; he is. That involves continually letting him show me when I’m “working him” to get what I want, and when I’m truly seeking to know and do his will.
From the shepherd-king David:
Rest? It restores.
From the Lord himself, who said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me … and I will give you rest”:
If what you’re getting isn’t rest, where you’re going isn’t to Jesus.
I hadn’t previously thought it. But suddenly I knew: Psalm 23 is a song of rest.
Two years later, I learned: In the same time frame as my Spirit-to-spirit “suddenly,” Christian recording artist Matt Maher wrote a song, saying the same thing.
For me, the revelation happened in January 2014. It was a sunny Sunday morning in a valley-of-the-shadow season.
For years, I had been learning what it means to answer Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.” Searching the Scriptures, I had explored the lives of eight people who came to Jesus while he walked the earth. I saw how rest looked for each.
But more, I saw the amazing ways the life of each intersected with mine. I saw what they who lived so long ago can teach us today about our deep need to return to rest, and the ways Christ provides it.
Writing what I was learning, I had drafted most of a book manuscript titled Return to Your Rest. However, I had no clue how to end it. What would tie together all I had learned about the rest God gives and the different ways it looks?
I’ve read or heard the world’s best-known psalm countless times. Yet, that bright-but-dark Sunday, when I read Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation, I saw what I had not previously seen. The entire psalm is David’s yes to God’s rest. In that same instant, I realized: The psalm beautifully summarizes what rest looked like for the New Testament women and men whose lives God had used to teach me so much. It could be my yes to rest too.
The past: Eight voices in harmony
Listen, as eight who said yes to God’s rest sing David’s song.
First up, Nathanael, who walked away from the status and power he might have had as a religious leader in order to follow Christ. He sings robustly: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”
Next, we hear the voices of two who once were demonized – Mary Magdalene, in duet with the man called Legion, or in The Message paraphrase, “Mob.” They sing in wonder: “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.”
Now, the soprano and alto of Mary and Martha ring out: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
Then Zacchaeus and Matthew, the two tax collectors who invited Jesus for dinner, announce in tenor and bass: “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”
And Mary, the mother of Jesus, sings with joy: “You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”
Finally, in four-part harmony, all their voices rise: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”
The present: Matt Maher sings “Rest”
One other thing I didn’t know in January 2014: I still had more to experience before I could finish and publish Return to Your Rest. Now, two years later, the book ends by meandering through David’s Song of Rest, embracing aspects of rest that Psalm 23 reveals.
This spring, while preparing to release Return to Your Rest as an e-book, I had another “suddenly” – a nudge to see if any contemporary songs focus on rest.
To my surprise, just a cursory search on iTunes revealed six different songs, each by a different Christian artist, and each titled, “Rest.” All but one of the songs was recorded in the last five years. What’s more, the six songs correspond in a rather startling way with the three sections of my book: “Resisting Rest,” “Snapshots of Rest” and “Song of Rest.” So I’ve happily included links on the corresponding pages of the e-book. (You’ll find a YouTube video of Matthew West’s “Rest” in my recent post, “Sort of like frog gigging.” I suspect some of the other “Rest” videos will appear in future Return to Your Rest posts.)
Most stunning to me of all: “Rest” by Matt Maher is his rendering of Psalm 23. Matt’s song is copyrighted in 2015, but as the YouTube video below reveals: He was already performing it in March 2014.
So, hmm, no less than six contemporary Christian songs reveal: We need rest, and God himself is calling us to receive it. He’s reminding us: Psalm 23 is a song of rest – a song David started, but anyone can sing.
Listen as Matt Maher echoes David’s psalm. Maybe this very ancient and very contemporary song can express your yes to God’s rest too.
The subject of rest fascinates Pharisees. Sort of like frog gigging fascinates boys.
As you may know, Pharisees are religious people who, by virtue of being so religious, set an example for everyone else. Pharisees are fascinated by any matter that God legislates, and the God of the Bible did indeed legislate rest.
In fact, he included it as #4 on his Top 10 To-do (and Not Do) List. He commanded a day of rest weekly and called it “Sabbath,” meaning, appropriately enough, “Stop!”
This legislation has both delighted and frustrated Religious Persons through the centuries. It delights them because it presents them with a rule.
As a recovering RP, I can attest: Rules weave a security blanket for the religious. Rules set boundaries for behavior. Knowing the boundaries, religious people can thus adjust their behavior and feel quite pleased with themselves, quite assured they make the grade.
Ah, but this rule also frustrates RPs, because it isn’t specific enough. God said, “You shall not do any work” on the Sabbath. Spotlighting this command, ancient religious people wondered, “What, exactly, qualifies a thing as work?”
Then, they set out to answer their own question. Over time, the answers accumulated. The specifics mounted up. Accordingly, the parameters for “rest” kept tightening. Jewish religious leaders could tell you, for example, the exact distance one could walk without “working.”
Thus comforted by tedious and heavy rules, religious people led the way in the increasingly laborious task of resting. Of course, even they couldn’t actually keep all their own rules. Highly self-disciplined, however, they did impose rigorous standards on their own behavior and made a great show of living up to those standards. Further, they looked with contempt on any people who weren’t religious enough to do the same.
But then a man came along who did not play by their rules. Normally, this would have been No Big Deal to the RPs, then called Pharisees. They would just have disdained the man, along with all the other sinners – except for two things: (1) People were following him. (2) He claimed to be God.
The Pharisees were sure his claim to be God couldn’t be true, because this man was definitely not religious. He did things on the Sabbath day that, according to their rules, fell most certainly under the category of Work. He made sick people well, for heaven’s sake. The fact that people followed the man bothered the Pharisees a lot. It terrified and infuriated them. When crowds of people they had dominated and looked down upon pursued a person who dismissed their rules, it threatened them to the core.
Such behavior could not be tolerated. Nor could the person so behaving.
Guys out “frog gigging” hunt with a pitchfork-shaped spear, typically at night. They spotlight a frog, then spear it. Sort of like religion kills Sabbath. Sort of like it tried to exterminate the Lord of the Sabbath.
Ah, but the religious persons who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion did not know: He is the resurrection and the life. What lives in him may be snuffed out and buried, yet it will still rise up.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. (Heb. 4:9)
The key to entering this rest is to learn from the Pharisees’ example – no, not follow it; learn from it. The only rules that create healthy boundaries are the rules God himself makes. Any rules we add become, not boundaries, but bonds.
To learn what it means to “Stop!” we must beware of any one-size-fits-all formula, or even a these-are-the-steps-I-must-take formula. The God who calls for rest tailor-makes the parameters and personally teaches us what they are.
Today where you live, religion still slaughters Sabbath by the very way it tries to keep it. But when people desperate for rest leave the comfort of religious exhaustion and stumble toward God himself, Sabbath remains – and the Lord of Real Rest revives them.
In the most brutal and exhausting seasons of my life, I’ve learned: Jesus meant it when he said, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.”
From personal experience, I can testify:
No matter how completely God’s rest seems to have disappeared from your life, he still holds it out, and he makes the way for you to return.
Today, I’m in awe. Since my declaration on May 1, “I choose light,” the Lord has made a way where there was none for me to finish the e-book manuscript that has refused to be finished for two-plus years.
It’s a triple joy. For the finishing signals new victory in resting, even as I continue to learn. And now, God willing, the book being birthed can help others who know they desperately need rest, but can’t for the life of them find it.