When God says something once, it’s important. When he says something three times in a row, he’s highlighting, underlining and urging us to listen. Hebrews 3-4 reminds us three times in 20 verses that the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7, 15; 4:7).
The inspired writer of Psalm 95 said it first: “He is our God … Today, if only you would hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (vv. 7-8).
Several thousand years later, we’re still reading: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
But what does God the Spirit keep urging us to hear? What does he keep warning us not to harden our hearts about? The surprising answer is rest. Ten times, Hebrews 3-4 mentions “rest.” Again and again, the inspired writer urges us not to do what the wilderness generation of Israelites did, not to forfeit rest.
Leaving Egypt, the Israelites resisted resting at the times their Lord designated as Sabbath. Further, they failed even to realize: Sabbath is also a place. At Sinai, the Lord referred to both aspects of Sabbath – the land he was giving his people and the Time Out with him wherever he led – when he promised, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14).
Camped just outside the promised resting place, the Exodus generation decided they didn’t have the wherewithal to take the land. Hardening their hearts, they did not enter their rest.
Hebrews 3:19 says, “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” As a result of refusing rest, they spent the remainder of their lives wandering aimlessly, bickering angrily, dying slowly. Like a person on an endless treadmill, they took a lot of steps – and went nowhere.
Equally tragic, later generations of Israelites hardened their hearts in a similar way. Hundreds of years after Moses’ death, Isaiah cried:
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (Isa. 30:15).
In yet another generation, the prophet Jeremiah declared:
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jer. 6:16).
Again and again, God’s people hardened their hearts and rejected rest. No wonder the writer of Hebrews warns us so strongly against doing the same thing. No wonder Hebrews 4:11 urges:
“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:11).
It’s hard to dismiss the compelling testimony within us: Nonstop busyness 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.
It’s hard to dismiss the compelling testimony of Scripture: God calls his people in every generation to “make every effort to enter” a Sabbath-like rest.
In God’s economy, Time Out isn’t a punishment. It’s a blessing and a gift. Receiving the gift requires pressing in to go where you haven’t believed it possible to go. Regularly, intentionally, you punctuate periods of purposeful labor with a short pause, an interval of silence, a real rest.
Read more about Time Out in Deborah’s e-book, Return to Your Rest: A Spirit-to-spirit Journey.
© 2013 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.