Some of my dearest friends are high school and college students. Chatting with them about their challenges, hopes, fears, and stresses often recalls to mind some of the least restful times in my life.
As a young person, it’s hard to get perspective. Every event, every task, every challenge, and every conversation can feel absolutely critical for further success, or just for wellbeing. It’s easy to look back now and see what really did matter – and what didn’t – but back then, everything felt huge.
As I’ve mentioned in some of my older posts, I declared myself an atheist when I was in my early 20’s and didn’t come back to the Lord until my early 30’s. Back then, I felt like everybody was depending on me, and that it was my responsibility to carry my family financially, carry the success of the projects I worked on, and give the utmost in my friendships. Rest was this imaginary state of being that I longed for but knew I could never attain. Even if I was doing something “restful,” like soaking in a bath with a book, or taking a nap, or walking in the park with my family, there was always a nagging sense in the back of my mind that I had responsibilities waiting to pounce on me when I returned to “real life.”
In a way, being a student, a parent, a pastor, or a teacher (to name a few roles), can lend itself to the same sort of thinking. Whatever you’re doing, there’s always something more you could be doing. Whatever you’re doing right, you know there must be some things you’re not doing well enough. There’s a pile of homework to do, to help with, or to grade. There’s always something.
When I came back to Christianity after all that time away, I learned many lessons that I hadn’t understood during my early life. There were perspectives on God that had eluded me, and sometimes I think that if I’d understood them, I never would’ve turned my back on my faith.
One of my favorite verses was always 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (NIV). But re-reading that verse in context, after coming back to the Lord, has shown me deeper meaning. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” I’d focused on the prize but not on the condition. It’s not that God’s love is conditional, but if I’m not humble toward God and truly submit my worries to Him, expecting Him to be willing and able to help me, I won’t stop being anxious.
On Sunday morning, we talked about the link between believing God and entering His rest. Consider these passages from Hebrews 3-4:
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.Hebrews 3:18-19, NRSV, emphasis added
Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.Hebrews 4:11, NRSV
I wasn’t making any effort to enter God’s rest as an unbeliever, obviously. But I think unrest is a natural consequence of unbelief. If you do not submit your cares to the Lord, humbling yourself, your anxieties remain your own to carry.
Becoming a believer again was not without its challenges, and I can’t say the change in my stressful disposition happened overnight. But I can say that the more I understand God’s character, the more “at rest” I feel.
In Hebrews 4:9, the author said, “So then a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest cease from their labors as God did from His” (NRSV).
Before we started preparing for Sunday’s message, I’m not sure I’d thought much about what God’s rest in Genesis meant. God didn’t rest because He was tired – He’s infinite in power! He rested because His work was completed. (Many thanks to Paul H. for this insight.)
I can think of another time when the Lord called an end to the work. At the very end of His life, “…Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30b, NIV). Was Jesus saying, “My life on earth is over?” Yes, but He was saying so much more. “It is finished” means, “my purpose for coming has been fulfilled.” In Matthew 5:17, He said, “‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them'” (NIV).
Returning to the Lord hasn’t made it so I can retire from my job. It has made it so that I work for different reasons. Working for His glory gives me a joy in my work that I never had before. And while, “I’m working for the Creator of the Universe” sounds like something weighty, He has said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, NIV). Because He has accomplished everything, I no longer feel like I must be responsible for everything. When I humble myself and cry out for His help, He is there, and I can rest.
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