“God’s promise of entering his place of rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to get there. For this Good News – that God has prepared a place of rest – has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t believe what God told them.” Hebrews 4: 1
Maybe its because of Christmas Break that I’ve been contemplating rest lately. Sorely needed rest is what I look forward to most after the last hectic week of school. I long for rest before the holy pause of Advent. It somehow feels as if all the world has been set into stasis for a moment and rest and reflection become our “work” … well, between the press of obligations and traditions. Perhaps it is this quiet meditation that the god of this world is after as he chases us down the aisles of WalMart screaming 50% off! God is in the quiet.
So as I read Hebrews 4 this morning, I realized that God has invited us into the rest He himself inhabits. In fact, God seems to be very serious about our sitting down with Him on the inside since the whole chapter is really a warning against our jumping up and doing life as usual. Why? What’s the big deal about rest?
The book of Hebrews is a letter by one of our early church fathers (we don’t know who) speaking under the Spirit’s power to Jews who lived just after Jesus’ first coming. These men and women were God’s people Israel by birth. What defined them as God’s people were the things they did to please Him…things God Himself initiated among them, and things their rabbis added to God’s commands. What made a Jew a Jew was obedience to the revealed Law and the observance of rituals. It is this obedience to the Old Covenant that the writer contrasts with “rest”. It is the doing of these things that is the opposite of the new Way of Jesus that His death, burial and resurrection ushered in. That’s the message of Hebrews 4- stop being God’s people by doing and be His New Covenant people, just be.
It must have felt like skinny dipping in broad daylight. This meant that their entire cultural identity was on the line. It might be like giving up our citizenship in the United States and membership in our church to follow Jesus. They would no longer be part of the worshiping community that had cradled them in infancy and carried them through life to the grave, and beyond. They were to enter into a new, very real spiritual reality of oneness with God through faith in Christ…just through faith…and walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit within. This is rest.
What is not rest is adding anything to our oneness with God through Christ that does not flow from His leadership; living as though our lives were our own; acting from our own strength to please God. Yes, even to please God! We tend to think of the danger of greed, pride, lust, rebellion and rightly rest from these works, by the grace of God alone. But then, later, we have the habit of running our normal, day- to- day Christian lives apart from His leadership. Hebrews 4 challenges that right we claim over life this side of surrender. It names it “unbelief”. It is a very dangerous idea to think that we can live our Christian lives according to our own ideas of what pleases God; even popular ideas promoted by famous people.
The life of faith is one of constant naked trust. It is a cultivated habit of listening to the inward voice of the Holy Spirit and inviting His Presence again and again to fill us. We hear Him in His Word. We hear Him through other people. We hear Him in His other testament- the natural world. And we obey the last thing He said to us until He tells us something new. It is keeping the door of the heart always open to Him first, and others only afterward, as He should lead. This brings incredible freedom and joy; so much so that if we’re not experiencing joy and peace and freedom it is a telltale sign of having abandoned the rest of God and taken up another habit. When one has pleased God there is no other pleasure.
So how do we know we have drifted into “unbelief” and out of the rest of God?
- more “shoulds” in life than “get to’s”- a constant sense of guilt
- a sense of having unfinished business with God
- resentment at not measuring up to His standards
- striving to achieve spiritual success leading to emptiness
- envy of others seemingly more secure position with God
- constant motion- never-ending cycle of doing the next good thing
But isn’t there something we must do for God? No, is my contention, but there is an infinite number of things we get to do with Him! Believing is the adventure that may lead to a dug-out canoe ride in the Borneo jungle; to well-drilling in an impoverished African village; to a job in an inner-city school. When you are sitting down with Father on the inside, you are truly free to be useful to Him and to others on the outside- no strings attached. And that is rest in the Way He showed us how to do.