April 8, 2014

Start resting by praying . . .

“Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, but He washed it white as snow . . .” the words of a hymn speak of forgiveness and cleansing, but when I first typed them, I wrote: “Jesus does it all . . .” for as I study the Bible and live my life, I am becoming more and more aware that my efforts always fall short. I could not make myself right before God, nor can I keep myself right in the way that I live.

In learning to live out all that Christ has given me, one important reality is learning to trust Him and not myself, to rest in Him. This “rest” is about God’s sovereign power, about trusting Him to take care of everything. Trying to do that is something like my grandmother used to say, “The harder I try, the behinder I get.”

Resting in God is a challenge for all of us who live in a busy world. The tensions of life press us to work hard, try hard, even play hard. We are individualistic and independent, not used to resting or trusting in anything but our own resources. Yet Jesus Christ makes this lovely invitation . . .

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. (Matthew 11:29)

The image or pattern is the Sabbath. In the past, this one day of the week was a call to stop work and worship. The Old Testament people must have been something like us because God had to command them to do it. They were no more prone to rest (or worship) than we are.

However, resting that one day a week was not the goal. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:8–11)

The Sabbath rest is also a picture of trusting God for all of life, of recognizing His care and not fretting or fussing about anything. As the psalmist said, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7)

In the New Testament, the Sabbath had become a day of “thou shall not . . .” rules. Jesus often spoke about the way the people had missed the point. This must be human nature, for even Christians who know how to rest in Him can remember how the church did the same, enforcing rest with a long list of rules.

But Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man. He understood the principle of rest and knew all this would happen. God had said, “’This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose,’ yet they would not hear.” (Isaiah 28:12) and “’In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Why were they unwilling? The same reason that I am unwilling. I do not rest in Jesus, whether it is for a time to be refreshed, or simply trusting Him to do what needs to be done in my life because I think I must do it myself. I think I know what is best. I assume that if I don’t, it won’t happen. All my reasons basically boil down to trusting myself more than God.

The result of refusing rest and not trusting Jesus is anxiety and fatigue. However, I am learning (the hard way, as usual) that all of life points me to that Sabbath rest. God wants me to find it and enter into it. It is available to all, and in it we find the joy and goal of salvation . . .

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3–4)

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