God has called us to life with him that is vastly different from our sub-human life of exhaustion. God has both created and redeemed us to rest by trusting Him, stopping our work, and enjoying Him. In previous posts we have explored the sub-human life of exhaustion and God’s design for rest in Genesis (creation) and Exodus (redemption). But now we will look at our ultimate example of rest and the one who secured our rest, Jesus.
The New Model: Jesus Retreating
Jesus himself models trusting, stopping, and enjoying in the gospels. I love looking at Jesus’ retreats in Mark’s gospel. Mark writes with such intensity, almost like he’s ADHD, and the frequent pauses that Jesus makes are in stark contrast to Mark’s writing style. (The English Standard Version of the Bible shows Mark using the word “immediately” 36 times in his 16 chapters.) Mark’s gospel moves from event to event at a frenetic pace, yet Mark shows an intimate and intentional Jesus trusting God, stopping his work, and enjoying being in his Father’s presence nine times. There was a clear pattern of trust-stop-enjoy in the life of Jesus. One of my favorite examples is Mark 6:45-46:
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”
After feeding five thousand people, Jesus goes and climbs a mountain so he can pray. He was likely exhausted from the day’s events, yet he knew that the health of his soul was more important than anything else, even sleep. I picture Jesus slowly, methodically plodding up the mountain, gazing out across the water and breathing in the salty air above the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, deep in his heart, trusted God. He stopped from his work. He took time to simply enjoy the presence of his Father. Jesus was God’s Son in God’s World resting in God’s Spirit in these retreats. King of Universe, resting with His Father filled with the Holy Spirit. Rest is what he was enjoying. Trinitarian rest is what we are invited into. We often feel invited into God’s mission and work, but not into his rest. They are not opposed to one another, that is a false dichotomy. Serve at your church or witness to your neighbor from a rest you continually and voraciously pursue in God.
Jesus enjoyed rest while on mission. Jesus prioritized rest and the model he gives us is not one of simply sleeping in or going to the movies. No one in all of history has had a more important task to complete than Jesus. Yet we see him putting his work down and retreating. Jesus sees that sometimes battles are won by retreating. No matter what you are doing right now, regardless of how demanding your job is or the pressures of that project that is due soon, the health of your soul is more important. What you have before you is not more important than what Jesus was facing. Learn from his model and learn to retreat. Jesus stopped his working, trusted that his Father knew best, and he went away to enjoy God.
Hard Work: Rest in Hebrews
We’ve moved rapidly through the Bible in these posts, but hopefully the fog concerning rest is lifting and clarity of rest forming that: rest is one of the central themes of God’s story and we enter that rest as we trust God, stop our work, and enjoy God. The writer of Hebrews gives a beautiful summary of what we have covered in his first four chapters. He begins by declaring the greatness of our God in creation and moves to discussing the rebellious nature of God’s people. In chapters 3-4 he talks about rebellion within the context of rest. He describes rebellion against God as rejecting the seventh-day rest for which God created us. Hebrews 3:19 is one of the most haunting verses in all of scripture.
“So we see,” he writes, “that [the Jews] were unable to enter [God’s rest] because of unbelief.” Rest is directly tied to unbelief and, if you’re anything like me, that verse leaves you feeling helpless. I struggle with unbelief! How will I ever enter into God’s rest? The writer goes on to tell us to “strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” If our rest depends on our belief and our effort, the cause is hopeless.
But then comes Hebrews 4:14-16:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
There remains a deep, soul-satisfying rest for God’s people made available through the great high priest Jesus. In his opening sentences, the writer of Hebrews affirms that
“after making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
The good news of the Gospel is that we are loved and accepted today into a whole new way of living not because we have earned it or deserved it but because Jesus, our great high priest, has made purification for our sins. We are now filled with the empowering Spirit of God, and we are now told to make every effort to enter into this rest as people who will, in fact, one day enter that rest.
We pursue rest, like Jesus, by learning to trust God, to stop our work, and to enjoy him. We make every effort to do this because we were created for rest and we have been saved to join God in his rest. It seems paradoxical to pursue rest through hard work, but all great things in life require hard work. Where we are headed, we will live with God himself. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. We will freely drink from satisfying waters. We will see the face of God and will no longer be trapped in darkness for he himself will be our light. We will reign with God as princes and princesses of the universe for all eternity.
Can there be a sweeter rest than knowing and being known by God in a land where there is no sin and suffering? You and I were created for rest with him. We sinfully rebelled against God, but Jesus came and redeemed us so that we might rest. Now, we spend this life learning to rest as a foretaste of the eternal rest that is waiting for us. Trust God because he created you, he loves you, and he is leading you. Stop living out of your sinful compulsions. Enjoy God by experiencing him in all of his soul-satisfying goodness. God is leading us to his forever rest.
Spiritual disciplines are practices the Church has embraced throughout history as aids in her pursuit of rest. They are not ends in and of themselves but are intended to be springboards, which launch us into experiences of God himself. Here is our free ebook from Taking Back Sunday* which includes guide of how to rest and appendixes full of spiritual disciplines to explore. We invite you to begin your journey of rest with God by trusting, stopping, and enjoying with us.