If I were to write a book or create a sermon series on the Spiritual Disciplines, I would begin with salvation. All effort empowered by our rugged self-efforts are meaningless, one must be enabled by the Holy Spirit to bear spiritual fruit.
Beyond that, I would begin the discussion with resting. No, not working or doing or scheduling or anything that could be misconstrued as pulling oneself up by your bootstraps and getting serious about getting jack’d — spiritually jack’d that is.
Many summers ago I was asked to teach a lesson on the Sabbath as part of a summer women’s thing at church. I generally avoid women’s things because I have a strong aversion to doilies. But I was assured this event would be free from any doilies as well as any tiny breakable tea cups that require being held with ones pinky sticking out awkwardly. It would, however, have dessert, and I’m steadfastly pro dessert. So there I was teaching about the Sabbath.
The talk went fairly well by most standards (meaning no one fell asleep). However, there’s generally that one point someone makes after I’ve taught or written something that makes me cringe and worried I totally missed the mark. For that talk, it was a dear older woman who had come from a Jewish background. Her point was that we should not enslave believers with any laws from the Old Testament. I think perhaps she was overcorrecting from her background, but her point stands, and thus I want to say: a teaching on rest should not be viewed as legalistic. It shouldn’t be viewed with the rules and methods applied by those seeking to faithfully live out Jewish traditions throughout the centuries.
In fact, what Jesus had to say about the Sabbath is more glorious than anything practiced before Him. The rest that Jesus invites us into is more awesome than anything we could come up with on our own. I would, perhaps too strongly, argue that to not enter the rest Jesus offers, is to not truly understand what it means to be a Christian.
Even before the 10 commandments, God offered a Sabbath to his people (Exodus 16:23). Then a few chapters later we find the law:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Most of the other commandments (aside form honoring your father and mother) were started with a negative (thou shall not …). But this one isn’t primarily about not doing something, it’s about doing rest. How do you do rest? Great question, glad you asked. When you look at the etymology of the word Sabbath you find that the root of this VERB (which even I, who hardly knows nothin’ ‘bout grammar) signifies action. It can be translated as “ceasing from work”. In the Bible this word is generally associated with a chosen abstinence from everyday work stuff, and is associated with obeying God’s commands and worshipping Him. This rest was never meant to be a lazy way out of hard work. Nor was it about kicking back with some adult (or kiddie) beverages while floating around in a pool. Though that sounds fun.
Perhaps you’ve heard the quote from St. Augustine of Hippo, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you” (Confessions, 354-430). All of history, according to the Bible, is moving to a place of reconciliation, a new heaven and earth. Personally I still think there will be some rhythm of work and rest, but the effects of the curse will be removed. The entry point to that rest is salvation in Jesus Christ alone. I’m not sure any other book of the Bible expresses the supremacy of Christ in as beautiful a manner as Hebrews. Written to encourage believers going through trials, the author emphasizes Christ’s unique work providing an entry point to a better way of life and rest than anything that could have been offered before. In fact, the author compares the rest believers in Christ can have with the rest that the wandering band of complaining believers didn’t take as recorded back in Exodus. The invitation is to not harden our hearts, and today, enter into a better rest.
Jesus invites his followers:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
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.
For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light.
It is not self-righteous rule keeping that will allow the believer to rest. Indeed, here Jesus is inviting us to partner with Him in His labor. Jesus paid for all of our debts and covered our sins on the cross, and now we are invited to actuate that freedom in our lives as we co-labor with him. The believer’s life is not 100% Jesus or the Holy Spirit and us coasting, along for the ride without contributing gas money or buying snacks. That’s not how yokes work. Instead there must be an effective cooperation between those yoked in order to get the job done. Lest we forget that Jesus chose to use a symbol designed for work.
Watchman Nee’s book expositing Ephesians, “Sit, Walk, Stand” provides much mind blowing fodder in terms of living out the Christian life from a place of resting in Christ’s completed work. He writes,
We are back again in the first section of Ephesians. What is the secret strength of the Christian life? Whence has it its power? Let me give you the answer in a sentence: The Christian’s secret is his rest in Christ. His power derives from his God-given position. All who sit can walk, for in the thought of God the one follows the other spontaneously. We sit forever with Christ that we may walk continuously before men (23).
The image of walking in rest has been helpful in my own application of this concept.
For those who seek to have jack’d and tan spirits and bodies, there is another application to this concept of rest. Anyone familiar with the cycle of breaking down muscles and building them back up knows that the actual muscle growth occurs while … you guessed it … resting.
Now how do we apply this concept to our lives? Stay tuned for the next episode.