As Christmas approaches, I'm really looking forward to having a few extra days off from work. I've outgrown the anticipation of gifts, but in its place is a craving for calm -- a time to dial down and relax. But I'm all too aware from past experience that such rest can be elusive, even when my schedule is emptied. And I also know it's possible to end a holiday break as weary as the day it began, even if I do very little during that break. I think that's because I'm seeking external rest when what I really need is internal rest. I'm resting my body while my heart remains restless.
And as I was reading the Letter to the Hebrews in my Bible this month, I think I began to understand the path to the kind of rest I really need. In Hebrews 4, the writer mentions "the promise of entering His rest"
(4:1), and assures us that that promise still stands. But then he issues a warning about the rest God promises us: "let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it."
That's a valid warning, because in my harried and weary state, I sometimes wonder if I'm failing to reach that wonderful rest God promises, and such uncertainty only adds to the disquiet in my soul. So what to do?
It was only when I noticed what the writer had just been writing about in the previous chapter that I realized the kind of rest he was meaning, and saw how I could remain in the deep, meaningful rest God promises. Just a few verses earlier, in Hebrews 3:12, there is another warning issued: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."
That's a serious warning. And six verses later, referring to God's posture toward the children of Israel, it says, "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to to enter because of unbelief"
(3:18-19). In other words, the evil of unbelief in their hearts robbed God's people of God's rest.
Does that same warning apply to me? And is it possible to have a whole sabbatical (let alone a brief Christmas break), and still not feel at rest at the end of it all if one doesn't heed such a warning? Well, as the writer continues and addresses the Christians he was writing to, he says, "Since therefore it remains for some to enter it
[God's rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience
[the disobedience of unbelief], again He appoints a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden you hearts.'... So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God... Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience"
(4:6-11). That "same sort of disobedience"
he's writing about was the disobedience of unbelief that he'd previously mentioned (in 3:18-19). And that hardening of their hearts
is also a reference to what we're doing when we walk in unbelief.
This means that true rest -- the "rest"
God promises -- the rest my soul continually craves -- is something we can only find by believing God. Because if the sin of unbelief is what prevented God's people from entering His rest, it only seems fair to say that the virtue of believing God will open the door to God's rest. In fact, I wonder if it's fair to say that believing God is
God promises in Hebrews 4:1. Believing God is rest for our souls. And we lose that rest every single time we fall into unbelief.
So as I long for rest and refreshment during this Christmas season, I'd be wise to note that the surest way to find rest for my soul is to take God at His Word, to trust His promises, to accept His instructions and to walk in His ways because I believe His will to be "good and acceptable and perfect"
(Romans 12:2). That's rest. That's freedom from the pain of trying to get things done my way.
And as I've pondered all this, I was alarmed at the thought of how easily unbelief can creep into my heart and rob me of the rest of believing God. The antidote is to attack unbelief wherever I see it in my life -- to turn from it quickly, and by God's grace, to grab that door-handle of believing God so that I can enter His rest as easily as stepping into a room full of God's promises. Now that
sounds like Christmas!
© 2010 by Ken Peters