Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Path to True Rest

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 the "rest" 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


Laurence said...

What exactly is the nature of my own 'unbelief'? In the past I've thought maybe God would protect us from all that ails the worldly, but I realize we are all just as vulnerable to cancer - for instance - as anyone is. I've been teaching this Sunday School class now for going on two years. One thing I keep going back to is that the time of testing is coming to us all, like a path we cannot climb out of, and the path leads to a furnace of fire, but there is a door into it, and a door out the other side . . . there's a time of testing, and that time will pass. And what comes out is not the same as what goes in. Raw goes in, and Gold comes out. And of this time of testing I say this, that it is our relationship with God NOW that will take us through that time of testing.

When my first marriage fell apart, I was so steeped in sin, so confused, and all along feeling like I was doing just fine. I was so far from where he has brought me to now. So much has been shed, and burned away, that I could not even begin to list them, and good riddance! I'm not perfect... having not yet passed from this life to the next . . . but it is always in hind sight that we see how Blind we've been.

I once told God, I'd go anywhere He'd call me to go, as long as He'd be there with me, and that has never changed. I just never imagined the trials He would call me to!

The nature of my 'unbelief' ? I don't believe in a trouble free life anymore. I don't believe that I'll some day be exempt from life's hard times. And when I am going through hard times, I need to more and more realize it has nothing to do with me somehow deserving it (as in punishment from God) and has more to do with the perfecting of my faith.

See 1 Peter chapter 1

Ken said...

Hi Laurence.
I'm not sure what you're saying by your last paragraph there. Is it that your "unbelief" is a good kind that chooses not to believe what's false? For example, not believing that you'll somehow be exempt from hard times. I agree with your assessment of the purpose of suffering, but to disbelieve that we can avoid suffering in this world is not what the writer of Hebrews meant by unbelief. And if, as you say, the nature of your own particular unbelief is to not believe what is false, then you'd be wise to beware that there is another form of unbelief out there that is not so good, and I'd be surprised if there was a Christian alive who didn't struggle with it. It's the kind mentioned in Hebrews 3:12, in which the writer refers to an "evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God." It's all about not believing God (rather than what you seem to be referring to in not believing what's false). And it's serious enough to prevent people from finding rest in God. And though you may not struggle with it as much as I do, I would still think it a fair assumption that the "nature" of your own unbelief would include a mix of the Hebrews 3:12 kind of unbelief as well. That's why we're so strongly warned to "Take care" in regards to it.

Laurence said...

Thanks for commenting further, Ken. I'm struggling here.

But your first guess is correct. The only reason its a good kind of un-belief, is because its a turning away from ideas proven false, and turning toward God. Repentance.

If you sense confusion, its here with me. Have I stopped believing in God? No. Do I feel that the God I thought I knew is behaving any differently than my expectations?

How many times will I have to learn that lesson? I'm looking at the world around me, and lets get more specific, I'm looking at my sister's husband, a fellow very special to me, who has been diagnosed with cancer in his bile ducts, and needs a liver transplant. I look up to him, even though he's younger than me, and he's a wonderful father, husband, and man of God. And when I heard that he's one step away from life or death, I find myself standing a staring at the stars above, knowing God is there. My mouth is open, but no sound is coming out. All my ideals of who should suffer what have been challenged by this latest news for me.

When I say "unbelief" in that last paragraph there, I'm taking a stand against the false messages that are out there. I'm saying to all BUT GOD, "I don't believe in you" and I'm saying to God, "I believe in you no matter what. I don't understand. I'm sorry for ever trying to scientifically catalog you as though you were some creature I could domesticate. You are the awful, awesome God. Your every deed toward us is love. You are in control. I want my brother in law to live, and I have no reason to believe that you, Oh, Lord, will let him live, even heal him. I know that you can, but will you do so? I'm asking that you do, heal my brother, David Hamata.

John 5:2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" 7 The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." 8 Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

I would that Jesus pass by, close to where I'm at just now, and say, "Do you want Dave to be healed?" Yes, I do, Lord.

My meditations today was on the first couple of chapters of Genesis. I'll maybe type them out, and blog it, and you can comment :) its along the same lines as the stuff I'm dealing with here.