“Hectic” does not even come close to describing the last seven days. I was supposed to be out of town at a pastor’s conference and was looking forward to the extra day I tacked on to my time away to take my wife on a date, sink my feet into a sandy beach, and halfway read a mindless novel. Alas, responsibility beckoned, and I eschewed the dinner, mirth, sun, and surf to, as the kids say, handle my bidness. [NOTE: The previous sentence would have the great writers of history spinning in their respective graves if such a thing were possible, with the exception of George Bernard Shaw. I rather think he’d like the marriage of “eschewed” and “bidness”.]
Please do not be concerned: whilst keeping my feet on terra firma at home in the Tar Heel State, I was able to enjoy a few moments of downtime and am looking forward to the result of this week’s labor as it will yield significant benefits in the future. I’m good, though slightly worse for wear.
It was in this frame of mind I encountered a familiar text in my personal Bible study this morning. I’ve been reading through the New Testament book of Hebrews lately and I started on chapter four today.
The humor of God was on full display because the beginning of the fourth chapter of Hebrews is all about rest. The kind of rest the Holy Spirit inspired the author to write has absolutely nothing with the rest I was craving earlier this week, but he described a time in my life when I was spiritually exhausted and needed a different kind of rest.
Here’s what I mean: sometimes we make the pursuit of God too complicated. I’ve met people (and have been one of those people) who, in striving to please the Almighty, concentrate on religious performance as if by sheer force of will believe they are able to change who they are, beginning with the external while hoping their internal motivations eventually adjust to become more righteous. That kind of behavior-based religion is what causes exhaustion and ultimately does not lead us any closer to Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews identifies what we really need. The first 10 verses of the chapter are a reminder of the results of disobedient and senseless self-striving using the example of the early nation of Israel’s unwillingness to fully trust God. By the way, I’ve been guilty of that more times than I can count…
When the author used the word “rest,” he was not talking about the “I’m going to close my eyes to let my mind and body have a break” kind of rest. No, this rest is a clear call to stop doing the unnecessary and unproductive, which is what the nation of Israel busied themselves with. It’s in that context that he wrote verse 11 which is the setup to the solution:
Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. Hebrews 4:11 CSB
There’s nothing we can do on our own to receive the kind of rest that we crave. Instead, Jesus transforms us from the inside out. He began that work through His sacrifice on the cross and now the Spirit of God has taken up residence to lovingly lead us toward completion. We are finally able to rest because the search is over–the path to salvation has been discovered.
Sure, there’s still an element of personal effort, but the exhausting and impossible human task of trying to gain relationship with God has been accomplished through Christ. Also, we’ve been warned not to make the same mistakes that the people of Israel made. Allow God to do the hard part–our mandate is to follow His leadership.
How do we do that? Here’s the solution for EVERY follower of Jesus:
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 CSB
Boom! It turns out that God has given us everything we need to find the life we crave, the answers we seek, and a measure by which our pursuit of righteousness can be determined. God, the source of all life, has given His living Word to affect every part of who we are:
- body (what is best for our physical body),
- soul (our thoughts and emotions), and
- spirit (who we are in relation to God).
Since the Bible offers so much, especially as we allow God’s Holy Spirit to teach us even more deeply as we read, why would we limit our intake to corporate worship on Sunday mornings only? I’m sure that’s not what you do, but I have done my own spiritual development and relationship with God a disservice by prioritizing other things. It should come as no surprise that those are the times I have felt most distant from God and in real danger of allowing my own life choices wreck everything.
With a nod to Soren Kierkegaard (a 19th-century Danish philosopher/theologian), I cannot imagine what I would become if, out of spiritual laziness, I live on the crumbs that fall from another’s table. God’s living, effective, and instructive words have been given to me as a gift–may I spend even more time allowing God to transform me as I learn from Him.
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