Isn’t it amazing how God’s “rest” seems like “risk” to us, but our “rest” is what God calls “death”? This is a long-running argument between God and us, and it’s a big deal. Read Hebrews 3 & 4 where God confronts older believers who think God’s “rest” is our “risk”. I think I can see God’s point, and it’s got some radical implications.
God’s spiritual “rest” was evident at a retreat this weekend when workers from every age group took turns presenting their labors as “God’s fellow-workers”, as God calls it. It was our 2012 Fiscal Support Team (FST) retreat covering budgets and progress reports, but this was no gathering of bureaucrats and accountants. It was a succession of hard-pressed, overworked volunteers, but you would never guess it. They were joyful and fruitful, with indomitable enthusiasm, but not because all were winning—many were facing setbacks. Those listening were also hard-pressed, overworked volunteers, but they listened enthusiastically. It was a snapshot of God’s Rest.
Stranger still was the preponderance of college and high school students in the audience (in about equal numbers) sitting through six hours of logistics, finances and reports, with only two breaks. Yet the natives were not restless, even though the stuffy room was crammed with 120 workers and leaders.
There lies the big mystery—what motivated these people? Their incentive defies natural causes. Nobody advanced careers or earned money, yet the crowded room was filled with cheers and applause all night long. Even when it was finished at 11 pm, they still milled around for hours afterwards, chatting. I intended to write up a summary of the news we heard on the retreat, but I felt compelled to capture the underlying spirit at the retreat because this picture is worth framing. What follows are some practical observations about God’s Rest, which might help us pursue the “Risk-n-Rest” way of life.
1) God’s Rest is fruitful.
“Be diligent to enter God’s Rest,” Hebrews 4 says, which is a mysterious direction to go because “diligence” and “rest” are antithetical. We were privileged to see the mystery of “God’s Rest” unveiled, because too many Christians fail to reach it, or so it seems from reading Hebrews. Really the FST retreat was just a small part of “God’s Rest” working in a dozen ministries throughout the year.
“God’s Rest” explains why people don’t understand Xenos ministries. The big confusion surrounding Xenos concerns too many volunteers investing too much time, emotions and resources in too many ministries, with too many people doing double-duty. Yet where’s the exhaustion? All these tremendous ministries seem more like parties than “ministries” (in the traditional, institutional sense), yet across the board, lives are getting saved and reoriented towards the Lord.
2) God’s Rest is a breeze.
Even though “God’s Rest” includes significant strife, it is a breeze because, “the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10) God’s Rest is defined by our reactions, our spiritual health, our love for God, and not by our pressures or peace. Worry is an unhealthy, lame state, unfitting for the sons and daughters of God, Jesus said: “Which one of you can add a single day to your life by worrying?”
Hebrews tells us the Israelites were dominated by their fears when God led them from slavery to the “The Promised Land”, which is odd because these slaves were marching towards a new life as free people. Rather than embracing freedom, those Israelites opted to “rest” in the same sense Americans try to build comfortable lives. They simply loitered in the Wilderness for 40 years, the same way too many Christians are simply treading water, fussing and fretting about their own well-being. The Israelites were actually avoiding a war of conquest by cowering in the Wilderness. They were risk-aversive, but God said their Wilderness “rest” was “death” through stagnation, because “their bodies were scattered across the Wilderness,” Hebrews says. They died safely and accomplished nothing—classic Americana.
3) God’s Rest is “young-at-heart”.
While the older generation of Israelites were fearful (no surprises there), the younger generation found it was a stroll in the park when they invaded and conquered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. Walking around Jericho for seven days and blowing a few trumpets does not qualify as a high-risk military venture. They definitely faced troubles, and sometimes significant ones, like the conquest of Ai where the Israelites were soundly defeated by an inferior force. Yet they quickly rebounded and found their spiritual footing again—quite unlike their parents wandering in the desert, but very typical of the “young at heart”.
God’s Rest seems particularly well-suited for younger minds, or at least spiritually-young minds, because the warnings in Hebrews 3 & 4 is addressed to older believers who should know better: “By now you should be teachers, but you’re still stuck on elementary things,” Hebrews says. “Elementary” no doubt means basic trust issues with God. We see older believers exclaiming again and again how they “finally” realized the importance of truly trusting God. Older Christians make things so complicated, even basic trust in Jesus, when it should be simple enough for a child to embrace, Jesus said. “Complicated” simply means “deceived” when it comes to “Old Christian Disease,” where God’s Rest is impossible.
Obsession with “Spiritual Disciplines” often takes root in “Old Christian Disease,” where believers exert tremendous effort to deepen their faith in Jesus. This is not entering God’s Rest, even though it may be advertised that way. When they still haven’t moved into the “Promised Land” and a fruitful, sacrificial lifestyle, it’s evident “Spiritual Discipline” is only a code word for “Spiritual Selfishness.”
4) God’s Rest is activistic.
God’s Rest is activistic, even militant, if we are to believe what Hebrews says about it:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Such are the weapons of warfare for those entering God’s Rest.
5) God’s Rest is a community’s hope and joy.
There seems to be a group phenomena associated with God’s Rest. The Israelites who refused to enter the Promised Land did so as a group, and the ones who entered it did so as a group. The audience for Hebrews are also languishing as a group, even though “you (plural) should be teachers by now.” Spirituality is a contagious and communal affair, so even though I may be able to enter God’s Rest as an individual (and individuals can), still I’m at personal, spiritual risk when the group refuses to enter His Rest. Conversely, we are fortunate to belong to a group where God’s Rest is evident, because our own walk gets fortified by the others.
This “contagious spirit” is what creates that cavalier, party-like atmosphere even in the midst of tremendous stress. Both joy and hope are deeply embedded in God’s Rest, and such joy that it’s contagious. The book of Hebrews is a dissertation on joy and the hope that springs out of victorious joy, if they are only willing to enter God’s Rest. When joy and hope are pulling a group forward, their uptight issues tend to fade away.
7) God’s Rest is gratitude.
The great blessings we enjoy come with a great stewardship. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude! When we see a rich harvest of joy, “gratitude” means we inject real hope into the surrounding darkness and fight the stagnation of spiritual death. “Ingratitude” means we might appreciate our fellowship together, then turn back to languish in our personal “rest”—the self-satisfied, self-indulgent, self-protective gravity in Christianity today, which stinks of death. “Ingratitude” opens up a whole “Wilderness of Sin”.1
8) God’s Rest is a stewardship.
It was not the greatness of any one person on display at that FST retreat. It was our good fortune as a group on display, because how we got there is not a pretty picture: We wasted enough time already wandering in the Wilderness, fighting doubt, distress and spiritual dysentery (think about it), and almost anything is better than that mess—even God’s Rest! We were dragged into God’s Rest by our own failures.
Today we are witnessing the victorious fruit of God’s Rest in our ministries, and it should not be forgotten or overlooked. Observe:
He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” Hebrews 4:7
- “Wilderness of Sin” happens to be the name of the place the Israelites wandered for 40 years [↩]
- The Bleeding Elephant Room
- Living Alone Together