A Rest for the People of God

Do you ever feel like your life is a whirlwind of activity that never stops and never slows down? You aren’t alone. Many studies have come out that indicate Americans are busier than ever with work hours, household chores, kid’s activities, family responsibilities, volunteering opportunities, and more.

And yet, there are other studies that indicate that Americans aren’t actually as busy as they think they are. These studies suggest that the same people who feel too busy also enjoy hours of TV each day. So what’s the truth? I think the issue comes down to the fact that many Americans do not know how to rest well, and therefore feel more tired, more stressed, and more busy. The time they do have off does not become a re-energizing time, but rather becomes fleeting opportunities for distraction. Rather than pursuing relaxing activities that refresh their mind, heart, body, and soul, they seek cheap thrills by watching a TV.

When I was recently evaluating my own leisure time, I came across a passage that profoundly shaped my view of rest. Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” This passage is packed with so much gospel truth. Let’s take it chronologically.

God’s Rest

“For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (4:4)

Though God did not need rest, he established a precedent that still lingers today. Our calenders follow various astronomical events as a way to keep time. Years represent the amount of time it takes for us to orbit the sun. Months represent the lunar cycle. Days represent the time it takes for the earth to rotate. But what about weeks? We have no event that correlates to a seven day group, other than the example that God set for us. Through this, he was  teaching us the value of rest for our physical body, but he was also teaching us a deeper spiritual truth.

Sabbath Rest

“So then there remains a Sabbath rest …”

The law records that we are to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” in Exodus 20:8. Here, God not only sets an example for us, but also gives us a command to set the seventh day apart for rest. The Israelites were not to do any work on the seventh day. The Old Testament is jam-packed full of illustrations of greater spiritual truths, and the Sabbath command is no exception.

Gospel Rest

” … for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

The word “works” takes on an intentional double meaning in this passage. In the preceding verses, “works” is used many times, but they refer to God’s works in the creation of the universe. However, later in this book, “works” is used about mankind three times. Twice, it is an exhortation to repent from “dead works” and believe in Christ’s salvation. Our dead works are vain attempts to keep God’s law and earn his rest. This means that God, from the creation of the world, set up a weekly example of gospel truth for us to remember. Just as we must take a break from our work in order to rest each week, we also must turn from our works in order to enter God’s rest.

The gospel teaches us that we cannot earn God’s favor through being good. None of our works are good enough to find rest for our souls. Instead, because our works are sinful, God is just to be wrathful because of our dead works. The gospel teaches us that in order to be saved from that wrath, we must believe that Jesus Christ took our sin and dead works on the cross. There, he suffered under God’s just wrath for our sin. In exchange, we are given Jesus’ perfect life, so that as God looks at us, he sees Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus died on the cross and came back to life three days later. Because he lives, we know that we too will live and enter the final rest of heaven.

However, the author of Hebrews says, “has entered,” not “will enter.” This means that the people of God can have rest today that will be fully realized one day in heaven. Through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from our dead works, we have Jesus’ rest today. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “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.”

So what? These are great theological and philosophical truths to consider, but how does this impact our life? Here are a few practical steps that could promote gospel-centered rest in your home.

  1. Separate one day each week for you and your family. Do not allow work, extra-curricular activities, or anything else to creep into this day.
  2. Avoid TV or screen-related activities. Those things are not necessarily bad amusements. However, the goal is not to just amuse (literally means no thinking), but the goal is to rest. Amusement and rest are not the same thing.
  3. Spend extra time on this day resting. Find something that refreshes your soul. It could be fishing, or playing a sport, or doing a hobby, or anything else. Figure out your rest, and do it.
  4. While you are enjoying your rest, project that joy into your spiritual life. Understand that whatever rest you have in fishing (or whatever), you have a much great rest in Jesus Christ. Consider the gospel. Consider how frantically you would be trying to do good works without Christ, but how all your works would mean nothing. Meditate on the joy that you do not have to work for your salvation, but you can simply rest in Christ’s work on your behalf. Thank God for the rest that you have in your soul because of Christ.
  5. Spend time with people who you love and who loves you. There are many introvert-extrovert analyses out there, and there may be some truth to them, but everyone needs to be in a loving relationship. Both giving love and getting love refreshes and rests the soul.
    1. Dads, spend extra time with your kids and your wife. This may involve putting off chores, projects, and watching the game.
    2. Moms, spend extra time with your kids and your husband. This may involve putting off chores, projects, and watching your favorite TV show.
    3. Teens, spend time talking and enjoying your family. Don’t stay up too late the night before. Turn off your phones, iPods, iPads, computers, TVs, and video games.
    4. Kids, play with your mom and dad.
    5. Friends, get together. Laugh hard. Talk long. Enjoy silence. Do friend things.
    6. Christians, pray for one another and with one another. Share burdens. Be transparent. Get personal.
  6. Spend extra time in prayer and Bible reading. No one has ever been unrested after they did.

The danger of “do’s” after a blog on rest is pretty obvious. If you pursue these things out of obligation, you will not find rest for your soul. Embrace Jesus Christ and his works on your behalf. Start small and do them out of a desire to understand God’s rest even better.

I’ll close with the next words in the book Hebrews. These words challenge us to examine our hearts to see if we have really found rest in Jesus.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account..” Hebrews 4:11-13