Labor to Enter His Rest (Hebrews 4:11)

Migrant-Mother-Dorothea-LangeThe other day a strange man approached a young girl and offered her candy if she would get in his car. Thankfully, the girl knew all about stranger danger and quickly walked to a shop where she was safe.

I know you’ve heard this sort of story before but this was different for us because it happened on the street where we live and the girl was a classmate of one of my daughters. She was walking home when it happened so you can guess what every parent in our school is now thinking. That could’ve been my little girl!

I mention this story because a few years ago this incident would’ve sent me into a fearful tizz. I was a bit like Job who worried much about his kids. Like many parents, I would lose sleep thinking about the bad things that could happen to my children. The world is big and our kids are small. Dangers await them on every side!

But by the grace of God I came to a place of rest some years ago. After I heard about this latest incident, I slept as peacefully as ever. And this brings me to the following scripture:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. (Heb 4:9-11)

Striving to rest

Grace and works don’t mix, so how do we explain the bit about “making every effort to rest”? It seems contradictory.

“No it isn’t,” says the preacher of works. “It’s about serving the Lord. While on earth we work, and when we get to heaven we rest.”

To the natural mind this makes perfect sense. It’s how the world works. During the week you work and on the weekend you rest. But if you buy into this work now-rest later message you will surely fall from grace. You’ll stop trusting in Christ’s finished work and start banking on your own.

“But I must work. The Bible clearly says so.”

Does it? Look at the preceding verse: “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work.” You cannot preach verse 11 without verse 10. This may come as a shock, but resting means resting. It’s not complicated. And this isn’t referring to your future retirement in heaven for resting literally means resting “from your own work.”

How do we labor to enter his rest?

The work we rest from is the dead work of trying to earn God’s favor. Read the passage in context and you will see that it is referring to the unbelieving children of Israel. They tried to earn what God wanted to give them and consequently they never entered the Lord’s rest.

If you don’t believe that God wants to bless you and, indeed, that he already has blessed you with every blessing in Christ Jesus, then you will work and never rest. You will exhaust yourself trying to get what he has already given. You may work for salvation, sanctification, or rewards, but if you are trying instead of trusting you will be anxious and insecure. You will always wonder, have I done enough? As Watchman Nee said, you can trust or you can try and the difference is heaven and hell.

“The children of Israel never entered in because they were disobedient,” says the preacher of works. “They didn’t keep God’s law. You’ve got to strive and work to keep the commands.” Under the law-keeping covenant this was true, but in the new covenant the only real work is that which flows out of faith in Jesus Christ (see John 6:29).

Moody_works_sm

The issue is not what you do but what you believe, because what you do follows what you believe. Disobedience is a fruit not a root. The Israelites’ problem was not that they broke the rules but that they distrusted God:

For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. (Heb 4:2)

If you do not trust God to take care of you and provide for your needs, you will work. Far better to labor towards a place of trust where you cease from your dead works and allow your heart to be established in true righteousness. Do you see? You don’t work to earn rest but to enter his rest. Big difference.

An illustration may help.

When troubles come near my children the temptation is to become anxious and agitated. My natural response is to take matters into my own hands and work to fix the problem. This is what Job did. He worked to bring sacrifices that no one had asked for thinking they would provide insurance against his children’s sins (see Job 1:5). But this was a dead work. He was operating out of fear rather than faith. We know this because Job later said, “That which I feared has come upon me” (Job 3:25). To all outward appearances Job was a good man and a good father, but his fear made him superstitious and religious.

I used to be a Job-like father, full of worry and care. I thought that by praying long prayers for my kids I was being a good dad and protecting them, but all I was doing was giving voice to my fears. Then one sleepless night God spoke to me and reminded me of the promises in his word. He’s watching over my kids. He’s got this. My choice is to stress out or trust him. At first it wasn’t easy. It took real effort to cast my cares upon him and actually let them go. It was hard work to come to that place of rest. But it is so worth it!

Job vs Jesus

Job worried about everything, but Jesus slept through storms. Who would you rather follow?

I have learned to make every effort to enter the Lord’s rest. Now when troubles come, my default reaction isn’t “what can I do to fix this?” but “what does the Holy Spirit say?” I am learning to sit before I stand and when I do my heart is at rest. You can be at rest too.

When life hits you hard ask yourself this question: “Do I want to be a restless wreck like Job or would I rather sleep in peace like Jesus?” Sometimes it’s not easy. You might get a bad report and find nothing in your natural circumstances that brings you comfort and hope. Walk by faith and not by sight. Look above your circumstances and see your Father who cares for you and numbers the hairs on your head. Ground yourself on his word – choose to believe the good things he says about you – and you will be the house that cannot be shaken.

The world is a big place and you are small, but greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world!

 

50 Comments on Labor to Enter His Rest (Hebrews 4:11)

  1. Very well said! Thank you.

  2. So good and so true Paul. Thanks for helping us understand God’s grace is a very practical way!

  3. Well put together, the Body needs to hear this message, Grace of our Lord Jesus, the Love of God and communion of the Holy spirit be unto you. Thanks, Paul

  4. Another good reminder for me Paul, I have been in a on going situation for a while now,and am learning to rest,it is hard for me not to be anxious and try to fix it myself,but now I look back and see where God has met me at every corner, sometimes it gets a little hairy,and the police get involved,but all in all he covers it

  5. I would say this is primarily a big “lost in translation” problem, specifically the Greek word “spoudazo” which because of legalistic theological biases of the past is usually rendered, “strive to, work to, be diligent to, make every effort to”, etc. When in fact the word has a definite time orientation. Think of the English word “speed”. Look up it’s roots. I think the primary meaning should be, “be quick to, hasten to, don’t hesitate to, don’t delay to”, etc. I also especially like J.B. Phillips’ rendering of it as, “Be EAGER to enter the rest…” Note also “spoudazo” shows up in the KJV’s works-oriented “study to show thyself approved…” passage. No. “Be eager to show you are approved…”

    • Hi Dean,
      This may be a translation issue- i don’t think we can say authoritatively.
      But labouring seems an appropriate word. We labour not only to fight against the desire to do dead works but also against every old thought pattern that frustrates God’s purpose in our lives.
      Renewing our mind and refusing to return to what we once believed is HARD WORK. But knowing we need to do this and KNOWING God gives us the ability to make it possible is our start point.
      Blessings man.

  6. This is wonderful. Thank you, Paul. I like to feed myself on a steady diet of things like this. It has changed me and given me true peace with God. Sometimes at church I am given a plate of something old and I quietly push it away and reaffirm things in my life like your post.

    As far as my children go – I am always reminding myself of Isaiah 54 (my current favorite chapter in the Bible) where it says that my children are taught by God and great is the peace of my children. My efforts at teaching my kids are horrible compared to God teaching them.

  7. James Driver // December 18, 2014 at 3:56 am // Reply

    This was absolutely the best explanation of entering his rest I have ever read. Amen.

  8. creativegirl7 // December 18, 2014 at 4:53 am // Reply

    Great post, Paul! As a wife and mother I have had similar experiences as you and found, by the Holy Spirit, the exact same scriptures of assurance, and I did rest!

  9. Robin Waller // December 18, 2014 at 5:26 am // Reply

    Wow! Thank you. Your voice of reason has changed my life!

  10. Hi Paul,My name is Tom Sloan.I am a 3rd generation missionary in Chiapas, Mexico. I am the grandson and son of Independent, fundamental Baptist missionaries.I was raised and taught in the ways of sandards, conviccions, rules etc… After my wife and I served in central Mexico for 12 years as misssionaries where we planted 2 churches, we left the misión field in 2005… bunt out and on the verge of a divorce.  I could not live up to the law, and when we returned to the U.S, I vowed never to return to the ministry, missions or Mexico. We were in the US for 4 years.  During that time, I started hearing the msg of God´s radical grace. At first I could not accept it because of what I had been taught and blved all my life, but God did a work in my heart and life, and I have accepted radical grace. My wife and children are on board with me 100%. Steve Brown (Key Life Minitries) was very instrumental in my believing the msg of grace. Steve has proved to be a real friend and help. Well, in 2009, God led us back into the ministry and we are back in Mexico serving as missionaries.By God´s grace, we were able to establish a radio station (Compassion Radio) in 2012. I have been preaching grace as radically as I know how on our radio station.Since 2012, God has used us to plant 7 new churches here in Chiapas, Mexico. That´s pretty radical, considering the fact that I swore never to preach or be in ministry. Anyway, I came across your blog a few months ago and it has been a blessing. I have used a few if your statements in my preaching recently on the radio. Your blogs are a blessing to me. Thank you. Only by God´s great grace,Tom Sloan Jr.P.S. My computer is a Mexico computer, and I don´t have english spell correct on it…so you can see how bad of a speller I am.

  11. It is so easy to worry about our children, especially in this fallen world. Two years ago, My 2 kids and I were camping at Mt. Rushmore. There was a severe storm warning one night, and we could see the evil looking clouds brewing just over the ridge. All we could do was go to bed in our little tent and pray. We fell asleep to the distant thunder. The next morning the campground was a mess as almost every tent had been soaked through and all people could talk about was how loud the storm was and that nobody slept. We had stayed bone dry and slept through the entire thing! My kids, 7 & 8 at the time, knew it was God taking care of us, He had answered our prayers.
    I have so many friends who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks about their kids.They will never sleep a night away from them. They won’t let them play in the woods in their backyard afraid of tick bites. Some Christian moms I know home school their kids more out of fear of the world than a healthy desire to nurture their kids.
    As a widowed mom, I have to rest in Jesus to raise my kids. They have a daddy who can be on the soccer field with them, not just cheering from the sidelines. They have a daddy who sits with them in class, not just helps with homework at night. They are never ever alone, and I am never alone in raising them. At times when my kids are nervous or afraid, I remind them of that time in South Dakota when God had us sleep through the terrible storm and kept us warm and safe and dry.

  12. Great word Paul! If we’re striving or fretting then we aren’t resting. If we are not at rest then we are not in faith but unbelief and trying to work it out ourselves. “Don’t worry God I got this!” Sadly, many feel it’s being responsible to fret and worry and strive…
    Thanks for the encouragment

  13. Awesome! Thank you Paul for the word! Remind me to rest in the Lord. Our God is really good!🙂

  14. precious Ezekiel // December 19, 2014 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    Thanks for this write up sir! I needed to read this, this question has been in my heart for long, thanks for answering it.

  15. How do you cast your cares upon Him, exactly? Mentally it just seems so hard for me to start.

    • Haha if only cares were physical things we could just pass over to him & be done with eh😀
      I get you…it can be hard when we have so much going on in our lives. I find just being totally still helpful. To stop thinking completely (as this is where our cares & worries originate) and be present to the sounds & sights around us, and to God in whom we live move & have our being, and who lives in us.
      That probably sounds all spiritual & unhelpful, but we have to step back from our active mind sometimes, as we aren’t what we think, and we can find great peace in just living in the moment with God.
      Let me know if it helps🙂

      • The last part does some. I don’t know, my preacher talked today about thankfulness leading to trust, maybe I can start there. I really have no idea what I’m doing. Its just when ever I try to trust I get hit with a wall, I hesitate when I pray and can’t help but wonder if He’s listening or if He’ll even help… which is crap, I know, but these irrational thoughts keep popping up. I have no idea what to do about them.

      • Hi Hank, after lots of years,I believe I can safely say,that its a relation that has to build,I had to just remember,that I was loved and accepted,and that he would eventually bring me around to a ongoing place of trusting him,I always try to remember 1 cor 13,that is what his nature is.

      • I completely echo Earl.
        And i can hear you man…one thing i’d say is that there nothing we can do about them.
        Becoming aware of our thoughts though is really helpful.

        If your anything like me then you’ve probably found yourself at any given moment, just spaced out thinking about different scenarios in your head, maybe relating to the past, maybe relating to the future…perhaps even getting emotional about these situations that don’t even exist :-D!
        But when we watch our thoughts, we realise we are not our thoughts, because we are the one’s watching our thoughts.
        Which in terms of knowing who we are, our identity, is so helpful.
        What do you think of your identity by the way?
        And how was your day?
        Id probably add that thankfulness is awesome, just as long as no one is encouraging us to mechanically summon it up. It just occurs naturally. For example im thankful that God doesn’t want me to become anymore thankful😀

      • A lot to go over in 250 words or less, guys😉
        First, Earl, I hear you. The problem I used to be there, or at least much closer then I am now. I did some things that screwed up the relationship, and now I just feel disconnected. I’ve been trying for over a year now to reconnect but it just isn’t working the way I want it too. I know He wants it to work, but the trust isn’t there anymore, you know?

        John, that is EXACTLY me.

        My identity? Well, that’s a long load answer. I’d say a Christian, and glad it doesn’t rely on performance because I’m not good at it. I guess that’s the relevant part to the convo.
        Its an okay day. Weather’s a little dreary, but I’m looking forward tomorrow.

        Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. My prayers have been pretty mechanical for a few years now with no substance. I’m trying to break that habit too.

      • Hope its a nice Christmas day for you🙂
        Perhaps you could try not praying at all. It sounds pretty crazy, but perhaps you’re efforts to restore your relationship with God are getting in the way of the restored relationship you desire.
        I’ve always had to work for the acceptance & love i’ve wanted in life, thats just how it worked since i was a young lad. But God did the opposite. He loved me regardless of all the s**t i was into, and promised to keep loving me even i didn’t change my behaviour, and thats when i cracked, and felt truly loved. To have the trust in your relationship with God back, you need to believe that he will love you even if you continue doing whatever it is that you believe screwed up the relationship in the first place.
        The disconnect you feel is only in your mind (Col 1:21).

        Feel free to personally message me at john.buta@yahoo.co.uk if you wanna talk more🙂

        Sorry if I’m coming across preachy, and sorry for jumping in on what you were discussing with earl. I hope I’m being helpful.

      • It is a good Christmas on my end, and I hope you are having a merry one yourself!

        I may have to try that…

        I probably will email you sometime in the new few days, you seem pretty interesting to talk too. And no need to apologize, I mean we were posting as replies to a blog, it is about as far from a private conversation as possible🙂

    • Warren (South Carolina, USA) // January 5, 2016 at 3:48 pm // Reply

      Hank,
      “How do you cast your cares upon Him, exactly?”

      First I would ask myself “Is Jesus my Lord?” Simple question I know but huge ramifications.

      If He is my Lord, then He tells me plainly in 1 Peter 5:7 “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” and in recognizing that he is my Lord, I have to say to myself “who is responsible for this care or worry or burden if I refuse to obey him and cast it upon him?

      I am. I am responsible for it. I am responsible to defend / protect it.

      He won’t take it if I don’t cast it upon him. So, all the little things I worry about or have fear over or anxiety about, all the burdens I am carrying…..I am Lord over it, until I cast it upon him.

      Sometimes we find we have taken it back from him. We redeemed it so to speak. In that case (sometimes it’s several times a day I catch myself), I repent, and cast it back upon him (my Lord).

      Hope that helps!
      Blessings,
      Warren (South Carolina, USA)

  16. I am another one who finds it hard to cast my cares on God.So for example if I am unemployed do I just cast my cares on God and NOT bother to look for a job becoz God is dealing with it?Similarly if I am sick do I just cast my care on God and not bother to see the doctor.Or,referring back to kids,If I have a daughter do I just let her find her way back across the city at night on her own becoz I have given her into the loving hands of Jesus? On the other hand if someone,quite sensibly, tells me to get a paper and check out the vacancies and go look for a job and urges me to see a doctor and go pick my daughter up and I then follow their sensible advise then I am allowing myself(ie my mind) to be sucked into the worries and concerns of being unemployed and sick?Dont we have any responsibility at all?

    • The Bible says cast your cares (worries and anxieties), not your common sense.

      • Ok I gave some poor examples but that is just it.Common sense tells us to work.A surgeon and a military commander take the lives of people into their hands and so they must worry(i.e work ) about every contingency that may arise.On a lesser scale of responsibility, a stockbroker has to carefully consider facts and figures ( ie he has to work) before he bets on the stock exchange.They cannot just say to themselves I’ll pass the responsibility onto God after they have committed to a course of action as they are ( particularly so in the case of the surgeon and commander )very much involved.Does not casting ones cares lead to a very passive approach to life?Will we not all end up as driftwood?The whole concept just seems counter intuitive to me?

  17. Thanks, Paul, for all your work! You are my favorite Christian blogger! I concur with the comment by Dean Delker above. I don’t think the word “labor” captures the best meaning in the Greek. The first entry in Strong’s says “to use speed.” The first entry according to Thayer says “to hasten, make haste.” (Reference http://www.e-sword.net material.)

  18. PS Perhaps I should further add that in order for a belief or doctrine (in this case ‘casting ones cares on God’)to be valid it has to be valid in all situations.It not only has to be valid for a person with no responsibilities but also for the person who who carries great responsibility perhaps for the lives of millions of people.

    • David, I think you are confusing cares with responsibilities. Jesus said “Do not worry” (Matt 6:25). Worry/care/anxiety is a killer regardless of your occupation. The exhortation applies in every circumstance. The post isn’t “Labor to enter laziness” but “Labor to enter his rest.” The works we rest from are the dead works of trying to play God.

      • Thank you for your response Paul.I have learned much from this blog and your books.

      • Ive always thought of it as a compass “praying for direction.”go out the door,and ask him to point you in the right direction,whether its a doctor or a job,I pray basically rom 8:28

  19. thank you paul! this post is a perfectly timed reminder… with the holiday season and Christmas only a few days away, i am finding myself pausing several times throughout the day to “enter His rest” – whenever i start to feel overwhelmed by all the hustle and bustle…. i have discovered that the Holy Spirit is way better than i am at prioritizing and organizing my “to do” lists than i am lol

  20. Marios Pontos // December 31, 2014 at 9:13 pm // Reply

    The word in Greek is not work but haste…”quickly enter to HIs rest ” that’s the right translation.

  21. I certainly like the translation that it is not “work” but “hasten.” But I still can’t help but read it as ironic. Written to a people who are used to earning things by works, maybe he is answering the questions, “What or how much must I DO to be able to rest?” Could he be saying, “You really want to ‘work’? How about if you ‘work’ at resting”?

  22. Thanks Paul for this post, l need help. I recently came across the grace teachings which is so helpful to my family. I trusted the scriptures that says not be anxious and to rest, when my children express anxiety or disturbed I counsel them to trust in the unfailing love of God. Surprisingly I woke up one day after praying for my children who were far away in school as we do daily only to be confronted with the sad news of the death of my only son. I trusted God to raise up after series of prayers which didn’t happen, what exactly went wrong here? Is there anything I needed to do that I didn’t? I will appreciate your help because this event has affected me greatly especially when I hear such counsels as I need to do battle for my children.Thanks.

    • I am so, so sorry to hear this, Remi. I’m weeping as I write this. I would not presume to draw any conclusions. All I can say is I feel for you and understand you must be going through awful pain, right now. You and your family are in my prayers.

  23. Does this mean that if we should stop doing things like read our Bibles, pray, witness, etc. because we are doing works? Should we stop doing those things in order to prove or show to God that we are fully trusting in Jesus?

    Otherwise it’s a “You read the Bible. Therefore you do not fully trust in Jesus. If you did, you’d not read the Bible (pray,witness, etc.).”

    • For me it means not doing those things to get God to do something for me, but doing them because that is who I am now. I don’t want to be rewarded for what I’ve done even on my best day, when I already have Jesus’ reward for his finished work. We should be doing things FROM a position of righteousness, never to achieve a position of righteousness.

  24. Perfect. Thank you!

  25. Keshawanna Allen // April 22, 2016 at 5:10 am // Reply

    This is so awesome! I found myself often saying, “Yes!” I have been restless for a very long time. Possibly even all my life. Lately though, it has been at one of heightened moments. I recently heard a song by Donald Lawrence, “There Remaineth a Rest.” It came back to my mind this morning. I listened to it a few times, thought about the words, and began reading Hebrews 4. I asked, “How do I labor to rest? What does that mean?” I read one article from Google. It did not agree with what my spirit was unctioning me toward. II didn’t seem right. This article hit the nail on the head! It agrees with what is in my spirit! Thank you so much for answering the question of laboring to rest so clearly!!!

  26. This was really good

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