The 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).
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!