a theology of rest



Genesis 2, Matthew 11, 1 Corinthians 2

On the seventh day of creation, God simply was. He rested. “God rested to show us how important it is for us to rest,” some soft, kind-hearted Sunday school teacher told me somewhere along the path of my Christian education. She’s probably right. God rested to show us that if He’s not above it, we are not either. But what if, even more than that, God rested because He wanted to. He rested because He is comfortable in a state of rest. He has nothing to prove. He rested because it is a part of His nature.

I have recently recognized that I am not comfortable in a state of rest. I am constantly moving, working, and doing because I do not know how to find contentment in the identity of resting. The burden to prove ourselves, to our community and to God, has become a part of Western Christian culture. This “culture of striving” has driven us to a point where we often do not know how to rest in who and what we already are in Christ.

Learning to settle between striving to obtain the holiness of Christ and accepting who we already are in Him is often an uncomfortable balance, a difficult fence to sit upon. We are clearly called to be holy as He is, to produce fruit, to grow and mature as Christians. We are called ever onward and upward, even as we are told to rest in Him. Reconciling these two seemingly opposing attitudes has proven to be the challenge of my Christian walk.

In his book “Christian Self-Culture”, Leonard Bacon warns that a misconception of the definition of “fruitfulness” can misdirect the aspirations and endeavors of the Christian life. He writes:

“It is a too common error to suppose that the fruitfulness of a Christian is to be found, not simply in his own interior life, but rather in results external to himself. Not simply in what he becomes under God’s renewing and sanctifying work, but rather in what he brings to pass and in the conviction which he produces on other minds”.

A theology of true, contented rest comes with a faith in the active, sanctifying work of the Spirit. Those who believe that the Spirit is responsible for not only the salvation and glorification of the believer, but also for the daily sanctification, are the ones who will find rest. In 1st Corinthians 2, Paul explains that Christians who walk by the Spirit are not Christians who work really hard in their flesh and power and are simply “helped out” by the Spirit of God. Instead, it is said to be a direct accomplishment of the Spirit in spite of the opposition of the flesh.

As this life by the Spirit is known and embraced, the load is lightened. Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book “He that is Spiritual”, explains that “Christian service is not always essential to spirituality. If it is His will for us, we are just as spiritual when resting, playing, ill or infirm as when we are active in service”. We are freed from the load of carrying our own spirituality to simply be lead by Him.

“My burden is easy. My load is light.”

The burden I carry most days is heavier than I can handle. Maybe I’m carrying the wrong burden.

Maybe I am carrying my own. I often create a burden of work for myself. I desire to prove to the Church my capabilities and to prove to Christ my worth as a Christian. I am working as if there is no One to give me what I need, as if there is no One to come through if I fail.

Eugene Peterson, in his book Tell it Slant, explains Jesus’ parable of the storehouses, saying, “Poverty is the condition in which we do not have what we need to live adequately, to discover our urgent need for God”. Poverty is carrying the impossible weight of our own burdens, when there is One who will already give us what we need, with delight.

He rests, because it is part of His nature. We rest, because we have all we need in Him. We rest because our identity is found in who He is and what He has done. In theology, this works out perfectly. In practice, it can be frustrating beyond belief. Resting can often take much more waiting and trusting than work ever will. Resting takes sitting in the mess of a situation with faith, believing that God is coming through. Resting means trusting God to be God. In my life, resting is the true work of my faith.

But praise Him for the grace. In the same book, Chafer writes these words that have often calmed my worried, overworking soul:

We are dealing always with our Father. Too often the walk in the Spirit is thought to be a mechanical thing. We are not dealing with a machine: we are dealing with the most loving and tenderhearted Father in all the Universe. The deepest secret of our walk is just to know Him, and so to believe in His Father-heart that we can cry out our failures on His loving breast. …We are never wonderful Saints of whom God may be justly proud: We are little children, immature and filled with foolishness, with whom He is endlessly patient and on whom He has been pleased to set all His infinite heart of Love. He is wonderful. We are not”.

I want to prove to myself and everyone else who cares about me that I am smart, capable, and talented. But my deep desire to prove myself takes a blow each night as I physically surrender to sleep, the daily reminder that rest is built into our nature, just like it is in His. Emotionally, and spiritually, I also am continually learning what it is to accept love from the Father and the Family. Unearned, unproven, simply given with grace.

He will eternally be wonderful, even as we are continually not. We cannot earn the wonder. We are simply allowed to freely enjoy and live in it, resting in what He has and is doing for us, in us, and through us. That is the greatest wonder of them all.


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