Have you felt like you’ve had much rest this winter ? It’s exciting to sense spring starting to come to life just a tiny bit, but with spring often times comes increased activity, longer to-do lists, the yardwork we didn’t miss over the winter, and much more.
I have to admit that one of my struggles in my new stage of life is that I don’t sleep well. I’ve always been a light sleeper, but the new combination of work and running the home by myself sometimes leaves my mind spinning so hard it wakes me up in the middle of the night still spinning. Beyond that, there are three machines in our house that never quit running – the washer, the dryer, and (this winter) the furnace ! Sometimes I lie awake at night listening to the furnace, waiting … wondering … will it ever shut off ? Crazy what you do when you don’t have someone next to you to say, “Go back to sleep !”
The Bible speaks of rest available to the followers of Jesus Christ. It’s pictured in the Old Testament when the Israelites finish their long journey from Egypt and finally settle in the Promised Land. It says God gave his people rest following wars with the Canaanite peoples. But, that was primarily a picture of greater spiritual rest promised to the child of God today. The Bible extols us to be diligent to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:9,11).
What are the deep needs in life from which we need rest ?
We need rest from the weight of our guilt. It’s tough to carry around the amount of failure that exists in our lives ! Like you, I blow it every day in some way. It’s an amazing thing, though, when we realize that the record is wiped completely clean – all sins paid for by Jesus. David was a man guilty of adultery and murder (among other things), but upon confessing his sins and receiving God’s forgiveness he was transformed and said, “Happy is the man whose sins have been freely forgiven” (Psalm 32:1). Similarly, we are called in the New Testament to “draw near to God with a sincere heart, .. having our hearts sprinkled clean” (Heb 10:19,22).
We need rest from efforts to make ourselves righteous. Carrying around my guilt is one thing, but trying to clean up my own act amounts to perhaps the greatest, and most burdensome, of all to-do lists. Yet, it’s a hard notion to get rid of. I want to try to make myself right, usually from the outside in rather than the other way around. The Old Testament Israelites had priests who took the people’s sin sacrifices and offered them to God, … but guess what ? The priests themselves were sinners … and needed to make sacrifices of their own ! Not only that, but the sacrifices had to keep being offered again and again and again and again. Not so with Jesus – His sacrifice for you and me was once-for-all. It not only paid the price for our sins, but it cleansed us, freed us from the domination of sin in our lives, and equipped us to serve the living God (Heb 9:12-14).
We need rest from temptation. Battling temptation is tiring, isn’t it ? Even when we feel strong enough spiritually to resist temptation, the battle takes its toll. In the Joshua story, one of the Israelites just couldn’t resist taking some beautiful, expensive things reserved for God during the conquest of the city of Jericho. When he finally ‘fessed up to what he had done, he made these three simple statements : “I saw. I coveted. I took” (Joshua 7:21). That pretty much sums up most of our sins, doesn’t it ? Rest from temptation is available, however : “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one (Jesus) who has been tempted in all things yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
And that brings us to a fourth rest –
We need rest from, and in, our trials. We need help ! Consider the following excerpt from a little book based on Psalm 23. Trials can be like the “valley of the shadow of death,” a kind of valley we go through not only at the end of life but also in the middle of life.
The valleys bring to mind the day an employer said “clean out your desk” ; when a doctor said “your baby will never be normal” ; when you found the stash in your son’s closet ; when your teenage daughter told you she was pregnant ; when the doctor said you had cancer ; when your spouse said he or she had no energy left to put into the relationship.
Those are the dark days when we lose all perspective, when we say in despair, “It’s no use ; I can’t go on.”
The valleys are emblematic of periods of prolonged failure when we’re shamed and broken by the full weight of the darkness within us ; when we experience the isolation of despair, the exhausted aftermath of self-gratification and spent vice ; when we feel unalterably defiled and wonder if we will ever regain our sense of worth.
The valleys symbolize those dreary days of deep loneliness when we say with David, “No one is concerned for me. I have no refuge ; no one cares for my life” (Psalm 142:4) ; when no one seeks us ; no one asks about us ; there are no cards or letters ; the phone doesn’t ring ; no one seems to care. Even God seems aloof and remote ; there’s an unaccountable chill in the air. We cry out with David, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning ?” (Psalm 22:1-2 ; David Roper, Every Day Is a New Shade of Blue).
How do we receive this rest (and this help) we so badly want and need ?
By faith and obedience.
Of the Israelites it’s said that they heard God’s word, but it didn’t profit them because they didn’t unite the hearing of the word with faith (Heb 4:2). It’s also said that disobedience keeps us from entering God’s rest (Heb 4:11).
So, we can say …
In trials, we will lay hold of his promises, watching and waiting for him to answer according to what he has promised. We believe that what he says he will do in our lives through trials he will, in fact, do. If Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” we believe that to be true and we watch for ways in our life that reveal his blessing in our physical or emotional or spiritual poverty. If God has said, “I esteem the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at my word (Isa 66:2),” we believe that to be true, too, and we look for God’s compassion in our humility and trials.
In our witnessing – because we’re sometimes fearful of sharing our faith even though the spiritual state of our loved ones is a worry to us – we lay hold of God’s promises. Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” So we trust that, even if we feel inadequate as a witness for Christ, he can provide us with adequacy to be effective to some degree, … simply because he promised to.
In our service to God in the church and in the world, … once again we trust his promises and make our best efforts.
Fifteen years ago, I started a youth group in the church I had just begun serving in France. It wasn’t as big as JAM or Overflow or Seedling are at Emmanuel. In fact, our youth group had a total of three kids ! All three were around thirteen years old. It was actually a baptism preparation class, but it was also our “youth group.” We met around a dining room table in the home of one of the kids. Just imagine – it must surely have appeared to those kids to be start of a boring Bible study led by an American missionary who didn’t know the first thing about what it was like to grow up in France. What were the possibilities of success ? I had no idea. I was pretty doubtful myself. I only knew I needed to try.
Today, one of those young people is married and serving the Lord full-time with her pastor-husband, planting new evangelical churches in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan ! She surprised me recently with an email in which she said that that baptism class was an essential ingredient in her spiritual formation and her eventual calling to ministry. Can you imagine ? I had, up until this very week, a lot of unrest about that initial youth group and what had been accomplished there. I didn’t know that God had done what he promised he would do – use his word to impact lives. Only fifteen years later did a sense of rest come.
So, let’s be diligent to look for, wait for, and by faith enter into God’s rest in the midst of our trials. The spiritual battle goes on ; the journey goes on ; the trials continue. Don’t lose heart. I’m praying for some rest, … and I pray for you to find rest, too, by believing God’s promises wholeheartedly and by practicing obedience in all things … even when it doesn’t seem like it could really matter.
We had a little “snow-cation” last Sunday – hopefully the last one for this winter ! I hope to see everyone up on the hill this coming Sunday morning. Two-and-a-half hours that could change your life !
— Adults & Youth 301 class – “Discovering My Mission” – at 9:00. This will be our concluding session, but it’s one of the most valuable in the course – time to discuss, ask questions about, and discovering ministry opportunities at Emmanuel. Please come, even if you haven’t attended the class regularly – we would love to involve you in the conversation.
— Children’s class – “A Travel Guide to the Parables – at 9:00 for ages 3-11 with Pastor Jeff.
— Great worship and a continuation of our sermon series in 1 Peter, “Faith Tested By Fire,” at 10:15.
Don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour Saturday night !
Beginning March 16 – Class 201, “Discovering Spiritual Maturity,” if you missed it earlier this year, and a continuation of the adult study in the Gospel of John.
Please let me or Pastor Jeff know if God is calling you to be baptized Easter Sunday during the worship service. Thank you !
Hope to see you Sunday !