The thing about rest is that it sounds boring. The first time I heard of Richard Baxter’s classic The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, I almost felt like taking a nap. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great book. It’s just that my thoughts immediately went to heaven being a long sleep in a lazy hammock. It’s good for 20 minutes or so, but an eternity of that kind of rest sounds tedious.
It’s also why I had a hard time understanding Hebrews. “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,” it says (Hebrews 4:9-10). What is the nature of this rest? Why is Hebrews so concerned about it? And why, if rest is part of what it means to follow Jesus, am I more tired than I’d like to admit?
It turns out the rest is something much better than an extended nap in a hammock. George Guthrie speaks of this rest being we experience both now — today! — and later. It’s the end of entering striving based on our own works. The type of rest he’s talking about is resting in relationship with God because of what Christ has done for us. It isn’t inactivity; it’s all of life (including the things we do) from a foundation of security in what we have, and in what can’t be taken away.
This means we have freedom and permission to rest and worship no matter what is going on in our lives. It isn’t a legalistic obligation; it’s a gift that only has to be received.
Here’s the problem: we can miss out on this rest. It’s why the author of Hebrews continues, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:11). Appropriating the rest that is ours in Christ is not automatic. There’s a kind of irony in this passage: we have to work to find rest? According to Hebrews, yes. Strive to enter the rest that is yours in Christ.
Again, the book Beloved Dust puts it well. Speaking of rest, the authors say:
This is probably not what you think it is— rest is not inaction or laziness. It is not merely the default result of having nothing to do. Rest is the foundation for our lives in God.
They describe what this is like:
This is most fully understood only when we can come before the Lord in utter silence, not seeking to justify ourselves, prove ourselves, make excuses for ourselves, or even announce our presence. In the presence of the Lord, we rest in the intercession of the Son and Spirit. In the presence of the Lord, we draw near based on what the Lord has already done for us. There, before the face of God, we find rest and peace in the work of another.
We are free to love others and not use them, because we are no longer the center of our universe, but find ourselves in orbit around Christ. We are free to rest in God’s grace. We are free to know and be known because God has made himself known to us in Christ. In this freedom we can finally allow ourselves to be known in prayer, and to know the God of love as he cascades his prayers over us.
The real rest that we’re offered is something more valuable than a long sleep or vacation. It’s knowing that right here, right now, my foundation is the work of Christ. I have nothing left to prove. That’s much better than a nap in a hammock.