Life is frequently difficult, and living through a Coronavirus pandemic does not make things any easier. Consequently, every now and then a day comes along which is just too much – when the demands put upon us exceed that with which we are able to cope. There is just too much need and we simply can’t meet it. We can feel drained of every ounce of energy that we possess as a result of our work, the needs of our local community or even our family life where the needs of young children and elderly parents can sometimes add to our burden regardless of how willingly that burden is borne.
We can be so overwhelmed that it can feel that our inability to deliver the impossible reflects negatively on us, that our failure to solve every problem suggests some moral failure on our part. But there is no shame in being asked for more than we have and only being able to give all that we’ve got. We are after all only human. Our mistake is to imagine that we could ever meet every need. To imagine that we could ever do that would, in truth, be the height of presumption.
Late one November, a year or two ago the good people of Amazon were kind enough to email me, informing me that here at last, on Black Friday, were the deals I had been waiting for. 40% off exclusive Le Creuset Cast Iron Round Casseroles, 45% off a Braun Cordless Epilator and 33% of a giant bar of Toblerone. Admittedly that last one did have some appeal, but Amazon didn’t offer me the thing that I’d really like. Rest. On the contrary, by trying to convince me that these are deals that I really didn’t want to miss out on, they succeeded only in adding to my stress by encouraging me to strive still further to avoid missing out.
It’d be good, wouldn’t it, really good, to get some rest?
The notion of rest is a highly significant one in the Bible. It speaks not so much of an absence of work but rather an end to struggle. It speaks of a state of affairs when all is as it should be. The language of Genesis Chapter 1 has God resting on the seventh day. Interestingly, to me a least, is the idea that God rests not from work but rather from the work of creation. God continues to work, [John 5:17], indeed he neither slumbers or sleeps, [Psalm 121:4] sustaining the creation that he has bought about. But, on the seventh day, he rested from creation because creation was complete – because everything was good, everything was very good.
The Bible also talks of a future rest – when things will once again be just as they should be. The creation account of Genesis 1 is followed by the fall in Genesis 3. Right now we exist in fallen world when all is not what it should be. Because of man’s rebellion against God, our lives are difficult, our work is a struggle.
‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you will return’ [Genesis 3:17-19].
This is bad news but, equally, the gospel assures us that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ and ‘that the creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption’. [Romans 8:18,21]
This corruption is particularly evident to us today – but it will end.
So where does rest come from. Jesus said:
‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ [Matthew 11:28-30].
We can not make everything right, we can’t make even ourselves right – but we can go to one who can. Accepting that we are not as we should be, giving up the pretence that we are good, is always the first step towards making things better.
Part of the solution then is to realise that we are not the answer. Resting in the glorious truth that God does not love us because we are good, but rather that he loves us to make us good, relieves us of the heavy burden of constantly trying to prove our worth and replaces it with the easy yoke of his acceptance of us in Christ.
So when is this rest available. Now or in the future? The answer is both – that is both now and in the future. We are called to rest in Christ now. We are to trust in his completed work on our behalf, a work that took him to Calvary where he was ‘pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities’ [Isaiah 53:5]. And we can be assured that that work secures the future eternal rest that we all so long for.
Faith is not our believing that God will bring about what we would like to be true – rather it is believing that what God says is true, He will bring about. It ‘is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ [Hebrews 11:1] that comes from believing that God will keep his promises. Because we can be absolutely certain of this means that we can know a contentment today in our discontent, a rest in our restlessness. By faith we receive now what will one day be truly ours.
So today we are invited to come before God with nothing but our need and receive from him. ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.’ [Isaiah 55:1] Now that is a Black Friday offer that I don’t want to miss out on.
But this does not mean that we are not active, indeed we are called to work to make the world a better place, but that work results from us having first rested in someone greater than ourselves, someone from whom we draw our strength and who works through us for the good of others.
This notion of resting before we work is reflected in how the Bible speaks of how a day is structured. We tend to think that night follows day whereas in fact the Bible speaks of day following night. The language of Genesis 1 repeats the refrain ‘And there was evening and there was morning, the first day…And there was evening and there was morning the second day’. The Jewish sabbath began at sunset. Night comes before day – we rest before we work.
So we rest now in Christ and yet at the same time we struggle on. Right now there is a tension in our rest, a rest that is already present yet at the same time not yet consummated. There are more struggles ahead for us all. But there will come a time when that eternal rest is realised – when our struggles are over, and when our joy is complete. The seventh day in Genesis never ends – and nor will that future rest. Then ‘the dwelling place of God [will be] with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ [Revelation 21:3-4]
And that will be more satisfying that even an oversized bar of Swiss chocolate.