So I was considering a sermon I heard recently about “rest.” Specifically, resting in Christ and how by our very nature, rest can be difficult for us. We don’t like to rest, even on vacation. We use that time to squeeze so many activities into it, that by the time we are done “resting” we need a, umm …rest. We are just not built that way. Could this be a result of that fleshy, sinful nature that demands we be our own savior? Maybe. We certainly don’t like to leave our fate in the hands of anyone else. Even when we become Christians, busyness and work seem to follow us and we are not necessarily disappointed. In a way, it gives us the feeling that we are contributing to our salvation(whether we outwardly admit it our not) or in the least doing our part to show God, “we’re with the plan.”
As I contemplated this sermon on rest, I had the most remarkable revelation. It wasn’t a,”Holy Spirit revealed, hand of God” kind of revelation. It was more of an “a-ha” moment of clarity. I suppose it could be the Heavenly Father revealing it to me, but either way, it was still a remarkable thought, at least for me. Oh I’m sure others have come to the same conclusion, but I’m a simple guy and it takes me a while to catch on, but when I do, it sticks(sometimes).
So, for many churches these days, when it comes to sermons, they put the emphasis on the wrong thing. Sermons, in general, always seem to end with a “to do” list of a sort. Something, that if you follow in a particular way, will open up the floodgates of Heaven and pour blessings down on you so much so that you’ll leave 18 carat footprints. Ok, I might have embellished a little, but the gist of it amounts to an emphasis on law aside from God’s grace, which should be our real and true inspiration for anything we do. So, why do so many churches, preach,”get your life together”, “follow diligently” and “do the right thing”, types of sermons? Why has this so quickly and massively become the go-to style of preaching?
Rest! Or more specifically, lack of it.
The answer for me came in the sermon I heard. We don’t like rest for the simple fact is that we feel the need to do something. These sermons give us exactly what we want…something to do! No wonder people applaud and shout hardy “hallelujahs” to a sermon filled with a plethora of, “Christ saved you, now what are you gonna do with it?”, “God has BIG THINGS He wants you to do.” and “You have to find your purpose”.
Plainly and simply put? We like, no, WE LOVE marching orders. We WANT to be told that we have to go seize God’s blessings for our lives, that we HAVE do all these things if we want to see God move for us. We love it so much better than the alternative, which is rest. But, we love it mostly because of our old stinkin’ thinkin’.
The alternative for us is not necessarily, God paid a debt I never have to repay. Quite the opposite in fact. When faced with a debt, that old sinful nature will rise up, bending our ear and making us feel an obligation to pay it back and it drives us crazy if we can’t. I mean, we may not say, “oh, I gotta pay this debt back”, but instead it may come across as, “I have to show God I’m worthy of this debt”. Same difference, and as much as I’m writing this for people to read, I’m guilty as charged. The reality check for me is that we aren’t worthy within ourselves, one iota, and we will never be worthy enough in ourselves to pay back a debt. Because even our attempts are just poor facsimiles of all God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Our best efforts are marred with our sins even after Christ. But even those efforts are washed clean at the foot of the cross. Those efforts are worthy because Christ is worthy. We have nothing to claim but Christ and him crucified.
So, whether we are so task-orientated because we need to do something for our own self fulfillment, or we are so adverse to having to owe anyone anything that we feel the need to work it off, rest is not a default state for us. But that call to give us rest is all the more reason to want it, to need it, to covet it. We need to be reminded over and over again that Christ is who we rest in. No work needed, no debt repaid. We need to grasp this deeply, and let anything we do be free of obligation to repay or show someone we are with the program.
This is not easy. Even as I think how we might do this, I have to stop myself from coming up with “steps” and “formulas”. The only thing I can truly say, even though I do this far too imperfectly myself, is to continue to think on Christ. Know that he has paid a debt, free of obligation on the cross. Know that we are all, perpetually, the man hanging next to Christ on the cross, saying, “remember me.” There was no work this man could perform but believe in Christ. Even that belief was a gift from above. This is not a perfect analogy, but if we can consider that, we might truly begin to understand what it means to be free and that the yoke of Christ that we carry is easy, even as we serve one another and the world.
When we rest in that finished work of the cross, we can say, “Lord, I’m weary… Thank you… thank you…”
“Come to me, all who labor 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