“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)
The operative word in Hebrews 4 is clearly the word “rest.”
The author is saying something we already sorta know – humans are limited, finite creatures who need rest. We get wearied. We get tired. Let me guess, you’re currently “struggling with fatigue.” I’m confident you are because I don’t know many who aren’t. And I’m not making light of chronic fatigue. I’m saying it’s a national epidemic. Do you find it strange that coffee shops and energy drinks have become some of the most rapidly expanding industries in the past 20 years? Why is that? We need help staying awake, staying alert, fighting fatigue…because we can’t find sufficient rest.
The Elusiveness of Rest
There are many possible factors contributing to our lack of rest today, a good chunk of them related to rapidly advancing technology. In the mid-twentieth century, the Jetsons caused us to believe that advancing technology would make life easy. You’d wake up and a machine would brush your teeth, comb your hair, bathe you, dress you, and feed you. And if there were any chores left over, a sassy maid robot would come around to clean up the mess. Swing and a miss, Hanna-Barbera. Technology doesn’t make the world easier; it makes life more complex. A few reasons why:
- Access – Technology doesn’t cause you to do LESS work, it enables you to do MORE. Certain things may improve, but that doesn’t mean life is easier or better overall. Technology means you can work from anywhere, so you work everywhere. One of my friends who worked at IBM, who’d been there for a number of years, said awhile back IBM shifted from a model of work/life balance to work/life integration. The old mentality was that you could come and put in a hard days work, and then you’d leave to go home to your family, your hobbies, and your weekend. The new model, work/life integration, allows for more casual behavior – so you can wear jeans, wear your headphones, and come and leave work as you please, BUT, your company wants access to you around the clock, so please check your email in bed at 11:30pm. There’s no reprieve. It never stops.
- Competition – Technology creates a global culture. This means you’re not merely battling with local competition anymore. You’re competing with everyone around the world. I KNOW this is affecting you, because it’s affecting me as a minister. 30 or 40 years ago, a WELS minister would never have had people come up to him and say, “Pastor, you really should check out Andy Stanley, or Tim Keller, or Francis Chan.” Notably, three of Evangelical America’s biggest darling pastors, Mark Driscoll and Tullian Tchividjian, and Pete Wilson recently got out of ministry. Why? I’m convinced they sort of cracked under the pressure of competition and unrealistic expectation. If this is affecting the American church, how is this affecting your business? It’s crazy pressure, constantly increasing quotas and demands. It’s not just ‘Mom & Pop’ vs. Wal-Mart anymore, it’s you against the world. Constant competition. You take a day off and you fall behind. No rest.
- Income Inequality – This can just be a fact, not a political issue. Almost no one believes in absolutely equal wealth distribution. Everyone realizes there probably has to be some disparity, which incentivizes hard work and quality work. That said, the fairly non-debatable data, like IRS returns, suggests that while income inequality remained pretty consistent with inflation from the 1940s-1970s, since then, the distance between those at the very top and those at the bottom has accelerated pretty significantly. This is certainly true in expanding tech industries, which ranks only behind “investments” in terms of controlling American wealth. Again, I have no desire to make a political point out of this. For our purposes, what this practically means, however, is that the people at the bottom of the income ladder are having to take multiple jobs to keep up with rates for rent, education, childcare, etc. People at the top are having to work 80-100 hours/week in order to keep their high-powered, high-paying jobs. And if you’re not willing to make those sacrifices, guess what? Someone’s in line right behind you. The people at the bottom and the people at the top are arguably BOTH working too hard. None of us is getting any rest.
The Counterfeit to Rest
In an attempt to find rest from our stress and our concerns, we typically try to program in some vacations and think that’ll do it. Maybe we even do an all-inclusive getaway. We visit family. We take a nap here or there or spend a day at the beach. Those are all nice, but they don’t really give us rest. Honestly, do you get back from a family visit and say, “Yes! Re-energized!” Or do you get back and say, “Man, I need a nap.” You think you need a vacation from your vacation because you never truly found any rest on your vacation.
The writer to the Hebrews clearly is saying the rest that we crave is much more profound than a little more sun and a little more sleep. Our souls are what truly are restless, which, in turn, has effects on the body. Lacking deep soul rest is the reason why many of us work so unrelentingly, why we’re so tired, and why vacations don’t recharge batteries.
In my estimation, here’s what has happened: Humans are wired to be in relationship with God. The gospel says that comes by grace, not by works. As our society has increasingly rejected traditional organized religion, we haven’t become any less wired for God. Instead, many of us have actually gotten religious about our work/professions/accomplishments. We’ve defined our salvation in terms of life accomplishments, and as a result, much like a Pharisee, many of us are constantly working, because we’re trying to achieve our worth. We don’t yet believe we’ve really received our worth by grace. So, in the same way that the self-righteous camps of the New Testament were tirelessly pressing to gain their salvation, modern people are tirelessly pressing to earn theirs too, just with less formal religion.
III. The Only True Rest
God himself created the notion of rest when he set aside the 7th day of the week as a Sabbath (Gen. 2:2) Having created a perfect planet, reflecting on his work and evaluating that it was very good, God rested. Now this cannot mean that God was tired and just took a nap. The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t get tired (Is. 40:28). It cannot mean inactivity either, because God calls his throne, the place from which he rules, his resting place (Isa. 66:1). Rather the concept of God’s rest is more the idea of his satisfaction in knowing that everything he wanted to do, everything he needed to accomplish, was now complete. He’s brought about his creation and now he gets the satisfaction and joy of ruling over his creation. So rest is not laziness. It’s not inactivity. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that nothing more needs to be done. That which is essential has already been accomplished, it is finished, and it is very good.
Adam and Eve initially experienced that rest in the middle of paradise. But Satan convinced them that somehow something was missing, that more needed to be gained. They broke God’s command and became restless wanderers. God’s children became slaves of this world, but he gave them a hope of a Promised Land in the midst of their wilderness. When they cried to God for help, Moses delivered them out of Egypt, and then his successor, Joshua, brought them to the door of the Promised Land. But God’s children still didn’t really want to listen. They still wanted to do things their own way. They weren’t slaves in Egypt, but they were still slaves to this world, and to their own sinful devices.
But instead of giving up on us, God expressed greater love. He sent another Joshua, a greater Joshua, a superior Deliverer/Successor to Moses. This is difficult to see in English, but in a beautifully poetic twist, Joshua and Jesus are actually the exact same name. They’re the Anglicized versions of Hebrew and Greek, respectively. And the point is this: Joshua tried, unsuccessfully to help God’s people find rest in the Promised Land. But where Joshua fell short, the greater Joshua, i.e. Jesus, guaranteed our eternal rest in the ultimate Promised Land.
When you believe by faith that Jesus has accomplished everything for your eternal salvation – he’s paid the price for all of your sins; he’s worked to earn you credit for a perfect life – then the pressure is off for you workaholics. Then you can rest from your labor just like God rested from his on Day 7 of the Creation week. That which is essential has already been accomplished, and because it was done by God’s Son, Christ Jesus, it is very good. So now you can relax. You don’t need to earn a thing. You’re playing your life with house money, to the glory of the one who laid down his life for you. Only when you realize that, then whether work or vacation, awake or asleep, can you truly rest.