What does it truly mean to enter into God’s rest?
As a child I memorized the Ten Commandments. One of those commandments is the requirement to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. I memorized the verse in Sunday School, but I didn’t really understand what it meant, beyond the idea that it must have something to do with going to church on Sundays.
Two of my young adult children have jobs that require them to work some Sundays. This is going back to what life was like for Christians in the Roman Empire, where the Lord’s Day was not a holiday. It’s a reflection of the fact that we live in an increasingly paganized society.
Although Sunday is not and never was the Sabbath, in the Christianized society of a generation ago it was a lot easier than it is now to take Sunday as a day of rest and worship. But perhaps it was also easier to fall back into an outward observance of a day on a calendar.
I remember my father telling me about the strict rules in his Calvinist grandmother’s home regarding what you were and were not allowed to do on Sundays. But resting in Jesus has nothing to do with rules about what I can or cannot do on a particular day of the week. This is why the Pharisees were so offended when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. They understood rules but they didn’t understand the mercy of God or the Sabbath rest of the people of God.
Over time I have come to realize that the Sabbath rest spoken of in the book of Hebrews has nothing to do with a day on a calendar. If you need further convincing, take a look at what the Apostle Paul has to say in Galatians 4:8-11 and Colossians 2:16-17. As God has dealt with me over many years, I have learned that my old nature resists true rest, because one of the Enemy’s favourite ways of keeping me enslaved is by convincing me that I have to work hard to please God. As long as I believe this – even subconsciously – there is no rest and no peace. It is through trusting fully in what Jesus has done for me that I can discover true rest. Sabbath rest is a condition of the heart.
I’ve also discovered, however, the great wisdom in Jesus’ words that the Sabbath was made for man. As a practical strategy to keep my heart in this place of rest, I need to set aside a day every week to nurture my relationship with God, to move at a slower pace, to take time to pay attention to those close to me. One of the ways I know this is true is that my old nature still resists it. I can always find things that I “should” be doing or things that I “should” be thinking about on my day of rest, or entertainments that – while not wrong in themselves – distract me from developing a quiet heart. In a culture that encourages constant activity and constant stimulation, cultivating a heart at rest is a real challenge. Sometimes I have to really battle to take the time I need to just rest in God. I need the reminder offered by the writer of Hebrews who urges us to make every effort to enter that rest.
How about you? What do you believe it means to enjoy the Sabbath rest of the children of God? Does this have anything to do with a day of the week? And how do you keep your heart in this place of rest?
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NOTE to City Church small group leaders – I’ve included this post in the Small Groups category because it could function as a useful discussion topic in small groups.