True. Sometimes it is. We like to keep ourselves busy. When we’re faced with the prospect of having nothing to do—or worse, having to do nothing—we tend to say, “But who’s going to take care of this and that and the other? Shouldn’t I be doing something? I don’t want to feel useless!”
Rest is hard when we want to work.
Maybe that’s why some people have a hard time with the idea of grace. Someone once asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). The thinking is astounding. You don’t get an inheritance because you do anything; you have an inheritance because you were born, or maybe adopted, into a family. It would be nonsensical for you to try to work for something you can’t get by working, or for something you already have.
The kicker is that Jesus had said immediately before this that salvation is something you only have to “receive… like a child” (Luke 18:17). The ruler’s reply was, “So, what do I have to do?” Yeah. It’s hard to rest.
The message of grace is that God has done these things, so we don’t have to worry about them anymore. God has saved us, so we don’t have to work to save ourselves. God is causing us to grow, so we don’t have to strive to sanctify ourselves. What’s left for us to do? Well… rest.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NASB)
No doubt it is like that for some people. If you’re one of them, you know it, and you love it. But others seem to have a hard time grasping the concept. The problems come when we start thinking that the idea that we can rest is too good to be true. Or when we start thinking, “What do I have to do in order to rest?” Or when we say, “Yes, God wants us to rest, but…”
Philip Yancey writes about “Grace Avoidance” as the root of many people’s devotion to rules-based religion. I think we get the same kind of issue with “Rest Avoidance.”
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing.
(Isaiah 30:15, NASB)
As Paul wrote, if your idea of grace is based on work, then it isn’t grace at all (Romans 11:6). To avoid the idea of rest, we have to avoid the idea of grace. To avoid the idea of grace, we have to avoid the message of the Gospel. To avoid the message of the Gospel, we have to avoid the heart of God the Father. You can see this isn’t going to end well.
Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,”
And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.
So the word of the LORD to them will be,
“Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there,”
That they may go and stumble backward,
be broken, snared and taken captive.
(Isaiah 28:11-13, NASB)
Isaiah’s point seems to be this. The Lord tells us so clearly that He wants us to rest that to ignore the message of rest is to make His word seem like meaningless gibberish—or like a nitpicking list of rules and laws, which is much the same thing.
The result is that these people will “go and stumble backward”—the image again is of a baby, trying clumsily to walk but falling down on his bottom. That’s endearing in a one-year-old but disastrous when you’re older. You’re likely to break a bone, fall into a trap, or even get captured by an enemy. If you don’t get enough rest, you won’t be able to walk.
So, what do we do when the wrong question is “So, what do we do?” The answer in the Bible gets its most detailed treatment in the epistle to the Hebrews. The author dwells at great length on the fulfillment of Old Covenant images and ideas in the person of Christ. Pretty soon he comes to the idea of rest. God promised the Israelites rest and peace in the Promised Land, but because of their persistent lack of faith, their unwillingness to rest in God’s promises, they missed out. That’s the lead-in; then comes a whole chapter just about rest. Here’s part of it.
‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Hebrews 4:1-3)
do not harden your hearts.”
The closing irony is clearly intentional: “Make every effort to enter that rest.” Entering God’s rest, of course, is about giving up your effort. But rest can be hard. Sometimes we need to make an effort to stop working. Sometimes we have to make ourselves take a break.
Legalism is the lazy man’s faith. It takes the beauty and serenity of God’s rest and reduces it to something we’re more comfortable with—an easy list of rules to keep. Any lazy fool can keep rules. Laziness means neglecting the things we need to do, and we need to rest. We need to rest even if it’s hard, even if we’d rather trust ourselves, even if we’d rather work.
When rest is hard, do what Jesus said: Come to Him. Trade your heavy burdens for His light and easy yoke. Learn—and unlearn—from Him. Then “you shall find rest for your souls.” How can He be sure? Because He made a promise: “I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28–30). You get it by faith, just by coming to Jesus.
for the LORD has been good to you.
(Psalm 116:7, NIV)