One of the neat things about my job as a volunteer coordinator in a prison is that I get to set my own schedule based on the needs of the facility. So this past August I took off early from work on a Friday afternoon, loaded up the canoe and the dog, and headed out to the Dworshak Reservoir. I had to come in for an extra Sunday morning later in the month anyway.
The Reservoir has been a regular playground for Sassy and me this summer. We enjoy the trails, swimming, and camping sites maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was one of these campsites that we were aiming for that night, but apparently we were not the only ones with this great idea! Needless to say, we ended up paddling out farther than expected before finding an available site. The water was low, too, so that meant rucking our stuff up the steep, sandy bank.
Fortunately, I'd brought along my new cat can stove, so dinner was available without all the hassle of gathering wood and building a fire. What? No post-dinner cigar by the campfire? Not to worry. I jumped in the canoe and enjoyed my cigar while floating in a ribbon of moonlight. I'd show pictures, but Sassy was having trouble with the camera on my phone. “Lack of opposable thumbs,” she says.
It was an amazing way to end the day.
The morning was brilliantly beautiful. I sat on the edge of the bank with the Word in my lap and cowboy coffee in hand just soaking in the morning sun. And I asked, “What does it mean to rest in the Lord?”
In Matthew 11:28-20 Jesus says, “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.” And in Hebrews 4:9-10 it says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.”
But Paul talks about being His workmanship, created for good works (Ephesians 2:10), and about working out our own salvation (Pihilippians 2:12). And Peter talks about diligently cultivating our faith (2 Peter 1:5-11). Jesus even says that we must take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
So what is this rest that Jesus offers? What does it look like experientially?
When I think of resting in the Lord, I often think about the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee through the storm with Jesus asleep at the bow. I ask myself if I'm supposed to be asleep like Jesus was during the storm because my faith is so great. Or should I be faithfully manning the rigging? And what happens when the ship wrecks? Because it does in this life. I've been there, floundering in the waters of chaos, wondering what good are the promises of God? If this is what He calls rest, then I sure as hell don't want to sign up for work!
The morning sun was no longer brilliant, it was glaring. So I unopened my eyes and saw an Everyman in prison blues. “What does it mean to rest in Jesus?” he asked. “What does it look like? 10 years ago I was literally killing people. In prison I was able to stop running and start resting in Him. In Him I was able to stop killing. Then I stopped stealing. Then I stopped lying. From image to image I was transformed into the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit in me replaced death with life, stealing with giving, lies with the truth. He took my anger and gave me joy. 10 years ago I was literally killing people. Today, I'm working on breaking my addiction to coffee, because any addiction makes me an imbalanced human being. I cannot say that I have done any of it, yet I have been an active part of the whole process. This is what it means to rest in the Lord. I am a new man. Old things have passed away. This is what it means to be born again. This is life, and this is hope.”
I opened tear filled eyes to the brilliant morning sun. As I contemplated this image of resting in the Lord a familiar passage came to mind.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
The hope of the gospel is not a life free from suffering. The hope of the gospel is peace with God. All the promises of God belonged to Jesus, too, and He died brutally on a cross betrayed by His friends. Forsaken by God. Yet, the Father brought him through it, through the grave. And now He calls me to the cross and promises to safeguard me through the grave. This is the context of His promises and the hope of the gospel. It's on the other side of that proverbial grave that I will find the rest Jesus promised and the peace Paul speaks of in Philipians 4:7.
He is a God of resurrection, of new beginnings and second chances. And His promises are faithful. I can trust Him, even when He takes me through the valley or through the grave. I can rest in Him, because He is at work in me to will and to do of His good pleasure. Along mountain trails and through the valley, He is my shepherd, and I can trust Him.