Rest has never been one of my defining characteristics – at least not as I understand the word. For me, to rest has always meant “to sit back and do nothing for more than 5 minutes.” But usually, within two minutes, I’m scrolling on my phone, turning on music, watching a movie, reading a book, or finding something to do in the house. Worst case, I’m grabbing a snack – though I am trying to limit those.

So, when my doctor advised that I was not getting enough rest during my chemotherapy and officially ordered me to take 3 months off work – you can imagine my reaction. I admit, I was also concerned about how I would manage from a practical perspective – I did not have enough sick leave or vacation days for all that time off. But more than that, I wondered, what exactly would I do?

What exactly is rest?

I have become quite dependent on Webster’s Dictionary these days. I’ve started looking up words I should understand but, apparently, don’t. I looked up the word rest. Well, that was a no-brainer, first and top meaning:

a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities

But then I kept reading and found an overwhelming list of alternative meanings: four main definitions and some 14 sub-definitions and nuances (hence the featured photo for this post)! It seems there is a lot more to rest than I knew… and that drove me to my resource of resources – my Bible!

I realized I had no idea what entering into God’s Sabbath rest meant

If you haven’t guessed already, my thoughts were drawn to Hebrews. If you have time, read Hebrews 3:7-4:11. For the sake of brevity, I will only share with you the verses that initially jumped out and caught my attention:

9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:9–10

I’d never really thought about Sabbath rest from the context of creation. But the only place I know that scripture talks about God resting is on the seventh day. I leave it to theologians to discuss whether or not God ever stopped resting. As for me, all I could think as I pondered these verses was this: how could God rest, knowing everything that would soon happen to disrupt His very good creation? Following that train of thought, I wondered how can I rest when I am aware of what is happening around me at so many levels and how to rest when there is so much that needs to be done and that I want to do.

I realized that I had no idea what entering into God’s Sabbath rest meant. I knew the answer wouldn’t be found in Webster’s dictionary and asked an older trusted friend what their take on these verses was. How did my friend understand this Sabbath rest of God?

He finished … and nothing could be added

My friend shared:

For me it [Sabbat rest of God] means God has already provided all for my salvation, now and forever. … He finished creation and nothing can be added. He finished salvation and nothing can be added.

I had to read my friend’s full reply a few times before I started to understand. I realized I needed to go back to the full context of the passage and pay particular attention to Hebrews 4:3

3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
              “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.

How had I missed this? God’s Sabbath rest meant that everything He had planned before anything that existed was made was complete. Salvation, the work that Jesus had done on the cross, from God’s perspective, had already been accomplished. God had already known when contemplating creation, what would happen. And He planned accordingly. When this physical creation was completed, all His plans were set into motion (as far as time is concerned). But as far as eternity is concerned (before the foundation of the world), all HIS works (note the plural there) had been finished.

Of course, God could rest! He already knew the ending from the beginning, and what He planned, He had done, and all that He did and does, He does well. Chapter 3 links the inability to enter God’s rest with unbelief. That left just one question for me to answer: Did I believe it? Did I really believe I could rest in God’s completed work, knowing that He has already accomplished His good work in my life?

Theoretically – I do believe in God’s completed work… but…

As I write this, I realize that yes, I do believe in God’s completed work of salvation, and His other completed works, both in my life and this world. But how does this work out in reality? I am a few weeks into my “rest” from work and am still wrestling with this. Today I realized that Hebrews 4:11 gives me a roadmap for moving the Sabbath rest of God from theory into reality.

11   Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Striving to enter God’s rest? Isn’t this a contradiction in terms? Not if I remember that I am in a battle. I live in a world that wants to rob us of anything good God has to give us, particularly His Sabbath rest. I have the feeling that if I can grasp this properly, my life will be irrevocably changed.

It’s not for nothing that Jesus said, at least 16 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that we should not worry. And in John, while Martha is worried about the stench coming from Lazarus’s tomb if the stone is removed, Jesus is more concerned that she believes what he said. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)

“Didn’t I tell you?”

As I consider entering into the Sabbath rest of God, I realize why it seems like so much work. It’s quite simple: believe in the finished work of God for our salvation and everything else as well!

And the key to that rests in how I relate to God’s Word. Do I really believe in His promises to all who belong to Him? And if not, why not? Am I too connected to the order of this world? Are there things in life I want more than the God of creation, who has already done everything needed to bring me into a right relationship with Him? Sometimes my physical discomforts cause me to look at my situation and not at my Lord. I lose focus.

I have a long way to go before I’ve entered into that Sabbath rest of God in every part of my life. The lessons He’s been teaching over the past year and a half, of His faithful love for me that He will never withdraw, and of His absolute sovereignty in my current situation (more about that in another post) are all part of Him gently, patiently, and mercifully, guiding me into His Sabbath rest.

There are many more passages I need to ponder, embrace, and cling to – striving to hold on to their reality – striving to rest in God’s finished works – and they are many.

I am becoming increasingly thankful that His ways are not my ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts, and His word is indeed living and active. And yes, I’m even thankful I cannot be hidden from His sight. And most of all, in the final accounting, I am so thankful that He has given me a solid ground to stand upon – the blood of Jesus was shed – for me. I can rest in this much now as He teaches me to go deeper into His rest in other parts of my life. I’m starting to look forward to the next couple of months.

An old hymn says it best:

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Lyrics by Elvina Hall