Daily thoughts from our minister.
Do not mistake rest for inactivity. Do not think that as we rest that we do not engage our minds and our bodies in work and praise. One of the benefits of reading the beautiful writings of those who lived long ago is to see their words. Here we have words stacked on words of praise for the God in whom we find rest. It is good to keep words like this when our own words fall short or cannot be found. Notice the reference to the famous quote from Augustine at the end of this reading.
From Thomas a’ Kempis (1380 – 1471), Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 21, (trans. William Benham).
That we must rest in God above all goods and gifts.
Above all things and in all things you shalt rest always in the Lord, O my soul, for he himself is the eternal rest of the saints. Grant me, most sweet and loving Jesus, to rest in You above every creature, above all health and beauty, above all glory and honor, above all power and dignity, above all knowledge and skillfulness, above all riches and arts, above all joy and exultation, above all fame and praise, above all sweetness and consolation, above all hope and promise, above all merit and desire, above all gifts and rewards which You can give and pour forth, above all joy and jubilation which the mind is able to receive and feel; in a word, above Angels and Archangels and all the army of heaven, above all things visible and invisible, and above everything which You, O my God, art not.
For You, O Lord, my God, are best above all things; You only are the Most High, You only the Almighty, You only the All-sufficient, and the Fulness of all things; You only the All-delightsome and the All-comforting; You alone the altogether lovely and altogether loving; You alone the Most Exalted and Most Glorious above all things; in Whom all things are, and were, and ever shall be, altogether and all-perfect. And thus it falls short and is insufficient whatsoever You give to me without Yourself or whatsoever You reveal or promise concerning Yourself, whilst You art not seen or fully possessed: since verily my heart cannot truly rest nor be entirely content, except it rest in Thee, and go beyond all gifts and every creature.
Sometimes we need to move toward people or God to find rest. Sometimes we need to move away from people who rob us of peace and rest. Distinguishing between a person who needs care and seeking healing and one who is intent on making trouble requires wisdom and timing. Wisdom because it is important that we take care of each other. Timing because the seeking and the troublemaker may be the same person.
Sirach, in typical wisdom style is blunt and somewhat comical in the advice given here. The truth of it is obvious to us because we have, no doubt, at times failed to heed this good guidance. It is not good for us to desire rest if we keep stepping into situations that we know will rob us of it.
Do not talk much with a foolish man,
and do not visit an unintelligent man;
guard yourself from him to escape trouble,
and you will not be soiled when he shakes himself off;
avoid him and you will find rest,
and you will never be wearied by his madness.
What is heavier than lead?
And what is its name except "Fool"?
Sand, salt, and a piece of iron
are easier to bear than a stupid man.
This passage is from the end of a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. at First Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago, IL, April 9, 1967. We have yet another borrow from Augustine’s quote (November 4). It is fascinating that King speaks here of rest in the middle of such a trying and violent time. He draws a direct line from rest to faith, which is firmly rooted in the Bible from Abraham through the wilderness, the time of the judges, the kings, the exile, restoration, preached on in Hebrews, and finally realized in Revelation. Resting in God gives us courage.
You see, when I think about God, I know his name. He said somewhere, back in the Old Testament, "I want you to go out, Moses, and tell them ‘I Am’ sent you." (That’s right) He said just to make it clear, let them know that "my last name is the same as my first, ‘I Am that I Am.’ Make that clear. I Am." And God is the only being in the universe that can say "I Am" and put a period behind it. Each of us sitting here has to say, "I am because of my parents; I am because of certain environmental conditions; I am because of certain hereditary circumstances; I am because of God." But God is the only being that can just say, "I Am" and stop right there. "I Am that I Am." And He’s here to stay. Let nobody make us feel that we don’t need God. (That’s right)
As I come to my conclusion this morning, I want to say that we should search for him. We were made for God, and we will be restless until we find rest in him. (Oh yeah) And I say to you this morning that this is the personal faith that has kept me going. (Yes) I’m not worried about the future. You know, even on this race question, I’m not worried. I was down in Alabama the other day, and I started thinking about the state of Alabama where we worked so hard and may continue to elect the Wallaces.
And down in my home state of Georgia, we have another sick governor by the name of Lester Maddox. (Yes) And all of these things can get you confused, but they don’t worry me. (All right) Because the God that I worship is a God that has a way of saying even to kings and even to governors, "Be still, and know that I am God." And God has not yet turned over this universe to Lester Maddox and Lurleen Wallace. Somewhere I read, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, and I’m going on because I have faith in Him. (Oh yeah) I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. (Yes) And if He’ll guide us and hold our hand, we’ll go on in.
We rest because we are commanded to do so. We seek rest for our souls in God. We find rest in God’s kingdom. Here we are reminded that it is not us that choose God’s resting place. He rests where he wills to rest. Near the end of Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 (which got him stoned to death), he reminds the hearers that the temple which they so much revered was not a guarantee of God’s presence.
What God wants is to rest with us, his people. There is no building that contains him (that is idolatrous thinking). He may choose to be present, but that is not the building, it is the people gathered there. David asked to build a house for God, but he refused and had Solomon build it instead. Stephen used the very words of God to remind them that the temple, while important to God’s people, was not necessary. God is bigger than their temple – and ours. Stephen, after quoting God’s words and reminding them of their history soon found himself resting with God.
"Our fathers had the tent of witness
in the wilderness, even as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it,
according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in
with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations which God thrust out before our
fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God
and asked leave to find a habitation for the God of Jacob.
But it was Solomon who built a house for
him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet
`Heaven is my throne,
and earth my footstool.
What house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?'
"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Rest extends far beyond people. It extends to animals used for work and the land that is worked. Every seventh year the fields were to be left fallow and whatever grew was there for any who needed it.
These commands to rest in Exodus 23 are in a list of commands that were given to keep societal order. These are rules that teach us to help each other and to tell the truth. It is so easy in our world today to “pile on” when someone makes a mistake. It is easy to bend truth to take advantage of a situation. It is easy to take from others through deception or to gain a legal advantage with enough money.
All of this is, in some fashion, connected with rest because it involves caring for others and caring for the earth that sustains us.
"You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit. "If you meet your enemy's ox or his ass going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the ass of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it, you shall help him to lift it up. "You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
"You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. "For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. "Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your ass may have rest, and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may be refreshed. Take heed to all that I have said to you; and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let such be heard out of your mouth.
Andrew Murray (1828-1917) shares some thoughts here about entering God’s rest. He is commenting on Hebrews 4, which is commenting on Psalm 95 (see November 9). It is becoming clear that Biblical rest follows doing our best work and remaining faithful. Good work requires focus and effort – then there is rest.
His examples of discipline will sound a little dated to our ears, but they are clear enough to get his point across. Rest requires taking our faith seriously.
From Andrew Murray, The Master’s Indwelling
ENTRANCE INTO REST
Hebrews 4: 1 “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”
Hebrews 4: 11 “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
I want, in the simplest way possible, to answer the question: "How does a man enter into that rest?" and to point out the simple steps that he takes, all included in the one act of surrender and faith.
Why is it that the blessed Spirit cannot teach us more effectually? No reason but this: the wisdom of man prevents it; the wisdom of man prevents the light of God from shining in. And so we could say of other things; give up all. Some may have an individual sin to give up. There may be a Christian man who is angry with his brother. There may be a Christian woman who has quarreled with her neighbor. There may be friends who are not living as they should. There may be Christians holding fast some little doubtful thing, not willing to surrender and leave behind the whole of the wilderness life and lust. Oh, do take this step and say: "I am ready to give up everything to have this pearl of great price; my time, my attention, my business, I count all subordinate to this rest of God as the first thing in my life; I yield all to walk in perfect fellowship with God." You cannot get that and live every day in perfect fellowship with God, without giving up time to it. You take time for everything. How many hours a day has a young lady spent for years and years that she may become proficient on the piano? How many years does a young man study to fit himself for the profession of the law or medicine? Hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years, gladly given up to perfect himself for his profession. And do you expect that religion is so cheap that without giving time you can find close fellowship with God? You cannot. But, oh, my brothers and sisters, the pearl of great price is worth everything. God is worth everything. Christ is worth everything. Oh, come to-day, and say, "Lord, at any cost help me; I do want to live this life." And if you find it difficult to say this, and if there is a struggle within the heart, never mind; say to God, "Lord, I thought I was willing, but I see how much unwillingness there is; come and discover what the evil is still in the heart." By His grace, if you will lie at His feet and trust Him you may depend upon it deliverance will come.
Psalm 95 is a call to worship. There are two songs that come to my mind immediately from the first seven verses. It is an invitation from worshippers for others to come and join in praise. There is, however, something a little unusual about this Psalm. There are many Psalms that begin with trouble and pleading to God for help. Most of those Psalms turn at some point from lament to praise as the expected answer from God is anticipated (see Psalm 22 and 51 as examples).
This Psalm that begins with praise and noise turns suddenly into a stiff reminder for us to listen to God. It is pleading for us not to be like those who hardened their hearts in the wilderness and tested God. As a result, they did not enter the promised rest.
Keep singing, keep worshipping, keep a soft heart turned toward God. And keep inviting others to join in the promised rest of God.
Along with Hebrews
O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it;
for his hands formed the dry land.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would hearken to his voice!
Harden not your hearts, as at Mer'ibah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, "They are a people who err in heart,
and they do not regard my ways."
Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest.