Learn to Rest

Kelli wrote:

Learn to rest. Though this could fall under “foster good habits,” for me, it deserves its own point. I am terrible at it. And I can trace this trouble back to my twenties—when I was single and lonesome and (more) insecure. And to distract myself, I filled my days and nights to overflowing. A bit fuller and more frenetic each year. So I would tell my 20-something self that busy is not better. And your worth is not measured by the length of your to-do list.

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Kelli has struggled with rest, but many people in the big cities of America do.  We foster a lack of rest early by scheduling activity and busyness into our children’s lives.  Life is measured by achievement and so children who have more trophies on the shelf or letters after their name show that we have been successful as parents.  The truth is different.  I think that rest in the Bible is reflective.  It takes a break from the over-activity of life and presses the pause button.  Entertainment short-circuits real rest because it does not really refresh the mind.  I am reminded of my frustration with the word vacation compared to holiday.  To vacate something sounds like an emptying.  However, the idea of a holiday sounds like filling the time with special thoughts and celebrations.  I think that the latter is more akin to God’s rest.  We take a break from filling our lives with work and we fill our lives with family, friends, and, most importantly, faith.

Striving, turmoil and stress seem to be some of the antitheses of rest.  Rest has a connotation of peace.  We are at rest when we are at peace.  We are at peace when we remember that we are not God and that the world’s problems will not be resolved by me.

One of the most extensive passages about rest is Hebrews 3:7 to 4:13.

 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 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. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 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.

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.


The Holy Spirit speaks directly into the lives of The Hebrews by applying the words of Psalm 95.  The Holy Spirit teaches The Hebrews by showing that salvation only really belongs to those who endure.  The role of works in this passage is clear.  The Christian strives, as a follower of Jesus, to live out evidence that they belong to him.  Those who cease to show good works have difficulty justifying any claims that  they will receive an eternal reward.  The eternal reward is the subject of our focus here because that reward is the ‘rest’ that God offers.  In the passage, the Christian strives or works for the duration of their life.  After their life’s work is done for God, they then rest.  We frequently today talk about death as a rest when we put RIP (Rest in Peace) on a gravestone, or we say that a person has entered into the Lord’s rest, or maybe that they are resting in the Lord now.

The toil from which death is a rest is related to the curse of Adam.  He had to work the ground with extra vigour because it would not only produce the kind of vegetation that would be god for food, but the twisted earth would produce twisted plants and extra cultivation would be needed.  When we retire we often cease from our labours.  We dream of the day when we can retire to Florida, play gold all day, and in the evenings sip lemonade by the pool.  This is a poor idea of ‘rest’ though because it is more akin to indolence.  Indolence is laziness or sloth.  It is sin.  The rest that the Bible provides is not the cessation of all activity, but it is activity which is at peace with God.  In restful activity there are no counter forces working to resist and slow down the work’s completion.  It is like a body which is in inertia.  In physics inertia is described as, ‘a property of matter by which something that is not moving remains still and something that is moving goes at the same speed and in the same direction until another thing or force affects it (Webster).’  So a thing can be active and moving, but it is not ‘toil’ or ‘work’ in order to do so.  The Lord’s rest is a divine state where we are in harmony with him and we move according to his will.  In this sinful world we are bogged down by many cares and time and circumstances often work against us.  Rest in a daily schedule means finding time without stress and opposition.  Rest on a Sabbath means seeking God until the peace of God permeates life.

In the passage, those who begin to seek God, but who give up easily, will not have rest.  They will be in constant opposition to God and God’s world will work against them.  They will stress about the little things in life because they will show them that everything is ultimately not okay.  God will not give them his presence and his conclusions to their tasks.  Hell will be like an eternity of unwashed dishes, unmown lawns, unfinished masterpieces, and unrealised dreams.  It is when all is concluded in God that all rest happens.  This is superbly illustrated in Tolkien’s story Leaf by Niggle.  Niggle strives all of his life to realise the perfection of a tree he has once seen.  He works on his art, but due to life’s distractions and the nagging responsibilities he has, his vision is never set down on canvas.  Finally, after the long journey of death, Niggle sees the whole tree and the landscape that surrounds it realised in the peace of heaven.  This peace is not for those who walk a path without God.  This peace is not for those who shun the opportunity which is given to them today to seek God.

The word of God, in particular Psalm 95, cuts the reader to the core and asks if we have truly made a decision to walk with God.  Those who ignore this life’s opportunity to seek God will never find rest.


Complete these observation questions:

  1. What does the Holy Spirit say?
  2. In what verses are parts of what the Holy Spirit says repeated?
  3. In what verses is ‘rest’ mentioned?
  4. Who is resting or not resting in those verses?
  5. What should be done with one another every day?
  6. What is the conditional clause related to coming and sharing with Christ?
  7. What phrase is repeated three times throughout the passage?
  8. What had those who failed to enter formerly received?
  9. Who failed to lead the people into rest?
  10. What should be done lest it should be shown that anyone has failed to reach God’s rest?
  11. In which verse are striving and resting contrasted?
  12. Why did the message not benefit those who received it?

Answer these interpretation questions:

  1. How does Psalm 95 form the foundation of this passage?
  2. Why is rest so often mentioned in a negative context?  In other words it frequently emphasizes that there is no rest for certain people.
  3. There is a contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful in the passage.  How would you describe the contrast in your own terms?
  4. What does exhorting another person look like?
  5. How does this passage relate to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15?
  6. What is the ‘rest’ that is promised in the passage?
  7. Can a believer have an ‘evil, unbelieving heart’?
  8. What rest should Joshua have brought?  Why did Joshua’s rest not take affect?
  9. Does ‘striving’ mean that Christians need to work for their salvation?
  10. Does the passage teach that a person can lose their salvation if they do not strive until the end?
  11. How does the rest in this passage give us a picture of Sabbath rest?  How are they related?
  12. How does God rest when he is at every moment sustaining creation?

Answer these application questions:

  1. How does Psalm 95 apply to today?
  2. How do people’s hearts harden to continuing in the work for God?
  3. What work has God given you to do?
  4. What does rest from your work look like for you?
  5. Who models a good pattern of rest and work for you?
  6. Is retirement a good example of how God wants us to rest after our task of work is done?
  7. What will your retirement years look like?
  8. When have you felt a great sense of completion of a task?
  9. What work are you doing right now that could one day be completed in this life?
  10. Is there any work that you find restful?
  11. Is ministry something that you choose to do when you are resting or something that you need a rest from?
  12. This week, how will you build rest into your schedule?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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