Rest in God

BY JORDAN HEPBURN

About one in three adults in the United States don’t get enough sleep. [1]

Being a college student about to enter the workforce, I know my lifestyle matches really well with this statistic. Most adults, including myself, are tired, working long hours, and needing more sleep. I joked to my friend the other day that “I’ll sleep when I die.” He corrected my poor theology by saying “You don’t sleep in heaven, because you’ll be like the angels. If you want to sleep, best sleep now!”

All jokes aside, we as Christians look forward to the departure of our souls to Jesus’ presence, where we rest from our toilsome labor under the sun. This is truly a blessing, especially because being a Christian is often not very easy.

In this Lent season, for instance, we may be giving up dearly loved material pleasures in order to demonstrate our earnest desire for God. We should be growing in our awareness of the sin and wickedness within our hearts, wounding our gargantuan pride. In everyday life, we war against a spiritual enemy who makes the Christian life anything but easy. And our greatest examples of faith are martyrs and vagrant wanderers. The Lord Himself was tortured to death on a cross.

In light of this, the promise of rest is an immense comfort. The author of Hebrews explained the concept of rest in God when writing to the first-century Jerusalem church. He called them to hold fast to their faith in Jesus, as the church was composed primarily of Jews and had begun to experience social pressure and persecution. Some felt tempted to stop associating with the church and to revert to Judaism.

To encourage them to withstand persecution, the writer of Hebrews said, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10, NIV). 

He meant to show the church that the experience of God’s rest is not in essence physical. God’s people experience deprivation and pain even though there remains a Sabbath rest for them. Ultimately, the Christian’s rest in God is spiritual. We need not toil to accrue righteousness, because we have been saved—that’s our current rest—and we will experience a rest alongside God Himself after death, where our works will cease—our future rest.

Immensely comforting as this is, the author also writes later on, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11, NIV). This feels paradoxical. What does it mean to expend effort to enter rest?

These words should lead us to consider God’s rest as not only a comfort, but a challenge. We Christians should not be masochistic, desiring suffering or pain for ourselves. But we should also recognize suffering as the natural consequence of a holy and righteous life. 

Those of us who are Christian in America have it relatively easy. Christian college students do face an onslaught of ridicule of their faith in universities all over the United States. But in other parts of the world, to be a Christian is not only scandalous, but also life-threatening. For the suffering church across the world, Paul’s words to Timothy seem as true now as they were in AD 62: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV).

So, experiencing God’s rest is a challenge because we will likely have to suffer to get there. Here are some questions to consider: Is my Christian life a cakewalk? Is the concept of suffering for the sake of God’s purposes foreign to me? Do I experience conviction over sin and take regular steps of repentance? Does my church challenge me to take potentially uncomfortable steps of faith? Do I look forward to eternal rest with God?

It’s possible that rest in God is not that intelligible or enticing to us because we don’t really know what it’s like to work for God. And if we do not work for God, how could resting in Him make any sense? Sure, we may be tired from school, work, hobbies, romance; but this doesn’t make God’s rest sweet to us. God’s rest is most desirable when so much has been expended for Him that we anguish in longing for the day that we see Him and get to rest alongside Him, having partaken in the work of His hands.

Perhaps we need to pray this Lenten season to see where we could work for God. And when He reveals, we must take action. 

Frustrating nights of schoolwork might turn into joy-inducing all-night conversations about God with a friend. Hours of Netflix could become Bible study and apologetics review, which would come in handy when we hear a curious question about our faith from a coworker. The hobbies we do alone might become an opportunity to invite someone else and build a relationship, in the hope of ministering to them.

Let us strive to make rest in God unbearably sweet, so that physical weariness is not a burden, but a blessing. And let us give that same opportunity to others, “since it still remains for some to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:6a, NIV).


[1] “1 In 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 16, 2016), https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html.

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