Rest and the Gospel

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John Calvin is often quoted as saying, “From birth, our hearts are idol factories.” We hit this planet in pursuit of the created, searching for what can be found only in the Creator. When I ask people how they are doing, they often reply, “busy.” We define ourselves by what we do rather than by what Christ has done. The result is that we are weary and restless. We need more than just a day off. I find myself coming back from a week’s vacation needing a vacation from my vacation. A day (or week) off is not enough to give my soul the deep rest it longs for. Jesus gives us this invitation in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I find within my soul that I am weary and heavy laden by the endless pursuit of idols. Every idol promises you life—to its fullest—but in the end causes you to sacrifice everything in pursuit of it. The cost is often seen in everyday weariness. What we really need to do is rest in the Savior who has sacrificed everything for us up front and can give us life and life to its fullest every day, as well as for eternity.

The gospel gives us that rest. The pursuit of idols is a relentless and endless pursuit of acceptance whereas the gospel gives us a position of acceptance in Christ Jesus. We already have in Christ Jesus all the acceptance, security, and hope that every idol promises, but can never deliver. The gospel frees us to work from a position of acceptance versus in pursuit of acceptance. The first leads to rest, the latter to restlessness.

We can live our lives in one of three ways:

1. REACTIONARY—passively dominated by urgencies and pushy people. Your life is dominated by the tyranny of the urgent. This results in a life that is a frazzled mess: disorganized, without a sense of priorities, full of half-finished tasks, tardiness, and a frantic lifestyle. This is a life in which our compulsions cause us to exceed our calling.

2. CONFORMITY—succumbing to the fear of man and just being and doing what everyone else wants, which is not necessarily following God’s will for you and your family. This results in a boring life where everyone but God is pleased, and the person who is easily pushed around keeps busy and seemingly productive, but not passionate or free.

3. GOSPEL IDENTITY—when we live our lives from the position of acceptance instead of the pursuit of acceptance, we allow the King of the universe to be Lord of our calendars. We live in response to who Christ is and what He accomplished for us on the cross. We allow the Lord of the Sabbath to set our schedules, not the tyranny of the urgent. This gospel truth empowers us to say no to our compulsions and say yes to Christ. This gospel truth frees us to love people more deeply because we don’t need them for our own acceptance. It frees us to love people when they are least capable of loving us and when they need our love the most. The gospel frees us to live our lives out in a radically different way.

One of the great myths we all fight is that if we take frequent time off, we will be less productive. The opposite could not be more true. We all have limited physical, emotional and spiritual capacities. On a scale of one to ten, we are most productive when we are operating from the overflow of our emotional barrel rather than from the bottom of the barrel. We are most productive between a seven and ten, and least productive between one and five. Typically, we let ourselves drain out to a two or three (or worse) and then take a day off or a vacation. The problem is that typically a day or even a week off can renew you only about two or three points. So, if you wait to rest at a one or two, a day off gets you up to only a three or four. You are still operating at your lowest productivity and creativity levels. The key is to rest at a five so that you can recover and operate at a seven, eight, or higher. Resting in your gospel identity will empower you to establish Sabbath rhythms in your life that prevent you from draining out below a five. The result is that you will operate most often at your highest levels of productivity and have the ability to love others out of the abundance of the heart.

The best way to gauge whether you are working from a position of rest is to ask, “What is my relational capacity?” Am I often frustrated, impatient, anxious or angry? If so, you are operating below a five. When I am working from a position of rest, I find myself filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When I am working in pursuit of acceptance, I find just the opposite takes place in my soul. The gospel reminds us that Jesus is enough, more than enough, so rest.

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