“Twenty-six days until Christmas!” My twelve-year old son announced gleefully as we pulled into the driveway after a Thanksgiving trip visiting family. I could feel the knot of dread forming in my stomach. Christmas was less than a month away and I had not done one thing to prepare. It felt like the train was leaving the station and I was standing on the platform watching it go. On top of that, I was already worn out and not looking forward to jumping back into the regular responsibilities of daily life. I was feeling heavy hearted and discouraged that some old frustrations were re-surfacing after I thought they’d been resolved. Suffice it to say, it was not a good way to kick off the Christmas season.
I woke up early the next morning with my mind swimming. There were so many things I needed to do, I felt overwhelmed with where to begin. Knowing I wasn’t going to fall back to sleep, I pulled back the covers and decided I might as well be productive in spite of my lack of energy. I could already sense I was starting the day off on the wrong foot and realized before I tackled any tasks, I needed some time alone in God’s word and prayer. I grabbed my Bible study book and thumbed through to Week Two, Day Four in Faithful, Abundant, True: Three Lives Going Deeper Still. I had to laugh as I read the title “The Rest of Faith.” I’d never fully understood this phrase before and certainly wasn’t experiencing it at that moment. Did “rest” mean “remainder” as in “the rest of the story”? Or did it literally mean “peace of mind or spirit?” As I delved into Kay Arthur’s study it was as if the lesson had been written specifically for me to read on that very day.
The study examines the passage in Hebrews 3:7- 4:3. In case you don’t have a Bible handy, here it is:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world.
Before diving into an explanation of the passage, the lesson directed me to read Numbers 13 & 14, which is the story that the Hebrews passage refers to in chapters 3 & 4. The Numbers passage describes the Israelites arriving at the Promised Land (the first time). In the Numbers story, 12 spies are sent by Moses to scout out the land for 40 days. Upon returning, they report that the land is flowing with milk and honey, just as God had promised. However, ten of the spies finish the description of the bountiful land with foreboding: “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:28). Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, advise the Israelites to go through with God’s plan. In Numbers 14:7-9, Joshua and Caleb say to the people:
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
Instead of listening to Joshua and Caleb, the people cry out against them and ultimately, against God. Because of this rebellion, God declares that the Israelites will wander in the desert for 40 years, one year for every day the spies scouted out the land. Further, He strikes the 10 spies who had given a bad report with a plague and they die immediately. Out of all the adults over 20, only Joshua and Caleb survive and live to enter God’s rest in the Promised Land 40 years later. (You may remember the story of their second time entering the Promised Land from my earlier blog and/ or the live talk at Focused Living entitled “Finding Your 20 Seconds of Courage.”)
Kay Arthur points out how sad it is that “instead of believing and trusting God and His Word, [the Israelites] threw a tantrum of unbelief that cost them 40 years of wandering in the wilderness…Only Joshua and Caleb were spared, and that is because they were the two spies who believed in God” (p. 47).
Contrast the fear of the people with the reassurance that Caleb tries to provide them: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30). Kay explains: “This… is the rest of faith…Rest is uniting the Word of faith and living in it at that very moment. It’s the action of faith for today—for this moment, this situation” (p.47). According to Hebrews 3:19, the Israelites were disobedient because they showed unbelief. This is what prevented them from entering into God’s rest in the Promised Land. For them, the rest would have been both literal (not having to wander in the desert anymore) and figurative (having spiritual peace).
Hebrews tells us we do not have to make the same mistake the Israelites made. “For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said” (Hebrews 4:3). We enter into God’s rest when we accept Christ as our Savior, and we continue to enter into His rest every time we show Him we believe His word to be true through our actions and attitudes. Entering God’s rest starts with one decision and then becomes an ongoing series of choices in our lives daily.
Belief in God shows by our actions. This boils down to a simple question: Do we live like we believe? If so, we should be receiving His rest. For me, that means spending less time trying to work things out on my own wisdom and spending more time seeking God. Once I’ve laid a situation at His feet, my job is to trust Him by resting in Him. In my life, this has more to do with a change of focus than anything else.
The morning that I woke up with a bad attitude, heavy with discouragement and totally unprepared for Christmas, I had to do some serious soul-searching. I was convicted that if I really believed the Christmas season was about celebrating the birth of Jesus, then I had no reason to be stressed and anxious. I’d lost my focus by worrying about all of the tasks that seemed so daunting to me.
The start of the Christmas season is often accompanied by a ramp up of stress for many people. The holidays tend to accentuate areas in our lives where we don’t have peace. It could be something simple such as worrying about all of the shopping, decorating and cooking to be done. It could be something deeper. The holidays often exacerbate loneliness or shine a spotlight on difficult relationships. Sometimes they remind us of our weaknesses when we succumb to the temptation to eat and drink too much. They might emphasize the inadequacy we feel when our bank accounts can’t cover the purchases we want to make. For those struggling with depression, the dark days of December and the swirl of activity can make their spirits descend even further. Sadly, there are many of us who feel exempt from the Angels’ pronouncement in Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Regardless of the circumstance in our lives that rob us of our peace, God invites us to believe His promises and to find rest in Him. Scroll back up and take a look at the photo at the top of this posting. That sleeping little boy is my younger son when he was two–the same one who is now twelve that I mentioned earlier. He was so worn out after a busy day he’d spontaneously fallen asleep on the couch. He had no choice but to enter into the deep rest he so desperately needed. That’s what the rest of faith is all about- relinquishing our need to control and trusting God to work in His perfect timing.
If you find yourself feeling weary and worn, let the song below bring you some encouragement. You are not alone—let God’s redemptive power work in you as you trust Him to give you exactly what you need for each moment.
Click here to listen to “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North.