She looked at me with a serious gaze and explained, “It’s not a matter of trying harder.”
Sitting in the doctor’s office after a surgery — a doctor in front of me with my charts mapping out my low iron levels — I knew what she said to be true. Plagued with a racing heartbeat, dizziness when I stood up, and fatigue when I walked the distance of a parking lot, my body was struggling to bounce back from a pregnancy loss.
I wasn’t functioning at my optimal level because my heart was having to work overtime to circulate oxygen through my body, and the doctor predicted that it would be several months before I regained my strength. Even if I wanted to will myself to get better, I could not get to the place I had been before surgery simply by “trying harder.”
Similar to the case of my post-surgery health crisis, I have found myself many times running on empty spiritually and not really understanding why I can’t get to an optimal efficiency level. Contrary to the messages of our culture, we were never designed to live in an achievement system where we go it alone in our own strength. We were designed to live in a place of dependence on God — created to live in a state of rest in our decision-making, interactions with others, and work endeavors.
Rest in God does not equate with lying around all the time — being at rest is a choice of believing that God is who He says He is and His precepts are true. Being at rest means taking purposeful steps in the direction we feel He has called us. We always have a choice, and if we choose not to walk in faith than we will not be at rest.
When we step out and allow Him to guide our steps, we have the blessing of peace in what we are doing. We have the confidence and assurance that we are doing the will of God and that He will protect us in the way we are going because we are relying on Him and not ourselves for guidance.
So many verses in the Bible emphasize this important point:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)
Rest in Our Work
I first encountered the term “labor-rest” in a sermon by our senior pastor, Dr. Mark Walker. As he defined it, labor-rest is the idea that even in our work we are not frantic because we are not trusting in our own resources or decision-making abilities, but rather relying on God’s wisdom and resources, allowing Him to guide and help us in the important work we do.
An example of this rest principle was when I was working on the creation of this blog. I had received some advice from a friend and had managed to set up a blog on WordPress and buy a domain. However, when I attempted to change my layout and the format of my blog, I ran into some roadblocks. I couldn’t figure out how to make my pages show up under the appropriate menu tabs. I really was quite frustrated.
A few weeks into worrying about it, I prayed and immediately the name of a friend from my Break-time For Moms group popped into my head. I emailed her and set up a meeting, and she was able to quickly correct the errors in formatting and organize my pages under the appropriate tabs. If I had only prayed to begin with, I would have saved myself needless worry.
Getting to a place where we can rest takes a little effort because we have to let go. We have to trust that we are not the best ones to handle the situation. We may get by for a time on our own abilities and efforts, but we will not have the peace or the energy we will have if we decide initially to rely on the advice and wisdom of God.
On the flip side of labor-rest is achieving in our own power, and it creates damaging circumstances. As Steve McVey notes in Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Walk, “Self-sufficiency always produces conflict … It is God’s purpose to bring us to the place where we rest totally in the sufficiency of Christ within us for every situation.” When we strive to produce in our own strength, we get burned out and may even compromise ourselves to get ahead. When we believe that we are the source for our income and well-being and leave God out of it, we may need to cut corners to maintain our status at work or get a promotion.
Suddenly, flirting with the married boss to get a raise, covering up a costly mistake we made in order to save face, or refusing to confront the wrong actions of a powerful co-worker begin to appeal to us because we are not trusting God for our sustenance but instead looking to ourselves, the people and systems around us as our supplier.
Rest in Our Relationships
Not only can we have rest in our work, God also wants us to have rest in our relationships. As Joyce Meyer argues in Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone:
We can even enter the rest of God concerning what people think of us and whether they approve of us. We can become so secure in Christ that as long as we know our heart is right, we know whatever people think of us is between them and God and not our concern.
The key to rest in relationships is resting our identity in God and not using other people to define us and help us feel good about ourselves. If we know that we are accepted and approved by God, we don’t have to find a relationship to make us feel filled and valuable. We don’t have to constantly worry that the other person may end the relationship or lose interest because our whole identity is not tied up in that person.
If the person chooses to move on — a friend stops calling, a spouse leaves, or a family member decides to not forgive after a conflict — it may hurt and we may miss them, but because our identity is resting in who God says we are and not on who those people say we are, we do not have to crumble and lose all sense of self when the other person is no longer a part of our lives.
A few years ago, I was devastated by the loss of a friendship with a very close friend. She was one of the first friends I made when I came to Georgia — our husbands got along, and we were at a similar age and life stage. However, I clung very tightly to that relationship because of my own insecurity. When she became close friends with another couple and flaked out on a few engagements, I got really angry.
In retrospect, I see that I was depending way too much on that relationship for fulfillment. I still see her from time to time, but we are not close like we once were. I am at a point where I have been able to let that relationship go because God has helped me to find healing in that area and not cling so tightly to that friendship.
A phrase Beth Moore uses to reassure herself when she begins to have fearful thoughts that her spouse will leave or a friend will desert her is simply “Then God.” We can know that if times get really hard and we face a relationship fallout even when we’ve done everything we can to keep it together, “Then God.” We have the foundation of God to rely on to help us keep ourselves in tact through any relationship difficulty.
The reality is that even when we do all the right things at times, people will still betray us, abuse us, misunderstand us and forsake us. But we always have the comfort of knowing that God will never do these things to us.
Finding Rest in Our Identity in Christ
The interesting thing about finding rest in our work and relationships is that both involve being at rest with who we are in Christ. Once we have decided upon our identity and our ability to lean into His character and trust Him with all facets of our lives, our need to manipulate, control or act in ways that jeopardize our peace ends. As Meyer observes in Addiction to Approval:
Hebrews 4 teaches us that we can enter the rest of God through believing. It says we should be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter the rest of God. We should have knowledge of it and experience it for ourselves. Those who have entered the rest of God have ceased from the weariness and pain of human labors. They are not tied up in knots; they are relaxed, secure and free to be themselves.
I can honestly confess to you that I am not fully at that place yet of being “relaxed, secure and free” to be myself. I am still working on letting go and allowing God to do what He wants with me. I do well depending on God for awhile and then find myself getting anxious about a project or a relationship, and I spend a lot of energy trying to figure things out. Many times the way He assigns doesn’t seem very logical to me.
Meyer is not advocating that we “strive diligently” by spinning our wheels futilely chasing and attempting to earn something from God. Just like the place I was in after getting out of the hospital a few months ago — “trying harder” doesn’t produce results. Rather, what Meyer is saying is that when we believe what God says and submit to His ways of doing things, there is an ease that we experience with which we can approach our work and our dealings with others. We find rest not only when we come and sit at Jesus’ feet (Matthew 11:28); we find rest when we take Jesus’ “yoke” upon us and “learn” from Him (Matthew 11:29).
Taking His “yoke” upon us means allowing ourselves to be led by Him and doing what He wants us to do. Although we are under his yoke, He encourages us and enables us with his Spirit to go down the path He has for us. There may be some difficult steps, but He walks them with us. He shows us how to do life better than we know how to do it on our own.
As Matthew Henry comments in response to this passage, taking Christ’s yoke upon ourselves makes it possible for our soul to “dwell at ease”; for as he notes, “The way of duty [spending time with Jesus and allowing His teaching to transform us] is the way of rest.”
Related Bible Verses:
Hebrews 4:1-3 (NLT): “God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news — that God has prepared this rest — has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest.”