Throughout the Bible there is a promise of rest for the people of God, typified by the seventh day when God rested from His labours. The Bible tells us that after Joshua led the people of God into the promised land they had rest from all their enemies round about (Joshua 23:1). However, the book of Hebrews tells us that this was only another type of the promised rest, not the real thing: ” For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day” (Hebrews 4:8).
(Just a note here for anyone who might be confused by that passage in Hebrews: Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was the Bible in common use during the time covered by the New Testament.)
The peace promised by God is peace of the heart which comes of knowing that one’s sins have been forgiven and there is no need to labour to earn salvation by works. When this peace is firmly established in the heart, it pervades all of one’s being – mind, body and soul.
The works that a Christian does are the result of being obedient to the voice of the shepherd. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (1 John 10: 27-28).
This rest is not a one day a week affair, rest from physical labour is necessary but God offers something far better: rest from the turmoil caused by guilt for the things we have done, and rest from the turmoil of wondering if we can ever measure up to what God expects of us.
Why then are there so many restless Christians?
One reason is unconfessed sin. Someone may recite the sinner’s prayer without ever really understanding the need to come clean before God and other people. Salvation is not a band aid applied over the festering wounds caused by sin, it is a deep cleansing of those wounds that allows them to heal. We must confess sin, forsake it and do our best to undo the wrongs we have done to others. If we hold anything back, we will not know rest.
Little children may be led to recite the sinner’s prayer long before they have reached the point where they can comprehend their accountability to God. Any time that such a prayer is made to please others – parents, friends, camp counsellors or pastors, the result will not be true rest.
Pride often leads us to want to prove that we are a cut above other Christians in some aspect of the faith, or to apply ourselves diligently to some work that will make us stand out from the crowd of our fellow believers. Such an attitude is not conducive to rest.
Another aspect of pride is to believe that the way I understand things is surely the way that God sees them and that anyone who differs from me is not fully enlightened. This is the source of many conflicts among believers.
Another cause of unrest is the unwillingness to forgive others. My toes are going to get stepped on from time to time. It’s not deliberate, but it will happen. I may be totally unaware of how many times I have stepped on other people’s toes and they have just forgiven me, but I remember clearly every single instance when someone has stepped on my toes and I cannot forgive. Yet forgiving others is the only way to find rest for myself.
Sadly, there are church fellowships that are not restful places to be. Even if we find ourselves in such a situation and feel we need to look for another place to worship, it is well to ask ourselves what it is we are searching for. If we are seeking to find a body of believers that truly knows the rest that God gives, He will lead us quietly to such a place. If we just don’t get along with the pastor, or his wife, or some of the other people in the church, we are not apt to find a restful place. Many have wandered in this way until they gave up on the idea of church altogether.