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Rest in God's Kingdom

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

These verses have been repeating in my mind for a month now, and in the past couple of weeks have come up again and again in different books I’ve read and sermons I’ve listened to. Due to various circumstances in my life, it had become hard just to get through each day. I was drained, depressed, listless. Just get through one more day of work. Get some rest. Get through one more day of work. Just keep moving forward. Weary. Bone weary. Soul weary.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? It was all weary. How can I love when I am so weary?

And so those verses began repeating over and over again as a prayer. Please, God, fulfill this promise to me. Please, God, give me rest. In God’s awesome way of teaching me, it was in the midst of that utter weariness that He chose to teach me about what rest means to Him, at least according to Bible scholar John Walton.

It was, of course, during this time that I decided to start listening to the audiobook of The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John Walton on my way to work. I don’t know why, but for some reason I end up getting surprised every time God seemingly randomly aligns the things I’m reading about with the extra reading and listening that I do. I shouldn’t have been surprised, He’s done this countless times for me, but I was surprised nonetheless when I got to the fourth proposition in the book and found that the chapter seemed to be all about rest!

I’ll be honest, it had never occurred to me before that rest in the Bible could mean something different from what I had in mind. Rest, before listening to (and then buying the actual book and reading!) the chapter, was basically just an absence of work. It was the things outside of work that I could do that allowed me to recover from the business of working. It was watching TV, reading fluff, sleeping, relaxing.

But now, John Walton has given me a lot to consider. In the section of the book I’m talking about, John Walton looks at the first chapter of Genesis, making the argument that the seventh day, the day that God rests, is actually the whole point of the first six days. In the creation story, we see God working to bring order to the cosmos so that He can dwell within it. So that it can function under His rule. It wasn’t “God worked for six days and then on the seventh day He stopped working”, but that there was chaos in the world and God had to bring that chaos into order (the first six days), then God could stop ordering and rule in peace. It’s not that He stopped working on the seventh day, but that He began a different kind of work.

John Walton gives other examples of rest being used in this sense. He says, “When God tells the Israelites that he is going to give them rest (nwh) from their enemies (Deut 12:10; Josh 1:13; 21:44; 2 Sam 7:1; 1 Kings 5:4), he is not talking about sleep, relaxation or leisure time. The rest that he offers his people refers to freedom from invasion and conflict so that they can live at peace and conduct their daily lives without interruption. It refers to achieving a state of order in society. Such rest is the goal of all the ordering activities that the Israelites are undertaking to secure their place in the land.”

The Israelites were promised peace so that they could do the work of God’s kingdom, as they were called to do. And that theme continues into the New Testament. Remember that verse from Matthew I was praying? John Walton says of that verse that Jesus, “is not offering a nap or leisure time. He is inviting people to participate in the ordered kingdom of God, where, even though they have a yoke, they will find rest.”

The burden isn’t heavy when we work in the Kingdom of God. We can have rest even when we’re working, if we’re working for the kingdom. That is the point of the word “rest” in the Bible. It isn’t that we take a break from working, but that we take up our role in the Kingdom. That is where our rest lies.

John Walton continues, “In light of this usage, we can discern that resting pertains to the security and stability found in the equilibrium of an ordered system. When God rests on the seventh day, he is taking up his residence in the ordered system that he has brought about in the previous six days. It is not something that he does only on the seventh day; it is what he does every day thereafter. Furthermore, his rest is not just a matter of having a place of residence—he is exercising his control over this ordered system where he intends to relate to people whom he has placed there and for whom he has made the system function. It is his place of residence, it is a place for relationship, but, beyond those, it is also a place of his rule.”

God brought about order. And now He maintains that order. When we step out of the darkness and chaos and step into the light of His kingdom, we are stepping into a world that is perfectly ordered and functioning. He relates to us there, listening to our problems and teaching us to grow into maturity. We can have relationship with Him there, growing ever closer to this God who made and rules over the universe.

But sometimes, for me, at least, it can be easy to forget that He has a job for us to do. He created each of us for a purpose, and He brought about order so that we can work for Him, fulfilling our function in the world and in His kingdom. We must be obedient to His rule.

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