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March 8, 2017:  In Repentance and Rest Is Your Strength?

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I once heard Bill Hybels talk about the choice we have to live in what he described as the “red or blue zone.” The “red zone” is that place in our lives that is lived at a frantic, flat-out, full-speed, super-charged, highly-caffeinated, sleep-deprived frenzy of constant activity. We all experience the red zone from time to time. In contrast, “the blue zone” is where we are appropriately challenged, where we get to be creative and work in our gifting at a pace that is rewarding. In the blue zone there is joy, celebration, gratitude and rest! My suspicion is that I am not alone in attempting to make my permanent home in the red zone.

Thankfully, the Lord’s desire is that none of us should perish in the red zone. In the book of Isaiah, we are told, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15 NIV). At first glance, I feel a little affronted. In repentance and rest? Please tell me what I did that was so terribly wrong because I'm just trying to do the best I can. And haven’t we grown up our whole lives being told that work is a virtue? “Slothfulness” we are told, “casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.” (Proverbs 19:15 ESV).

In reflecting on this apparent contradiction it was necessary to go back to the beginning. We’ll skip the first five days of creation, but on the sixth day the book of Genesis tells us that God created us in His likeness. Unlike any other living creature, God made us in His image. And God’s desire is that we should always live in unfettered union with Him; that when anyone looks at us, they will see Him. Bearing the image of our creator God, we were made to share in the joy of being creative. Work is not a curse. We were designed for fruitful activity. Indeed, on the sixth day God also gave us instructions: “Be fruitful.”

But if we are to fully bear God’s image, if we are to be fruitful as He has designed us to bear fruit, what happened on the seventh day of creation is equally important. On the first full day of humanity’s existence, God set the pattern for us. He rested. God rested, and Adam and Eve and all creation followed suit. Our first full day upon the earth, before we had ever done a stroke of work, was a day of rest. It was the first Sabbath. For God, this rest was a celebration of His work of His creation, a time to enjoy what He had made in love. On the first day of rest, we hadn’t done a thing! All we could do was to acknowledge that in love we were fearfully and wonderfully made, that we had a Creator who delighted in His creation—of which we were the summit. On the first day of rest, all we could do was to bask in God’s presence, enjoy the beauty of all that He had created and remember just who was in charge.

Now I am beginning to see what I need to repent for. In ignoring rest, I am ignoring His presence. I am at best modeling indifference in my relationship with God. In failing to acknowledge my God-given need of rest, I am, rather ironically, disregarding His instructions on how to be fruitful! How can I bear His image and be creative when I am physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted and depleted? To give up on rest is to make myself God. It is to deny that I am a creature—and not the Creator—and that I was only ever the beloved steward and not the master of His universe and everything in it.

There was a harried man who, in complete desperation, drove all through the night to an Order of Benedictine Monks. He pushed his way into the Abbot’s private prayer chapel and immediately complained about his frustration with failing relationships, a failed life and a God who had failed him. The Abbot listened carefully to the man’s struggles in trying to lead a Christian life. He then left the prayer chapel, to return a few moments later bearing a pitcher of water and a basin. “Now watch the water as I pour it into the basin,” said the Abbott. The water splashed on the bottom and against the sides of the container. It was agitated and turbulent. At first, the stirred-up water swirled around the inside of the basin, then it gradually began to settle, until finally the small, fast ripples evolved into larger swells that oscillated back and forth. Eventually the surface became so smooth that the visitor could see his own face and behind him, the face of Jesus painted on a simple icon fixed to the ceiling of the prayer chapel immediately above the bowl of water. The Abbot said, “This is what it is to live your life in the absence of rest. You fail to recognize His divine presence in your life.”

The good news is that through the Cross, again and again, Jesus gathers up the shattered fragments of our exhausted, rebellious lives and restores us in relationship with God. He tells us afresh each day, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28 NLT).