Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Finding Rest

  • Jim Tonkowich
  • 2006 26 Sep
Finding Rest

Well, it’s been and gone: summer vacation, that annual bacchanal of travel, motels, fast food, sunburn, insect bites, and souvenirs.

Some headed for the Virgin Islands or Spain, Nags Head or Maine, Catalina or Pittsburgh (because that’s where your Mom lives). Whether you went rock climbing, rode roller coasters, toured, or sat on the beach pretending to read, most vacationers are after the same thing: rest.

Did you rest? Do you ever rest - deep down rest? Or is your life lived in a frenzy of activity and sleeplessness?

Before going on vacation one year, I read Psalms 116. Verse 7 caught my eye: 

Be at rest once more, O my soul
for the LORD has been good to you.

Note that the psalmist is not talking about his body resting, but his soul. It’s one thing for my body to rest by sleeping in. It’s something else to have a soul at rest. And note too that the rest comes and goes. He had rest once and wants it back.

Psalms 131 pictures the resting soul as a child snuggled up and napping against her mother’s breast. Matthew 11:28-30 describes it as the feeling when a heavy burden is removed.

We don’t come to enjoy that rest via some 5-step program. If we take the psalmist as a guide, we find that he doesn’t do anything to find rest. Instead, by faith, he believes three things about God and, in faith, he responds.

1. My Soul Can Be at Rest Because the Lord Hears Me (verses 1-2)
On most vacations, we drive up to Maine, do our thing, and drive home. But the last vacation included family responsibilities along the way that expanded as we got closer to departure. At one point I started complaining to my wife. She said it wouldn’t be all that bad. I knew that. She said we’d have a great time anyway. I knew that. She said I was being selfish. I knew that, too. Then she said, “But I understand how you feel. I hear what you’re saying.” I needed to know that. Someone who loves me hears me.

God loves us and He hears us. Yet sometimes when I listen to myself and others pray, I have the image of a bunch of hobos fresh up from the railroad track at the servants’ entrance to a great mansion. Heads bowed, hats in hand, wanting to be heard, but… well, you never know when you’re a beggar.

Then I picture a child racing past the hobos, across the lawn, yanking open the front door, and yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” And out comes the master of the house, Daddy, who’s all ears for his darling. That’s a biblical picture of how our heavenly Father hears us.

Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are children of God — adopted daughters and sons. When we call, “Abba” — the Hebrew word for “Papa” — Abba hears us. We can pour out our restless hearts to Him knowing that we’re heard. Faith that He hears me brings my soul rest.

2. My Soul Can Be at Rest Because the Lord Rescues Me (verses 3-11)
Many of us waste a lot of time fighting with reality. We fantasize about a life that’s free of problems and pain, stress and suffering — a life that, in this world, never can or will be. Life is filled with problems — many of our own making. We need to be rescued.

In Psalm 116:3, death, the grave, trouble, and sorrow are pictured as aggressive and clutching. The chaos of life is all around us and we feel under attack. Ask Christians who are being persecuted in Sudan, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia. Ask the families in inner city neighborhoods who have lost teens in the crossfire of gang wars. Ask the parent whose little bundle of joy is diagnosed with leukemia. And really we don’t need to ask anyone. We already know.

The world is a troubled place and we make it worse with our own stupidity and our sin. Derek Kidner in his commentary on God protecting “the simplehearted" (verse 5) writes that the simplehearted…

…is a revealing description to use, for in the Old Testament it has no trace of merit. ‘The silly’ would hardly be too strong a term for these gullible, feckless people who roam the pages of Proverbs drifting into trouble. It is humble of the psalmist to identify with them; it is humble of God to have time for them (if ‘them’ is the right pronoun for us to use).

Beyond temporal rescue, we believe that Christ’s work on the cross was the ultimate rescue from the clutches of death and from the eternal penalty of sin in Hell. 

3. My Soul Can Be at Rest Because the Lord Sets Me Free (verses 15-16)
Freedom, most people think, is the ability to do anything I want any time I want to do it. Isn’t that the idea of vacation?  Isn’t that why we want to be rich? But that utopian ideal is not real freedom.

Everyone has a center around which we build our lives. Whether we’re utterly irreligious or highly spiritual, we each have a center, some thing or things that give life meaning and that we cannot possibly live without. It may be career, possessions, appearance, family, friends, moral character, religious practice, art, pleasure, rest, or some combination.

Having one of these objects at our center means that something controls us. If I have to excel in all I do then I’m not free. I’m a slave to guilt (I don’t excel in everything). I’m a slave to anger (people get in my way). I’m a slave to fear (my goals are threatened). And I’m a slave to shame (what if others find out my weaknesses?).

Whatever is at the center becomes my savior. Too many Christians are enslaved to guilt, anger, fear, and shame by having some unworthy object at the center of life. Are our souls at rest? Certainly not, unless Christ is the center. Our souls are too busy trying to stay afloat.

The psalmist says that God breaks our chains (verse 16). Our liberation doesn’t come from giving God the good record of our achievements, but by receiving from God the perfect record of Jesus’ accomplishment on the cross.

The God of the Bible is the only center we can have and still be free. That’s because the gift of liberation is itself free, and as a result we have nothing to prove. That frees us from shame and guilt. And while it’s a freedom that we can ignore — falling back into slavery if we choose — it’s a freedom we can’t lose. There is a certainty that frees us from fear and anger.

We were created to serve God, and just as a fish is only free in the water and a bird is only free in the sky, so human beings are only free when we’re what we were created to be: free servants bound to God the Liberator.

Responding (verses 12-14; 17-19)
The soul at rest is one that has learned to give thanks. As a how-to, just remember what your mom told you years ago: Always say thank you. John Calvin, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, said that thanksgiving is the essence of the Christian life. Notice that, in the psalm we've studied, giving thanks is a community activity. We need each other because one soul resting in the freedom of God and the Gospel is hope and encouragement for all the others.

I hope you had a wonderful vacation this summer and that you’re ready to hit the ground running this fall. As you do, take time to reflect on and pray Psalm 116. Your soul can be at rest in the thick of your busy life even without a vacation because in Jesus Christ crucified and risen, the Lord hears you, He delivers you, and He has set you free.

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