My not-quite-two-year-old grandson has an extensive vocabulary, and one phrase that is serving him well these days is, “Do it self.” Instead of holding his mother’s hand on the slide: “Do it self.” Climbing the stairs or building a block tower with Bam: “Do it self.”
Clearly, he is both loveable and capable!
However, what is adorable and even laudable in a brown-eyed toddler can turn devastating in an adult who has lost sight of her limits–or a nation who has forgotten their God-ordained purpose. When Israel sent spies into the Promised Land, they ignored all its benefits and God’s promise of rest. Instead, they focused on their fear of the unknown. Their lack of trust in God’s goodness and providence earned them a forty-year walking tour of the wilderness around Kadesh-Barnea.
Then, in a colossal “do-it-self” move, they changed their mind and decided that maybe they could take on the Amorites single-handedly–against Moses’s warning and God’s command to the contrary. Naturally, they were chased back down the mountain again in utter defeat. Instead of earning God’s approval and immediate entrance into God’s promised rest, they earned God’s displeasure, and that generation died in the desert, never to experience the rest they craved.
A Busy Striving After Rest
God was not after Israel’s performance or valor. He was after their hearts.
Reading through the book of Deuteronomy this winter, I hear his gentle rebuke about my own striving, for isn’t all our busyness a striving toward whatever “promised land” we crave? Ironically, so much of our busyness is a striving after rest.
Productivity becomes an idol we serve as we project an image of effectiveness, competence, importance, relevance. Our people praise us for it, reinforcing the false worship, and we keep ourselves going with false promises of eventual rest:
“When I finish this project…”
“When my kids are all in school…”
“When I reach this milestone…”
Instead, can I find grace to believe that God is not after my performance? He is after my heart.
Productivity becomes an idol we serve as we project an image of effectiveness, competence, importance, relevance. Can I find grace to believe that God is not after my performance? God is after my heart.Tweet
The Paradox of True Rest
The rest God invited Israel to experience–rest from their enemies, rest from danger, rest from their wandering–would be a God-glorifying experience resulting in worship, and the people of Israel would “rejoice before the Lord their God.”
The irony of God’s call to rest is that nowhere in Scripture does God say that effort is our enemy. On the contrary, he invites us into a yoke, an instrument designed to facilitate the hard work of pulling:
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
As Jen Pollock Michel has said in A Habit Called Faith, “Jesus offers us a path to knowing God that isn’t strenuous–but also not effortless.” The meaning of true rest in a following life may look like a 5:00 a.m. rising time to meet one-on-one with God in a quiet house. Or it may mean saying no to a “great ministry opportunity” in order to make room for better self-care or focused family time.
Romans 8 assures me every time I read it that God did not give us his Spirit with the intent of making us his slaves. His concern for us is that of a Father, not a task-master, and his requirements are intended to carve out space in our lives for intimacy with him, not to place us under a burden.
Lord willing, I intend to spend 2022 learning more about the meaning and the methods of true rest. Because it’s my focus word for the year, I’m inviting you to travel along with me, but don’t come looking for spa recommendations or pedicure how-tos. I’m going to be trusting for grace to slaughter my idols of productivity and effectiveness, all the while asking God for wisdom to know and then to do what’s most important with the energy and ability he provides.
In 2022, I’m going to be learning about soul rest.
With that in mind, at the beginning of this new year, I’ll be experimenting with the idea of posting just once a week here at Living Our Days. Because so many of you respond to the Sunday Scripture post, I’ll be keeping that timing, format, and biblical content, but will follow it up with reviews of whatever I’ve been reading recently. I hope you’ll let me know how this new format works for you!
Deeper by Dane Ortlund
The key to our growth as Christians is not found in self-improvement projects. It’s not about becoming my best self, but rather, an experience of going deeper into the gospel, the truth that I already know, but just barely live out. Dane Ortlund’s presentation of the gospel has profoundly impacted my thinking about the Christian life, particularly on two fronts:
- Justification and sanctification are powered by the same gospel engine. At the time of salvation, we receive Christ’s righteousness from outside ourselves, and his perfect record of holiness before God becomes our own. Then, by his Spirit, we are empowered to live in actual holiness, a miracle of grace that produces inside-out righteousness. It’s only when we get into fuzzy thinking about our source of righteousness that we stumble into legalism or laziness.
- With piercing clarity, Deeper spotlights the importance of honesty with other Christians in maintaining our walk “in the light.” Confessing our sins to one another, owning up “to being real sinners, not theoretical sinners” is key to our growth process, but not something we relish.
If it’s your goal in the new year to live a life that matters, begin by inhaling: take truth like oxygen into your way of thinking. Breathe out prayer as if your life depends on it. Spiritually, it does.
Carved in Ebony by Jasmine L. Holmes
I have been pitifully unaware of the historical contributions of women of color, so I approached Carved in Ebony: Lessons from the Black Women Who Shape Us like an explorer headed into uncharted territory. Fortunately, Jasmine Holmes, herself a woman of color, is a reliable guide, and while she is a historian and a woman of faith, she is also a gifted storyteller. Therefore, each of the ten women she introduced to me was presented with crystal clarity, not merely in the context of her contribution to race relations in America, but also relative to the unique challenges she overcame in order to be heard.
Living inside their own brown skin, created in God’s image, these little-known and barely celebrated women span a century of oppression that stretched from our country’s founding through the end of the Civil War. Holmes weaves her own story into the narrative as a writer, teacher, and mother, particularly sharing how her subjects have impacted her own story. Her personal response, coupled with the powerful impact of ten dynamic lives, whetted my appetite to dig deeper and to trust God to honor my own small faithfulness as it is offered to him.
That’s it for this week. Thank you for your eyes here so faithfully, and, again, I welcome your input about this new format. May you experience true rest as we begin a new year together in Christ.
Holding you in the Light,
In 2022, I’m going to be trusting for grace to slaughter my idols of productivity and effectiveness, all the while asking God for wisdom to know and then to do what’s most important with the energy and ability he provides. #truerestTweet
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Many thanks to NetGalley, Crossway, Bethany House Publishers, and Thomas Nelson for providing copies of these books to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.