I patrolled the winding road down into the early morning fog that enveloped me as I drove toward the coast. Every day for six consecutive weeks, I had strapped my longboard on my car and headed for the surf spot that was made famous by The Beach Boys—Ventura County Line.
I climbed down the ten-foot-high cliff to the cold sand, set up my beach chair, angled my surfboard on its side to provide a little bit of protection from the wind, and draped my wetsuit that was still wet from the day before over a big boulder, hoping the sun would eventually burn through and dry it before I paddled out. In the meantime, my coffee kept me warm enough.
I sat down and opened the pages of my dog-eared Bible to continue reading where I had left off the day before. That summer, in between surf sessions, I sat huddled against the morning cold as I read through the entire Bible in six weeks. In fact, I read all of the New Testament, all of the Old Testament, and then all of the New Testament again. In that high-speed viewing of the Scripture, I was able to perceive powerful and intricate themes that were woven through like the threads of those tapestries hanging in the Vatican Museums.
One of the threads I noticed was running through the whole tapestry like a vein of pure gold. It was the invitation to enter into God’s rest. I saw verse after verse offer the promise of rest in God. And, as Hebrews 4:1 says, “While the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care of you that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”
I did not want to fail to reach his rest. I wanted, as the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts, to “make every effort to enter” it (Hebrews 4:11).
It seems somewhat paradoxical that we need to work at resting. When my son Shane was young, he was a ball of energy. He was always on the move. When I tried to hold him and cuddle with him, he would squirm and wriggle until he was free to run and play again. Sometimes, I think we are like this with God. We are so busy with our own plans and agendas that we have no interest in rest, and so we lose a certain opportunity for intimacy with him.
Rest is not a mere request from God. Rest is so important to him that he commanded the Israelites to observe the Sabbath—one day of rest each week. In addition, every seven years was to be a year of rest. “Be still, and know that I am God” is an invitation to recline our soul, to cease our relentless striving, and to incline our ear to his heart in trust and intimacy (Psalm 46:10).
Jesus teaches us to rest in the midst of adversity. He teaches us peace in the midst of the storm, for he is our safe harbor. Remember the story of the Lord sleeping in the back of the boat while his disciples freaked out about the weather? When they woke him because they feared they were about to die, he asked them a sobering question, “And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm” (Matthew 8:26). Their inability to rest in the storm was a reflection of their small faith. The disciples had not yet realized that walking with Christ meant that, not only had their lives changed, but their paradigm had changed as well. They had entered into the Kingdom of God; they had entered into Christ’s rest.
Worry Less, Pray More
Our culture seems to think that worry is a virtue. (Maybe you’re worried that God left worry off the list of virtues.) Valid concern and prudence is one thing, but taking on a concern that we can do nothing about accomplishes nothing.
It prevents us from praising God and resting in him. Worry takes the fun and joy out of life. Worry is a party crasher who, when allowed in, becomes a party pooper; but praise and thankfulness are the bouncers at the door who won’t let him in.
Worry can consume us. Worry is a lack of faith. St. Paul tells us, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Constant worry can corrode our hearts, but God instructs us: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The sin of worry denies the very nature of God, forgetting that he is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Faith rests. We are to be like the bride in Song of Solomon who comes up from the wilderness “leaning upon her beloved” (8:5). God is so trustworthy, so strong, so mighty that we can lean fully on him. Have you ever seen a toddler sound asleep on her father’s shoulder in the midst of a bustling crowd? That is faith. That is true rest. The child’s trust for her father is so complete that she can abandon herself to his will—believing that he will deliver her safely, no matter how busy or loud the crowd around her. She can lean her head on his shoulder and rest.
Are you able to rest in God’s will completely? God’s perfect will, which is the same as his perfect love, offers us refuge in every storm. If we abide in him, there is no need to strive or worry for anything. When we worry, we are actually trying to exert our will over his. Making anything other than God and His will our goal is ultimately idolatry. Only God brings the fulfillment of rest. There is an infinite thirst in us that can only be satisfied by our union with the infinite God.
Christ teaches us rest in the midst of a storm. Did you catch that? He does not challenge us to cross over into the land of rest at low tide and small surf. Like the disciples, we cross over when the tide is high and the wind is pitching our boat.
It doesn’t take much faith to cross glassy, calm waters. But in the storm, when the temptation hits to wake the Lord because we think he is not aware of our needs, God reminds us to be still, to trust, and to rest in the knowledge that he is God. The virtue of faith is not white-knuckled. It is not clinging to the side of the boat, screaming and pleading for Jesus to wake up.
David reminds us, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). I can just picture arrows flying and commanders shouting orders from their thundering chariots while our Lord is whistling and setting a table for afternoon tea. This verse always reminds me of the unique poker game that is played at rodeos. Four or five cowboys sit around a table in the middle of the corral, casually chewing tobacco and playing poker while an angry bull snorts and stamps its hooves, glaring at them. (When one of the cowboys wants another card and says, “Hit me,” he hopes the bull doesn’t take him literally.) The cowboys’ job is to be the last one seated as the bull charges at them. If a cowboy jumps to safety, he is eliminated.
Faith, however, is not foolhardiness. It isn’t about deliberately putting oneself in harm’s way and expecting God to bail us out. Rather, faith is the casual confidence that we can develop in God as we walk the ancient path. Faith is not saying, “If I just try hard enough to believe, God will answer my prayer, and I’ll get what I want.” At its best, that is just faith in faith, not faith in God. The virtue of faith is a toddler sleeping on her father’s shoulder. It is resting in God’s fidelity.
When my tandem partner tries too hard, we fall. I always tell her, “Don’t try hard. Try easy.” When she is at rest—in other words, when she has faith in me as a partner—she can more easily flow with me and sense my intentions. If she tenses up and tries too hard, I know there is no way we can carve through the water and hit our lifts, and I’m forced to kick out of the wave. But when she is tuned into me, our movements become fluid and strong.
When our faith rests in God, God is able to work with us. When we work by our own efforts, God folds his arms and watches us, waiting for us to wear ourselves out so that he can lift, lead, and move us. When we work, God rests. When we rest, God works. By leaning on him, our hearts are strengthened and we can be still. “Try easy” doesn’t meannot trying.
It means trusting. It means letting go of our worry and resting in the arms of our Father. As you seek to flow in God’s will and power, don’t cling to the side of the boat with white-knuckled worry. Don’t try too hard. Trust. Rest. And try easy