Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hebrews 4: Striving to Enter Rest

Heb 4:11-16 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. \Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The idea that we are to "strive to enter that rest" seems like an oxymoron statement: strive for rest? Does not the word "rest" suggests freedom from works and efforts--rather than striving? But it's here in Scripture, unless we deny that Hebrews is in the NT canon. So, if this is the Word of God, how do we resolve this apparent contradiction? Here is where we need the Spirit's revelation to resolve seeming inconsistencies in Scripture: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12).

I am currently reading N.T. Wright's "After You Believe" that tells what Christians must do after conversion and before death. He insists that our goal here is character formation. He compares character formation with learning a new language. If we want to be able to become "natural" in that language, we have to put in great efforts at the beginning as our brain creates new wirings of brain neurons to absorb this learning. We have to "strive" to learn the language. But once we have learned it, it becomes second nature--speaking that language becomes "restful" and easy. No effort is required once we have attained the proficiency. But if we stop practising we lose the "rest" of using the language. We again have to return to "striving".

The same goes for playing musical instrument. I play the guitar but if I'm off the instrument for a week, my fingers stiffen and I lose a certain agility. When I first learned to play the guitar, it was hard work--my fingers ached and my skins tore. But in time, I acquire enough skills to strum naturally. But over the years, I realize that guitar-playing style has changed. I enrolled in the Believer's Music to unlearn my old habits to acquire new ones. It was "striving" but now after many years, it becomes "rest"--for now. But if I want to go to the next level of "rest" I'll have to strive again.

So, it is the same with our spiritual journey: if we want to enter the "rest" of godly life, we must be prepared to "strive" initially. But once we have acquired the necessary attitudes and habits, we would have entered "rest"--but only at that spiritual level. But if I want to move higher, I will have to "strive" again in order to "rest" at the next level. So this "strive to enter rest" is an on-going principle of growth and mastery of life-skills.

So, if we are stuck in our spiritual growth, the way to rise to the next level is not "rest" but "strive". If we rest without striving, we become stagnant -- spiritually, personally and relationally.But the good news if when we strive or struggle, the Holy Spirit comes in to energize us and empower us. That is what Paul has discovered: "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Col 1:29).

This is the paradox of the Christian life--you can only experience God's empowering that gives us rest if we toil and struggle. Didn't Jesus say: "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" (Matt 11:28-30). This is an invitation to enter rest by taking on Jesus' yoke (work) so that we can labour in His power rather than our own--and therein find rest for our souls.

Father, thank You that even when we strive and struggle, You are there to empower us so that we strive and struggle in Your strength, not ours. Amen.

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