Entering His Rest:
Is It Worth the Stress?
Heb. 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest….
Entrance into the Lord’s inner rest is a cherished theme among the mystics of the deeper life, of whom I count myself one. Inner rest is a promise Jesus has promised to His followers: “Come to Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
And so the writer of Hebrews echoes—though he does so in oxymoronic fashion, “Let us labor to enter into that rest...” The word for “labor” means to “exert oneself” and is sometimes rendered as “endeavor.” This is a rest into which one must press, which means it involves a certain element of stress.
And such is, as we shall see, an understatement.
When we look at the context of the writer, his exhortation is put forth as a prodding in context of the story of the Exodus and the wilderness journey. The rest of the verse says, "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."
In fact, the opening verse of this chapter begins, "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”
So we see this is not a sweet word about “let go and let God.” It is about an endurance. Whatever this rest is, it is not something you can just relax into like a sauna.
Bargain versus Claim
‘Tis strange, think you not, that a “promise” has to be preceded by a warning? Is this really a promise, or is it a threat? Should not a promise carry its own positive drawing power that should make irrelevant any idea of warning?
It is here we begin to get a clue into the divine concept of promise. Divine promise is not what we think of as a promise. Divine promise is not about, “Here you go, I’ve got something I want to give you because I have such a giving heart. Here, take it. That’s right. Just take it, and let Me make all that bad go away for you….”
Nor is it about, “If you are willing to do this for Me, here is what I will do for you. I promise.” It is not about a bargain.
How do I know this? Well, the biblical idea of promise as God uses it is closely related to the idea of covenant as God uses it. And when God makes a covenant, it is not in the form of a bargain.
Remember that I said this exhortation to enter rest is set in the context of the Exodus and wilderness journey. This is the foundation of the Old Covenant. But if you look at that covenant, it is entirely one sided. It is what we today call an “adhesion contract.” In this, God is saying, “This is what I want to do for you, because You are Mine.” The covenant of God and the promise of God are set in the context of His sovereignty.
And there is much more to this that we will see in a moment. But you have to really think about this. The Exodus, the Old Covenant, and in turn the Promise of entering into God’s Rest were not made on the basis of an offer or a bargain. Instead, they were made on the basis of a claim.
When God spoke to Pharaoh through Moses, He said, “Let My people go.” He did not say, “Let the people go.” God was not coming along as a liberator of an oppressed people who needed a break from hardship so they could go off and be whatever they determined they wanted to be in “freedom.” He did not just come to give them a key out of a prison and then say, “OK, you’re free. Now go enjoy it.”
Nor was a choice offered. God didn’t say to Moses, “OK, Moses, go take a poll and find out who wants to come out of Egypt with Me, and I will work with you to bring them out. The rest can stay if they please.”
So we are really looking at a one sided covenant based in the personal claim of a sovereign. It was to be a benevolent sovereignty, but a sovereignty nonetheless, and first and foremost. You can’t reckon with the blessing of God until you first reckon with the sovereignty of God.
Like Covenant, Like Promise
And so like then as was His Covenant, so also was and is the promise of His Rest. It is a promise of benevolence set in the context of His sovereignty and claim to ownership of us. That is how all the promises of God finally are. They are not promises based on the idea of our enablement to self determination thereafter.
This explains to us the oxymoronic nature of the promise with its contradictory exhortation to labor with its undertone of threat. What God was promising to the People was something that was not going to be easy to come by. It was in fact something they would have good short term reason not to want, and something rather that God has a right to want for them in spite of themselves because He has a sovereign claim to them regardless of what they want to be or become or do with their lives.
A Rest Birthed Only out of Stress
Thus the sovereign nature of this blessing and its promise unavoidably involves stress. To receive it and enter into it, one has to first overcome the friction of what he naturally wants for himself.
And that is what we see all the way around in the story of the Exodus—a story filled with nothing but incredible stress and cost for all involved. Not one party had an easy time of it—neither Moses, nor Pharaoh, nor the People on whom the Lord laid His claim.
When you look at this story from the viewpoint of every player, you see nothing but people caught between a rock and a hard place. Moses was caught between the God who commissioned him, the Pharaoh who had no ears for him, and a People who did not really want his services. Pharaoh was caught between the God of Moses and the burden of managing an unruly people. And the People were caught between Moses exhortation to become free, Pharaoh’s increased hardships on them as a result, and their own desire to rather see things just go back to the good times known under Joseph. Theirs was a backward vision.
How is anybody going to “enter into rest” out of a situation like this?
Contortion for All
But it gets worse. For every move toward freedom and this “promise” involves cost, pressure, stress.
Moses has already “wasted” 40 years out in the wilderness as the result of a failed attempt to liberate ungrateful Hebrews. Now he is back for more.
The people don’t really want to leave. But this is not up for a vote. God has spoken, and God has a claim. They will come out of Egypt for their own good in spite of what they might want. As bad as the slavery was, the fear of losing the security in that slavery was greater for most than any allure of a promised land they had only ever heard distant stories about.
Yet the promised land awaits. But the contortions to get there and “enter into it” have only just begun…..
When after the tribulation of serial plagues on the whole economy it is finally time to go, the people have to spend the whole day packing, and then that afternoon into evening sacrificing animals for this new feast they don’t even understand. And then that very same night, in the dark, with no sleep, they have to get up and move out on signal. And again, no vote.
What kind of chaos do you imagine that involved? How many cries of “Mommy, I’m tired, it’s past my bedtime” went up? And this went on all night under torchlight. In this, the people were commanded to make haste. Interesting. For “make haste” is another meaning of the word translated “labor” to enter into His rest.
“Make haste (in the middle of the night after spending a day packing and an evening butchering animals and no sleep) to ‘enter into His rest’”
(Yeah, sure, right.)
Stress Upon Stress
Oh, but what next? They are hardly a day or two into this thing, and now they meet the Red Sea. And Pharaoh has changed his mind and is coming after them with a vengeance. And once again it is night. Can anyone say “Stress….stress….stress.” All this to “enter into His rest.”
The People were continually caught between a miracle and death. There is hardly any more stressful experience in following God.
So they get across the Sea, but then after three more days, now it’s no more food, and no more water. Again—between death and a miracle. And there is stress all around. No one can bear to stay. And no one can possibly leave.
And this is how it was all the way to the Promised Land 40 years later, even to crossing the Jordan itself and the immediate first confrontation at Jericho, and another generation-long war to occupy that promise.
“Let us labor therefore to enter into His rest…..”(?)
Are we starting to get the real picture here behind God’s idea of “rest” and of “promise?” Are we gripped yet by the sovereign nature of the underlying covenant and therefore why the negatively charged exhortation therewith?
What the People could never really grasp was that they were the subject of competing claims between two overlording powers in the earth, and they were never truly their own.
Indeed, there are ultimately only two gods in the earth. One is the fallen Lucifer known as the “god of this world.” The other is the God we have been graced to know as Jehovah—Sovereign Lord Creator of the earth and everything in it
—and who has ordained to take back a People to Himself out of a fallen adamic race as a prize and trophy for His Son to Whom He has promised them as His inheritance—a People who therefore He wills to bless to the utmost with eternal life and the true freedom under His Sovereignty for which they were born and made by Him.
The people were caught between these powers. They had absolutely no choice in the matter of their destiny under Jehovah’s superior claim with His promised blessing and rest. But they would only be able to enter into that promise if they cooperated with their preordained destiny in Him. And because they could choose to resist, and yield to the illusionary “self-determinative promises” of security and acceptance under Lucifer’s slavery, they needed to be warned for their own welfare.
Thus the threat lacing the promise. The threat was that if they did not cooperate with Jehovah’s sovereignly ordained plan of blessing through necessary endurance, they would pay the greater price of destruction under satan’s slavery in Egypt, and ultimately spend eternity in hell. In all this, the people never had a truly sovereign independent choice in the matter. It was always and ultimately, “To whom will you be slave? To your Loving Creator? Or to the Delusive Lucifer?
“Today, if you Will Hear His Voice”
And that is the way it still is today. That is the only choice today. And those are the same conditions underlying the promise of entering into His rest now…. “Today, if you will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts as in the wilderness…..” The covenants have changed. The conditions of those covenants have not.
Salvation today and the promise of God’s rest and His blessing is not about your free will to choose Him anymore than it was for Israel then. It is not about your vote to take it or leave it. The Salvation and promises of the similarly one sided New Covenant is about a sovereign God’s benevolent claim on your life and His desire to bless you in that claim. He’s not asking you if you want to come along for the ride or not. He has a Son to satisfy.
Of course, you can try to go it on your own. Leave the camp. Go ahead. But where will you go when all around you there is nothing but wilderness and wasteland? That is what the world is to the soul.
The question becomes, when between death and a miracle, and when between the unbearability of pressing into that rest and quitting to go alone back to Egypt, how will you choose to die? Will you die in pursuit of the promise of His rest, or in abandonment of it under Satan’s lordship of your life? That is your only choice. You have no sovereign independent option—especially if you have been called to His Kingdom for such a time as this.
There is a promise of inner rest now, but also one of rest to come through the translation. Obtaining the first rest—which many of us have—helps us keep pressing toward the ultimate rest.
But should it be we don’t first make it to His Rest through the translation, we will die either in pursuit of the promise, or in abandonment of it. Which will it be then? And will He be well pleased with us? And what will happen to our inheritance awaiting?
Choosing Your Death in the End Times
This choice in front of this exhortational promise of rest is especially designed for our times and our generation. Why? It’s because as the end time people, our calling and times exactly mirrors the story of Exodus. The Book of Revelation has made this abundantly clear.
The same two gods are at war again over a claim to a People. Only this time Jehovah is staking His claim in the direct name of His Son, Jesus Christ. And today’s Pharaoh is the luciferian commercial system under whose taskmastering hand of forced debt and moral corruption we all labor and are enslaved.
And as this contest builds, so does the tension among all the players, just as before. Anybody who plays the part of Moses feels the obstruction of the commercial system on the one hand, and the resistance of the very people he has been called to lead out on the other. And the People are pressed by the authoritative call of Moses with the fear of its unknowns, the unbending will of the commercial beast, and their own unrealizable dream to see things go back to the days of Joseph.
And when everyone is finally convinced that there is no choice, and we have to heed the call “Come out of her my people that you be not partaker of her plagues,” we will again find the same stresses as they did the night of Passover… and then the next night before an unyielding sea before a pursuing army…and then what else….before we finally “enter into His rest?”
Entering into His rest—is it worth the stress?
Not an easy question to answer. But if you understand the nature of the contest above us, and our limited options under it marking which death we will die should we fall short of the translation, then we realize that the only sane answer, however unacceptable for the present, is,
“Yes, the Sovereign Promise of Rest is worth it.”
“He—the One who bought us from the slave market of sin and out from under Lucifer’s internal control—
He is worth it, come h*** or high water.”
“I will enter that rest!”
(“Call me Caleb.”)
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
After having sent out the above article, I had come to see an additional connect to Paul’s exhortation that “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God,” a kingdom he identifies in terms of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
There seems a clear parallel between “laboring to enter His rest” and enduring tribulation to enter into the “peace” of His kingdom. And that would go for the righteousness and joy as well.
So in laboring to enter His rest, we are brought back once again to the familiar motif of pain leading to reward in the journey to inwardly know God, His ways, and the satisfying fullness of His love. Throughout the pain, the question constantly knocks on the door of our hearts, “Is it worth it?”
And the problem is, you can’t wait until you reach the experiential rest, the peace, the joy and the righteousness to answer that question! You have to answer it while you are still in the pain.
And this is what the writer of Hebrews was trying to coax his readers into accepting—that despite the current stress, it is worth it:
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
The question is, can you make it to that “afterwards,” and until you do, can you believe the report that there is indeed a promised inner land flowing with milk and honey to be had—a land of rest—and of righteousness, joy and peace—whatever that means for your current cycle in the journey?
In the laboring phase of this cycle, we are easily brought into condemnation by our own thoughts if not also by others…
”Well, if you are a Christian and living in the kingdom, how come you aren’t joyful? How come you don’t seem to have peace or rest? How come your life is so stressful? Either Jesus doesn’t really give rest to you and doesn’t exist, or you just haven’t come to Him like He said to.”
In a certain context, this is a valid charge. But it all depends on the context. If there is a rest to which we have already attained but we have failed to maintain it, then the charge is valid. If we have already come to a place where we know better than to worry about something because of what God has already done in our life to demonstrate His faithfulness over such a dimension, then shame on us for worrying. We are without excuse. We have failed to come to Jesus for rest as we already know how.
But if we are in a certain phase on the laboring side of a higher realm of rest, righteousness, peace and joy that we have never known, then the charge is invalid and must be resisted. Only you and the Holy Spirit can know for sure whether your stress is warranted this way.
Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews intimates that his immediate readers should have already entered some measure of that rest which they had not. Their unbelief was holding them up. They were not successfully engaging the question “Is it worth it?” Some were tempted to “cast off” their former confidence. Some had not matured from elementary issues of faith because their ears were dull of hearing truth. Some were having to deal with bitterness.
And so that is why he was writing them. He had a burden to convince them that entering into the Lord’s rest is worth the upfront stress involved. And as we observed before, he took a two-pronged approach. On one hand he encouraged them that what awaits on the other side is worth the hardship now. On the other hand, he warned them because they really did not have a choice in the matter. They were chosen by God. God had a claim on them. They were now in the wilderness of life. And if they quit the journey, they would have God’s displeasure to answer to in the end.
(Not only did he do all this, but he explained the heart of the Christian priesthood itself, a priesthood whose entire mission past forgiveness of sins is to help others make it through these cycles of endurance in their lives to enter the higher realms of God by sharing that journey with them.)
I love the Book of Hebrews. It is so spiritually attractive to me because it articulates the reality behind the Christian struggle unlike any other book, and does so from such a calm, reasoned sense of circumspection. This man “gets it.” I would really love to have known this man at this phase in his life, whoever he is.
But for those of us who have already been “around the block” of life and are acquainted with this journey—not only must we heed this message amid our own stress, but we ought to be those who in priestly fashion are articulating the message for others behind us younger in the faith and not so experienced who have a higher reason to question the long term ahead of them. We need to be there to interccessorily share their journey with them.
This is “Thanksgiving Day” in the United States. It is a good day to come apart and write about these things to you. And I pray you may find encouragement and gratitude amidst any phase of the hard labor through which you are passing to enter into that next higher plane of rest in the kingdom of God.
Who knows? Perhaps even the translation at hand……
Even so, Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Love to all in the faith,
Page created May 26, 2015