Perhaps it’s the end of long work week or perhaps you’ve had a frantic day with the kids. Perhaps you’re feeling the press and stress of an upcoming project deadline or you are facing with dread the start of a season of hard work. In the midst of these scenarios you feel a craving in your soul for rest and comfort. “I would just like some solitude.” “If only I was wealthy and did not have to work.”
This craving also occurs in small moments when you’re in the midst of stress and want to escape from it: “Let me just go get a cup of coffee…” “Let me just check Facebook or Instagram for a second…” “Let me just check the Seahawks score…” “Let me just get a snack…” We often have an idea of what it would look like to be at rest and comfortable and try to seek that to alleviate what we perceive as painful or boring. How would God have us deal with these desires for rest and comfort?
God created man to bear His image and to work and exercise stewardship dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). After creating man, God punctuates the harmony, peace, and goodness of the created order with a day of rest, a day that He set apart as holy (Genesis 2:1-5).
Certainly, God did not need the day of rest, so what was it for? The day was for mankind to rest from their work but more importantly to honor God and His work and to enjoy Him and His creation. This is what Jesus indicates in saying that the Sabbath (rest) was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Even before the Fall, there was a rhythm of rest created for man.
With Adam and Eve attempting a coup of God’s kingdom in Genesis 3, God institutes the Curse that makes work hard and unpleasant until death (Genesis 3:17-19). So, when we crave rest and comfort, we must realize that we are experiencing the effects of the Curse and longing for the sort of rest that God had programmed into the original created order.
“Ultimate rest and comfort come later, not now.”
Genesis 3:15 gives the promise of the serpent-crushing seed of the woman who will restore things to the way they were before the serpent stepped onto the scene, including the perfect rest that was built into Eden. This longing for restored creation rest permeates the rest of the biblical story. When Noah is born, Lamech (his father) prophesies, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and the painful toil of our hands.” Noah’s name is related to the Hebrew word for “rest.” By saving Noah and his family from God’s wrath in the flood, the Lord was continuing his plan to bring things back to restored creation rest through Noah’s serpent-crushing offspring.
As the biblical story continues, the Lord chooses Abraham and his offspring to re-establish His reign over the earth by making them a kingdom of priests to mediate the truth about the one true God to all of the nations of the world (Exodus 19:3-6). As such, Israel has the sign of rest (Sabbath) to symbolize its relationship with the Creator God (Exodus 20:8-11; Ex 31:12-17). As Israel takes possession of the land God promised them, God gives them rest from warfare and security at different points, particularly with Joshua (Josh 1:13; 21:44) and with David and Solomon (2 Samuel 7:10-11). With the promise of the Davidic Covenant, the Lord was again promising the reestablishment of a kingdom of rest through David’s serpent-crushing seed.
When Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God, and the serpent-crushing seed steps into history, He promises rest for those who take His yoke upon them and learn from Him (Matthew 11:28-30). The rest He promises is first and foremost a spiritual rest from the heavy yoke of sin and works righteousness.
Christians enjoy the comfort of being God’s children because Christ has satisfied the infinite wrath (ultimate discomfort and restlessness) we deserved and has accounted to us His own righteousness. Yet, we look forward to the future, literal kingdom of God on the earth where Christ will reign over a rest and comfort similar to, but greater than the original Edenic rest (Revelation 21:1-4).
But what do we do now with our longings for rest and comfort as we still feel the reality of the Curse? Here are some principles:
1. Remember that ultimate rest and comfort come later, not now. Hoping in rest and comfort now, we become idolaters. Solomon illustrates in Ecclesiastes how seeking for rest and comfort “under the sun” will leave you empty.
2. Enjoy the soul rest that Christ has purchased for you through His death and resurrection. Nothing and no one can separate you from the Triune God’s love no matter how hard life is (Romans 8:31-39). Seek your rest in your growing relationship with Him. Growth happens as we endure hard circumstances by His grace, not when we try to escape them (James 1:2-4).
3. Enjoy the slices of comfort and rest that God gives even now as gifts from Him. Comfort and rest are not wrong and enjoying slices of rest and comfort now are not bad if they are received as gifts from God with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5; 6:17). This glorifies God as well!
4. Remain where you are with the tasks that God has given you to glorify Him, trusting Him to comfort you at the proper time now and in the future. Don’t think primarily about how you can escape from the circumstances that you don’t like but how would God have you glorify Him in the midst of those tough circumstances (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). Paul was often burdened beyond his strength with his tasks, but he received comfort and strength by relying on God and His grace in the midst of those burdens (2 Corinthians 1:3-11; 12:9-10).
So, the next time you seek rest or comfort, look to God for strength and rest in His timing. Guard your heart when you wrongly grab for things that you want to give you immediate rest and comfort, instead of looking to God for the true rest and comfort that He brings only through the Messiah and His kingdom.