Labor Day Musing: True rest for those labored and burdened

This past weekend was Labor Day weekend with Monday being Labor Day in the United States. This is a time set aside to rest from our toiling at being productive members of the workforce and taking a day of ease and rest. For me today the verse Matthew 11:28 (ESV) has come to mind:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

This simple statement is profound.  Jesus is giving and invitation to a difficulty many experience.  The statement contains three elements; the invitation, the invitee, and the result of accepting the invitation.  Those elements are worth more specific examination.

First, there is the invitation: Come to me. It is a simple request and formed in an imperative tone that is very direct and certain.  Jesus directs the invitee to come to him.  The word come is not a passive word. It sets a firm direction.  It takes an act of moving from one location to another. Here that direction is toward Jesus. Wherever one is, they need to change and move toward Jesus. Now it is interesting that the word in the Greek translated as me is μέ that encompasses all elements of self, I, me, and my. So in essence, Jesus is requesting and directing others to set their direction toward all of Him.  It is a request of a directed action, not a passive response. It is a movement away from whatever direction one is on, which in most cases would be that of a self-chosen direction, and a move toward Jesus.

Now the second element is the invitees. Here Jesus addresses a particular group.  The group he is addressing are those that are tired from the work they have engaged in and are weighed down with burdens they cannot bear on their own.  He is directing any that have come to the limits of their own effort and feel unable to go further to set their direction to him.  It is a call to cease the striving of self that drains energy and adds weight and to look and move toward one that can provide aid.  If one is at a place in life where there daily refrain is “I’m tired” or “I cannot take much more” Jesus invites to turn your direction to him and cease the striving. Jesus answer is quite different from that of the world.  The world points to need for constant effort and striving followed by momentary periods of relief in the varied offerings of momentary relief and pleasure.  Jesus rather, calls to actively head in a different direction. He does not direct toward the numbing actions of pleasure and distraction but an active turn in direction.

Jesus invitation comes with an exact and defined benefit.  Jesus states that the benefit of coming to him is rest.  He offers the opposite of the state of the invitees.  Those that are “tired” and “cannot take any more” can find rest by moving toward Jesus. The act of turning toward Jesus that brings the rest, rather it is what Jesus gives.  He gives the rest if you come to Him. Now, it is worth noting that the concept of rest here is far beyond what we consider rest.  It is not just a recharging of energy, but complete refreshment at deep levels.  The rest Jesus offers is more than a good nap or a good night sleep. It is even more than an extended vacation. It is a rest that brings one alive.  What Jesus has to give is beyond anything we can do for self. It is beyond our comprehension and what we experience in the short term is only but a taste of the rest that is to come, where there is no strife and no need to be tired or heavy laden.  And everyone does reach a point of being tired and burdened. Everyone needs rest. Even God himself rested. And by coming to Jesus, we are given God’s rest.

Coming to Jesus is not a onetime action.   Yes, we all need to come to Jesus to receive salvation, which is the starting point and initial gift of rest.  A ceasing of the striving of self.  We  need to continue coming to Jesus.  In this world, much is difficult and hard.  We can become labored and burdened without physical exertion.  Some of being labored and heavy laden comes in the looking out for self, in our own affairs. We get hurt, we have desires that go unmet, we struggle.  In fact, we all experience daily the impact of sin as the whole of creation has been impacted by sin.  The very act of coming to Jesus is at heart a turn from self-focus.  When you focus on being tired or burdened, it actually adds to the drain.  The more you focus on the state of self, the harder it becomes.  The very act of coming to Jesus changes focus.  Then when we actually surrender to Jesus and accept what He offers each of us, we are uplifted and refreshed.  Now the reader may state  “well tried that and there was no immediate relief.”  This can be true, for as Jesus will give us rest when we come, perceiving the rest is not always immediate but know that Jesus always keeps His word.  When you come to Jesus you will receive rest, in His time. He will give the rest if you come. This is fact. When you do not see or perceive it, trust this truth, for He who promised is faithful. When you come, He will give rest. Place you faith in this for it is assured!

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Musing on the Passing Storms of Life

The storm this writer has been under has passed. My lungs are free and clear. My energy level has returned. So now to get back to doing the things God has stirred within me to do. One of which is writing this blog on a regular basis. So with the task of getting back on track and getting back to writing, a good starting point here is to start with reflecting on the nature and aftermath of storms in our life. God does direct us that we will face varied “storms” in life. Storms just happen. They are in essence part of the times of trials and testing in our life. Storms come of varied types and sizes but they all have impact. Storms impact us both during the time we are enduring the storm and in the aftermath of the storm. Now the number one question that comes to a persons mind when the trials and testing come is why does God allow this to happen? Now the basic answer to the questions is God is God and we are not as found in Job. Yet, God has given us more than that fact to understand the storms and trials of life. There are three key passages in scripture that help us to understand:

1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

James 1:2-4 (ESV) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 5:1 – 5 (NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

So the basic principle is that the storms and trials and testing periods of our lives help us to grow and develop. Rain and storms are part of the life cycle of fruitfulness, the same in our lives. The storms and testing in life lead us into the process of ongoing purification. There are examples God has given us of this process. The making of a diamond for example is a prime example. Carbon is turned into a precious gem known as a diamond by the being exposed to ongoing pressure and heat. The same it is for us, we are brought from common to a glory reflecting God in the process of the pressures of life. Another example is the process of refining metal from impure to pure. The refinement process is again some form of pressure and heat to bring impurities out of the metal. God uses the storms in our life to bring us into greater likeness to him. Note it is not our work, but God at work in us through the storms and trials.

God works in us through what the storms or trials he allows us to experience. We are all tested in many ways. One preacher, Tom Shepard, has a sermon from Job about seven ways we are tested in storms. In examining what God was worked in my life and heart during the recent storms, I have found that there is a distinct revealing of my own limits that occur. Often times, during storms we can rely on our own strength to endure or keep from seeking help. It is a matter of self and pride and own strength. God wants us to turn to him and rest in faith. There is the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm found in Mark 4:35-40. The disciples reached their limit. They could not understand how Jesus could be at rest on the boat in the storm. They woke him up and he calmed the storm, but Jesus was perfectly content to rest through the storm. He asked the disciples why they had such little faith. So the storms and trials really show us how much we trust and depend on God regardless of appearances. God wants our focus on him. Previously, written on this blog is the article: Seven Principles for Transcending Suffering that points to ways we can grow in the midst of storm. The testing a storm brings also reveals the ways we fall short in those principles and move us to draw from the deeper. And ultimately, at the core of it all, it is about growing up more and more in God and reaching deeper relationship and maturity.