On Sundays, as my pastor closes his message with a challenge and we sing a song of response, many times the Holy Spirit is working things out in my heart and mind. But when my kids were babies and preschoolers, my mind was also strategizing. I was also usually whispering the strategy to my husband.
Okay, if we split up right after we’re dismissed, you can grab the boys from their classes and I can get the girls. Then as soon as we get home, I’ll go nurse the baby while you get the rest of the kids lunch. I’ll get the baby down for a nap, then we can tag team to settle the other three in for their naps. Then I can take a nap!
Oh, how I wanted rest, and oh, how I love naps! While I did truly listen to the pastor’s teaching and worship with my church family when I was a young mom, I also longed for some physical rest something fierce. I still do! But now people can fend for themselves while I’m napping.
So what kind of rest are you longing for? Is it physical rest—either sleeping or just sitting down for a few minutes? Is it rest from the emotions and thoughts coursing through your mind and heart? Might it be rest from some difficult circumstances?
Whatever kind of rest that sounds the best to you right now, let me lower the boom here: it’s not going to last. Emotions and thoughts will return, another difficult circumstance will come, and someone or something will either not let you fall asleep or wake you up before you want to.
But there’s good news too. Literal good news—the gospel—that offers and delivers the only rest that remains. The writer of Hebrews refers to this rest in Hebrews 4:1: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”
If you follow the classic “what’s the therefore, there for?” rule and glance back through Hebrews 3, you’ll see words from Psalm 95 used twice:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
And they’re coming up again one more time later in Hebrews 4. So if something is repeated three times in the span of about twenty verses, I think we’d all better pay attention today. To bring those exhortations together, we are urged to listen to God’s voice, keep our hearts tender towards Him, beware of falling short or rebelling, and enter into His rest.
There it is—rest. This is not the you-defined rest that you may have thought of when I asked what kind of rest you long for, but God-defined rest. It’s promised here for us, and it’s the same rest that was promised in Psalm 95. It’s rest from our own striving and trying to figure things out on our own. It’s rest from trying to save ourselves, and it’s instead looking to God to provide salvation.
In Psalm 95, it’s the promise of salvation to come, and in Hebrews 4, it’s salvation that has already come through Christ. Those truths are brought together in Hebrews 4:2:
For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
In both cases, faith is required to bring us into God’s rest. Why? Because Christ has done the work of salvation. I can’t do it, you can’t do it, and the Israelites that the verses in Psalm 95 talk about couldn’t do it. Instead, we’re urged to humble our hearts and enter God’s rest through the way made by Christ’s work—His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection.
We enter that rest when we are aware of the temptation and sin that surrounds us. We do not harden our hearts, but instead, we listen to God’s voice. We come, burdened and heavy laden, to take Christ’s yoke and learn from Him (Matt. 11:28–30). We learn how to walk in a new way, following Him and His ways.
We have a choice. Harden your heart, or listen and enter. The promise of rest remains (Heb. 4:1), and it remains for some to enter it (Heb. 4:6). That rest that remains is unquestionably linked to our God who remains, described back in Hebrews 1:10–12:
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
So with faith in the always-remaining God who established the heavens and earth, we choose to “make every effort” (Heb. 4:11 CSB) to enter that rest. We enter, first, through our initial belief and faith in Christ, and we enter throughout our Christian life as we work out our salvation with the effort of faithful obedience.
The last part of Hebrews 4 details that working-out effort. We read and study God’s living, effective Word and allow it to do the necessary penetrating and separating it needs to do before the One who not only judges, but has made a way for us to approach boldly so “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:12–16).
All of these things—the good news, the offer of true rest, even the judgment of our exposed sin—come from a merciful Savior who was tempted in every way, remained sinless, and made a way for us to boldly go to the throne of grace. Because He remained sinless, we have the offer and way to rest that remains.
Marvel with me at those truths and that love. Let them shape your heart and mind so you will delight in that rest.