Ultimate Rest: “Into Your Hands…”

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 31:15)

Resting into what God is doing in our lives is not easy. Most of us know, or think we know, how this moment, the next hour, today, this month, this year, and the entirety of our lives should play out. As followers of Jesus we tend to prefer the prophet Jeremiah over Isaiah when he says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

That is a wonderful promise that Jeremiah proclaims, however, we do not know what to do with a leader and a King who would suffer and die. As we find ourselves staring at the cross of Christ on “Good Friday”, it so often still doesn’t make sense to us. We want to follow this Jesus, but we don’t want to suffer. Yet, it is suffering that causes us to trace our lives after the example of the suffering King.

Suffering is not so much about physical pain as it is about giving up and losing control. The more I look at the cross, really look at it, I see Jesus our leader giving up and losing control. Just days before, Jesus was experiencing the opposite of rest in the Garden of Gethsemane begging his Father to chose another way. However, in his next breath we see Jesus surrender yet again, “not my will but yours be done.” 

Maybe that is the rest Isaiah and Jesus have been inviting us into all along. A way of living our life in a posture of saying, “not my will but yours be done”, a posture of surrender. With this posture we can still be  very clear about our dreams and desires, but ultimately we can open our hands and echo the words of our fearless leader King, “not my will but yours be done.” Jesus modeled this level of rest to us when he breathed his last and said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Oh that we might be able to join Jesus in this posture of rest and trust on this side of Heaven, for we know that rest awaits us in Eternity.

Do We Actually Want Rest?

Many followers of Jesus know Matthew 11:28-30 by heart. At least the first part,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

It sounds amazing! Most of us identify with the words weary and heavy-laden. We live in a culture that almost prides itself on being weary and heavy-laden. We tell one another stories about how busy we are, how tired and overworked and important we are. Weariness happens to us just by association, and we also allow it to happen.

I like the sound of Jesus’ voice here. His words echo like cool water on a fresh burn after touching something hot. Many of us hear his words and we want what he is offering, or we think we do. Some of us even cry out to Jesus begging him for this rest He promises,  yet way we structure our day, our week, our month, our year in such a way that it doesn’t fit our plea. Eugene Peterson’s version of verse 28 is quiet the invitation from Jesus, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.”

How often do we really come to him and get away with him really? If we want what He is offering, this almost unimaginable rest that our bodies, minds and souls crave, then we have to accept the invitation. We have to actually carve out time and space in our day to get away with him and him alone.  Jesus goes on to say,

“I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (v 29) If I am reading this correctly, Jesus is actually going to be the one who teaches us how to rest. We certainly need that! We need to be taught how to rest.

The unforced rhythms of grace. What a great translation! Eugene, or should I say Jesus is offering something incredible here. It is a rhythm that we can lean into or reject. Jesus is offering us rest, offering to teach us how to rest. Will we take him up on his offer?

Is Repentance Tied to Happiness?

Today is our last look during Lent at the word repentance before we turn to Isaiah’s final word rest in chapter 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

In Thomas Keating’s book, Intimacy with God, he says, “repentance means to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.”  I’m not  sure how to unpack that statement in a few paragraphs, but perhaps a quick look at the word happy can provide some insight on what Keating might be getting at. μακάριος is the Greek word for happy. It is most often translated at blessed and most famously used in Jesus’ remarkable Sermon on the Mount. Look at these words of Jesus through the lens of happiness:

How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort!

Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!

Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!

Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!

Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!

Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons (and daughters) of God!

Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way. (Matt 5:1-10 Phillips)

If I am honest with myself my definition of happy is most often the opposite of these statements that Jesus makes about happiness. I don’t want to be humble, experience sorrow, be merciful, make peace. Instead I want to build my own kingdom, have security, cut corners, take offense, and be in a constant state of pleasure. In addition to that, I want to turn to another person, an object, or an ideal and settle for temporary “happiness” at the expense of true contentment.

So how might we lean into Keating’s invitation to change the direction we are looking for happiness?  Perhaps part of the answer is in Isaiah’s invitation into quietness, “In quietness and trust…” What if the answer is in the pause, in getting quiet long enough to be honest and ask ourselves what we are currently doing/looking to for happiness? I did this when I awoke this morning. What was revealed to me in the quiet wasn’t pretty. Pride, vanity, and my own selfish desires surfaced. As I confessed those passions once again to God I was able to remember that my heart is good, it matters to God and that He is the only true source of happiness? Thanks be to God!

Repent: Re-think your life

What was Jesus talking about when he said, “Repent and believe”? According to Mark this was Jesus’ first sermon, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) So what does it mean to repent? Many of us have been taught, for the most part, that to repent is to say we are sorry to God.  Repentance is presented to us as something we are to do in order to make ourselves in good standing with God.  This was not the teaching of Jesus as he went about the countryside.  To repent, according to the term that Mark used to quote Jesus, is to “re-think your life”.  It is “re-evaluation that leads to action.”   Jesus is inviting the people (and us today) to take an objective look at their lives.  He is encouraging them to stop living their lives apart from the Kingdom of God, but instead to let that very Kingdom shape everything.

Repentance is not a negative experience, it is a positive one.  When we repent our eyes are open to the life that God intends for us.  My experience with repentance is two-fold.  One, it happens each morning as I take time to pause and be with God.  It’s a daily re-evaluation that causes me to go about my day differently than I would without God.  Two, it happens when I get away.  A few times throughout the year I get away for 12 to 72 hours to “rethink life”.  This happens on a day away with some buddies, weekend with my wife, kayaking or camping trip with a friend, or a retreat.

Creating time and and space to re-think our lives is a practical way that we can lean into repentance and follow the invitation of Jesus to repent and believe.

Repentance: Change of Mind

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 30:15)

After a brief look at salvation the past week, we will now take the next two weeks of Lent to consider repentance together. What is repentance and why is it so important to Isaiah and Jesus?

Repentance to Isaiah (in the Hebrew language) meant to “turn around” or “turn away from the wrong road.” The people he was prophesying to had forgotten who God was and who they were. Isaiah was trying to get them to turn around and consider again what was true about God and themselves.

Repentance in Greek, metanoia, is quite literally made up of two words, meta: change and nous: mind. So metanoia means change of mind. That’s what Jesus was inviting people into from the very beginning. According to the Gospel writer Mark, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”(Mark 1:15) With this invitation to repent, Jesus is giving his listeners far more than a chance to say they are sorry for something. He is instead offering them a whole new way of thinking.

A little more on the second half of the Greek word metanoia:

noús (a masculine noun) – the God-given capacity of each person to think (reason); the mind; mental capacity to exercise reflective thinking. For the believer, (noús) is the organ of receiving God’s thoughts, through faith.

The last section of the Greek definition resonates with me, the idea of receiving God’s thoughts through faith. What if repentance is not so much about actively doing something, as it is allowing a change to happen in us. Maybe we can participate in this change (repent) by putting ourselves in a posture to receive God’s thoughts, both his thoughts about who He is as well as his thoughts about who we are. We have the opportunity to follow the path of Isaiah and Jesus and allow our mind (nous) to be changed.

Jesus and Salvation

As we continue through Lent and consider how repentance and rest are connected to salvation, it could be surprising to learn that Jesus does not talk about salvation very often. He only mentions the word salvation (σωτηρία) twice. He mentions it to a woman he encounters at a well, and to a man named Zacchaeus. We’ll look together at Jesus’ interaction with Zacheaus.

At first reading of Luke 19:1-9 it could seem like Zacchaeus experienced salvation because he gave his money to the poor. This is how it reads:

“But Zacchaeus himself stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I will give half my property to the poor. And if I have swindled anybody out of anything I will pay him back four times as much,”Jesus said to him, ‘Salvation has come to this house today…!'”

It’s nice and tidy, which is how Ilike things. The formula goes like this: Zaccheaus realizes he is a sinner, makes a decision to do something about it and Jesus offers him salvation. That makes sense in my linear mind. A deeper look at the story provides another consideration on salvation.

“When Jesus came to the place (where Zaccheaeus was in the tree), He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheaus, hurry and come down, for TODAY I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him (Jesus) gladly.”

Jesus makes this statement about today before Zaccheaus commits to any sort of change in his life. Jesus mentions TODAY a second time in the story here:

“And Jesus said to him, ‘TODAY salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.'”

According to Jesus, salvation came to Zaccheaus because of who he was, not what he did. Could it be that salvation came to him TODAY because Zaccheaus was already part of God’s family, he just didn’t know it. The day he welcomed Jesus into his home, his life, more importantly, once Zaccheaus realized who he was (a child of God) salvation became a reality for him.

As I return to Isaiah’s statement about salvation through this lens, maybe repentance and rest are catalysts to us realizing our salvation. What if it’s more of an awareness than a decision?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 30:15)

With this perspective on salvation, we will look at repentance during the next two weeks of Lent to see what we can learn together.

“Salvation is not a divine transaction that takes place because you are morally perfect, but much more it is an organic unfolding, a becoming who you already are. It is an inborn sympathy with and capacity for the very one who created you.” – Richard Rohr

 

Ash Wednesday: True R and R

I mentioned Monday that I am exploring the themes of repentance and rest during Lent this year. I’m calling it True R and R. Traditionally, “R and R” is understood as rest and relaxation. While those are good, and I attempt to practice both often, it seems an important “R” is missing. I believe it is the most important “R”, and is integral to actually being able to rest and relax.

The prophet Isaiah says this about repentance and rest,

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”      (Is 30:15)

Before we dig deeper into what Isaiah might be getting at when he mentions repentance and rest, what do you suppose he means by salvation? If we consider a common definition of salvation Isaiah’s words don’t make a lot of sense. The word salvation tends to bring about an idea in our mind of Jesus dying on the cross paying a debt for our sins. Salvation is then understood as a person accepting that Jesus did this act for him or her. Salvation or “getting saved” is a one-time decision by a person to accept what Jesus has done.

This is not the understanding of salvation of the Early Church. They instead viewed salvation as being restored to the image and likeness of God. It was an ongoing process that lasted throughout a persons life. The early followers of Jesus preferred the word theosis when they talked about salvation. We will look at that more later this week.

The Early Church understanding of salvation helps me get a better grasp of what Isaiah might be saying with regards to repentance and rest being a doorway to salvation. We’ll keep looking at this together throughout this Lenten season.