“Granddaddy,” three-year-old Hillary said, “Can I rest on you?”
My father—who was babysitting my daughter at the time—told me later that he wasn’t sure what she meant, but he had said yes. And with that, my dad said, Hillary climbed onto his lap, put her head on his chest, and fell sound asleep.
And all my father could think about as he sat there with a toddler sleeping on his chest was Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields them all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”
I loved that image—my daughter finding security between my father’s shoulders. It dovetailed neatly with the “rest for your souls” Jesus offers in Matthew 11:29—rest that promises freedom from fear, the lifting of burdens, and provision for our soul’s deepest needs.
Still, though, I found myself scratching my head. When Jesus offers rest for the weary and burdened, it’s not like he says, “Come take a nap.” He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” I don’t know all that much about farming but, to me, wearing a yoke implies action of some sort. Pulling a cart. Plowing a field. Doing work.
Where was the promise of rest in that picture?
Can we work and rest at the same time?
I decided to do a bit of exploring. And, as so often happens, checking a familiar passage in a different translation helped put things into perspective. The Message makes no mention of “yokes”; instead, here’s how it renders Christ’s words in Matthew 11:28-29:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. 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. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
A real rest.
That sounded appealing. I liked how Jesus linked rest—real rest—to walking and working with him. To experiencing a life marked by purpose. To living freely and lightly—not straining or striving, but moving to the “unforced rhythms of grace” as we “keep company” with the Lord.
But…what does that look like in real life? Can we really rest and work at the same time?
I think Moses would say that we can.
The promise of God’s presence
In Exodus 33, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses wanted some hands-on instruction (“Teach me your ways,” he said), but God offered something better. “My presence will go with you,” he promised (v. 14), “and I will give you rest.”
Had I been in Moses’s sandals, I might have balked. After all, there were tents to pack, children to gather, lunches to fix. Moving an entire nation could not have been easy; I might have valued God’s plan more than his presence.
Not Moses, though. He knew God’s presence was the key—not just to getting the job done, but to marking the Israelites as belonging to God and letting them know they were loved. “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” Moses asked God (v. 16). “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
There was work to be done—hard work that would tap the Israelites’ physical and mental reserves. But Moses knew that success didn’t depend on writing a to-do list, executing an agenda, or staying strong for all the people who looked up to him. Their success—and their security—came from anchoring their trust in the Lord.
A posture of trust
Isaiah 30:15 says our strength comes from settling down in “complete dependence” on God.
Rest, then—real rest—is maybe not so much ceasing activity as it is adopting a posture of trust, one where we increasingly rely not on our own strength but on God’s. It’s yielding our plans—our timetables, our skill-sets, our ideas about how things have to go down—to the Lord and actively choosing to dwell in his presence.
It is to climb into the arms of Everlasting Love, put our head on his chest, and know that when we say, “Can I rest on you?” our heavenly Father will say yes.
All of our children loved to rest in my father’s arms. And as I press pause on the blog for the summer (see you back here in September!), this is the image that I will carry with me:
What about you?
If you find yourself needing real rest, maybe don’t think about all the to-do’s on your list today. Instead, take a few moments to reflect on God’s power and his presence. He longs to equip us to be productive, fruit-bearing people (John 15:5); the key is to stay connected to him.
Ask God to help you surrender your agenda to him. Open your heart to receive the rest Jesus offers. Imagine what it would look like to enjoy his company–to “waste time” with him, even—as you learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”