Psalm 37:7 says to, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Philippians 4:6-7 says to, “Be anxious for nothing [and] let the peace of God guard our hearts and minds.” Read or listen to this chapter from Work and Rest God’s Way to learn how to rest in Jesus.
Table of contents
- Are You Working and Resting in the Lord?
- Jesus’s Greatest Desire for Us Is Spiritual Versus Physical
- Restoring Rest in the Lord
- Jesus Is Our Inheritance
Are You Working and Resting in the Lord?
One month after high school graduation, Joni Eareckson Tada broke her neck when diving off a raft in the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay. She attended multiple healing services and obeyed verses that she thought would qualify her for physical restoration, such as confessing sins and having elders pray over her and anoint her with oil. Yet her arms and legs remained unresponsive. She became critical of Jesus, saying, “What kind of Savior? What kind of rescuer, what kind of healer, what kind of deliverer would refuse the prayer of a paralytic?”
A pivotal moment in Joni’s life occurred when she reread the account with the paralyzed man lowered through the roof by his friends. In Luke 5:20, Jesus said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” The religious leaders accused Him of blasphemy because only God can forgive sins. Jesus responded:
“Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Luke 5:22–24).
The account convinced Tada that Jesus’ greatest desire for us is spiritual versus physical—rescuing us from sin, versus rescuing us from physical suffering. If this is the case, then how do we explain Jesus performing so many physical healings? What application do these accounts have for us?
Most of what Jesus did physically is a picture of what He wants to do for us spiritually. Failure to understand this has led to countless theological errors. In Matthew 13:14, Jesus said, “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive.” People in Jesus’ day heard and saw physically, but not spiritually. When Jesus healed physical blindness and deafness, the application isn’t that Jesus wants to heal every blind and deaf person. Instead, it reveals His desire to help us see and hear spiritually.
Jesus’s Greatest Desire for Us Is Spiritual Versus Physical
When Jesus healed the paralytic, the application isn’t that He wants to heal every paralyzed person, as evidenced by Joni’s life. Instead, He wants to heal our spiritual lameness: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
There were problems when people interpreted physically what He meant spiritually:
- Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3–4). Jesus was speaking of spiritual birth, but Nicodemus thought He was speaking of a second physical birth.
- Jesus told the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:10–12). Jesus was speaking of spiritual water, but she thought He was referring to the physical water in the well.
- Jesus told the crowds that followed Him, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.’ The Jews, therefore, quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’” (John 6:51–52). Jesus was speaking spiritually of Himself as the true bread from heaven, but they thought He was promoting cannibalism.
After Jesus fed the five thousand, thousands more began following Him. But they had missed the spiritual significance of what He had done. They saw the miracle physically, but they didn’t understand it spiritually; therefore, they were following Jesus, not because they wanted spiritual food, Jesus Himself, but because they wanted more physical food. Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26).
It looks like Jesus is saying they didn’t see the miracle He performed, but of course they did; that’s why they were following Him. When Jesus said they did not see the signs, He meant they saw His miracles physically, but not spiritually. Jesus’ miracles are called “signs” because they point to something spiritual. Jesus wanted the crowds following Him to hunger spiritually, but they only hungered physically because they didn’t understand His miracles.
Jesus Satisfies Spiritually
Jesus was forced to spell out the spiritual truth in each instance. He told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In other words, “No, Nicodemus, I’m not talking about physical birth into the world; I’m talking about spiritual birth into My kingdom.”
He told the crowds following Him, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). Similarly, He told the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.” (John 4:13–14). Jesus didn’t mean that we would never hunger or thirst again physically, but He did mean that He alone would satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst. In Luke 6:21, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” Not physically, but spiritually. After Jesus fed the five thousand, it says, “And they all ate and were satisfied” (Luke 9:17 ESV). This physically pictured the spiritual reality.
When I became a Christian in my early twenties, God gave me new desires. In other words, I hungered and thirsted in different ways—I wanted to get married, have children, become a pastor, and the list could go on. Although, I can sincerely say I never hungered or thirsted again spiritually. I was satisfied. I didn’t wonder what other religions offered. I didn’t question whether other sacred texts contained truth I was missing. I am not sharing this testimony remotely as any credit to myself. I say it as a credit to Christ’s ability to satisfy us spiritually.
Jesus Provides Spiritual Peace
When the disciples were caught in a storm that they thought would drown them, they woke Jesus. Mark 4:39 says, “Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” Jesus took a very tumultuous situation and provided great peace. The application from this miracle is not that Jesus calms every physical storm that we encounter. Instead, it reveals the spiritual calm Jesus provides in all circumstances.
As a pastor, I would love to be able to tell people, “If you’re experiencing a storm, call out to the Lord, and He’ll calm it for you as He did for the disciples.” The problem, though, is this might not be true. There are storms God allows to rage throughout our lives:
- Diseases aren’t always cured
- Broken relationships aren’t always fixed
- Financial situations don’t always improve
Since these storms aren’t calmed, then what does Jesus do for us? He might not bring peace to the storms that rage outside us, but He can bring peace to the storms that rage inside us. He brings “a great calm” to our tumultuous hearts. The storms around us don’t always stop, but the storms inside us can be stilled. The physical rest Jesus brought in the middle of that sea two thousand years ago pictures the spiritual rest He can bring in the middle of the storms we face.
Isaiah 26:3 does not say, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose life is free from storms and trials.” Instead, it says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” When the disciples were terrified, they should’ve rested because Jesus was in the boat with them. If we’re Christians, we can have peace and rest through storms because we know Jesus is in the boat with us, and He’s in control.
Romans 5:1 says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” After we have “peace with God” we can have the “peace of God” described in Philippians 4:6–7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
It doesn’t say, “peace that surpasses understanding, because your storm ceases.” Instead, it’s peace we can have in our “hearts and minds” because of our relationships with Jesus. It “surpasses all understanding” in that we might not even understand why we’re at peace and rest. The circumstances in our lives fill us with turmoil and anxiety, but Jesus provides a spiritual calm in our hearts.
Restoring Rest in the Lord
Prior to The Fall, Adam and Eve were at rest in its original and fullest sense. They relied on God for everything. They had no anxiety, pain, frustration, needs, or heartache:
- They didn’t struggle with God’s forgiveness because they had no sin.
- They didn’t doubt God’s love because they had no reason to believe He might not love them.
- They didn’t need God’s consolation because they were never grieved.
- They didn’t need His encouragement because they were never discouraged.
They only needed His fellowship, which they had. They were at rest. When The Fall took place, Adam and Eve’s rest was gone. Sin introduced anxiety, stress, and worry, but through Christ, peace and rest can be restored.
Rest in the Lord’s Victory over Death
Hebrews 2:15 says Jesus “[releases] those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” This doesn’t say people are in bondage to death, although that’s true. This says people are in bondage to the fear of death! Jesus frees us from that bondage:
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of Death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54–57).
Death is capitalized to personify it as an enemy Jesus defeats: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is Death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). To emphasize how clearly Death is defeated, Revelation 20:14 says, “Death [is] cast into the lake of fire.” God sends Death to hell! So, we can be confident and rest in Jesus’ victory over it. First John 5:13 says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). How much rest is there for people who spent their lives fearing Death to come to know a future heavenly home awaits them?
Rest in the Lord’s Deliverance from the Power of Sin
Romans 6:11 commands us to, “reckon [ourselves] dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We’re freed from life-dominating sins. Imagine the rest for people who previously spent their lives running from addiction to addiction and broken relationship to broken relationship.
Rest in the Lord’s Forgiveness
Some people spend years struggling with guilt from sins they committed. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” We’re freed from shame. Consider the rest for people who learn that Jesus took the punishment their sins deserve. Since Jesus paid for those sins, they no longer need to grieve over them.
Jesus Is Our Inheritance
Let’s tie this back to our discussion of the Promised Land. Israel was to look beyond the land physically to see God as their portion spiritually:
- “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
- “I cried out to You, O Lord: I said, ‘You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living’” (Psalm 142:5).
The Promised Land was Israel’s inheritance (or portion) in the Old Testament, and it foreshadowed Jesus as our inheritance in the New Testament. As Israel was to possess all the land, we seek to possess all that we have in Christ. After Joshua and the nation experienced many victories, God said to him, “You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed” (Joshua 13:1). Although Israel owned all the land, they still had more of it to possess. Ephesians 1:3 says the Father has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Although we own all the spiritual blessings, we always have more of Christ to possess.
We might expect God to say these words to Joshua when he was young, and the nation had just entered the land. Instead, God said this to him toward the end of his life after they’d already possessed a considerable portion. It would’ve been easy for Joshua to look at all he had done and want to relax, but God wanted him to press on. The same is true for us. We rest in the finished work of Christ, accomplished and applied to our lives, but God wants us to press on.
No matter how close we are to finishing the race, we always have more to do. If anyone looked like he reached the goal and could rest, it’s the apostle Paul. But in Philippians 3:12–14, he said:
Not that I have already [obtained], or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Even at the end of Paul’s life, he wanted to keep advancing because, as God told Joshua, there was more. We should be like Paul and press on toward our heavenly goal. We can spend our lives without ever possessing all the inheritance we have in Christ, because if we keep pursuing Him, He keeps offering us more:
- More to do for the Lord
- More to know about the Lord
- More to grow in our relationships with the Lord
What If You Were a Levite?
Instead of receiving a physical inheritance in the land, one of the tribes received a spiritual inheritance. Joshua 13:33 says, “To the tribe of Levi Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance, as He had said to them.” The Levites provide an Old Testament glimpse of the New Testament reality for the church.
The situation they experienced—having something spiritual versus physical—is like the true believer’s experience today. We don’t receive a physical inheritance. Our inheritance is spiritual. Just as the Levites enjoyed the Lord Himself as their inheritance, we enjoy and rest in the Lord as our inheritance.
Consider for a moment that you’re a Levite, and you don’t receive a physical inheritance in the land even though all the other tribes do. You receive the news that the Lord Himself is your inheritance. Do you feel slighted? Is the Lord enough for you? Are you content with the spiritual, or do you wish you had something physical instead? You can answer by considering whether you’re satisfied with Christ.
Working and Resting God’s Way
It is said that man has three basic needs in life: love, purpose, and significance. Many times, we try to find purpose in work itself. Solomon detailed his search for meaning in a variety of projects and activities:
I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove…I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me (Ecclesiastes 2:4–7).
Even though the work brought some degree of satisfaction, he concluded:
For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11).
Solomon’s work was vain because he engaged in it apart from his Creator. Work is of no value except when it is done for God.
The people who lived in the land of Shinar after the Flood are another example of what to avoid. They constructed the Tower of Babel, which was no small feat of work in the ancient world. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Their pride and self-focus are revealed through the words “make a name for [themselves].” They wanted to work, but for their glory.
As long as we are on this side of heaven “under the sun,” our attitude toward work should mirror that of our Lord: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work’” (John 4:34). It should be our desire as well to finish the work—physical and spiritual—God has for us for His glory. As God commands, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Working God’s way means working “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” so He can be exalted.
First Corinthians 10:31 commands, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We can’t glory in ourselves, because we are only doing what God laid out for us: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Working God’s way means working for His glory.
Paradoxically, we can rest even when working, because our work was “prepared beforehand.” We’re no longer anxiously flailing about trying to earn God’s favor. We’re resting in Christ, and, thus, joyfully working in His vineyard. Our spiritual rest and sanctified labor are connected in that one enables the other. Confidence in God’s sovereignty frees us from worry because we know God is in control. We’re liberated from striving, manipulating, and straining: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). Resting God’s way means trusting God will bring about the best end.
Spiritually, we rest because the work for our salvation is accomplished. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). His work was done, so He “sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). We don’t have to wonder if we’ve done enough because it’s not about what we do. It’s about what Jesus has done. It’s not based on our work, but on Christ’s finished work for us. Resting God’s way means resting in the salvation Jesus provided, and that frees us to do the work He has prepared for us.