Thursday, April 17, 2008

“...make every effort to enter that rest” — wha...?

Isn't that an interesting verse? It's from Hebrews, which might be my favorite book of the Bible because the author is so fond of talking about how great Jesus is. He's supreme, he's God made flesh, he's the great high priest, his ministry is better than that of the law.

Anyway, the title is in Hebrews 4:11. Early this morning, I thought I had a profound insight into the meaning of this passage, but now it doesn't seem quite so profound. I'll take a whack at it anyway.

Near the end of chapter 3 is this:
18And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
Now there is a problem in this text. You saw it, didn't you?
  • Who couldn't enter?
    • Those who disobeyed
  • Why couldn't they enter?
    • Because of their disobedience, no, because of their unbelief.
What? I believe the writer is giving us an equation:
those_who_disobey ≡ those_who_don't_believe
Then comes the explanation of "rest." There are three:
  1. God rested on the 7th day of creation (Hebrews 4:4);
  2. some rest still in the future when "Today, if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95) was written;
  3. entry into the Promised land (the Joshua reference, Hebrews 4:8)
The rest of the passage is about rest #2, still in our future as well.

So what does it take to enter that rest? The answer is from chapter 3, quoting Psalm 95:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert...
Hebrews 3:7-8
I think the answer to entering the rest -- what we must do when we "make every effort" -- is exactly this: "Do not harden your hearts." Keep the faith, in other words. And as we do that, we won't "fall by following their example of disobedience" (4:11).

How does this work? When I sense the Lord calling me to prayer, to do something to serve someone, to give my time and resources to something that doesn't directly benefit me... then I can obey that sense, talk to him about what's happening, and by doing what he says, come to think more often the way he does.

Alternately, I can harden my heart: Instead of praying, I can decide to pull myself up by the bootstraps, practice "self-reliance" and other pillars of pioneer "wisdom". Instead of serving or giving, I can refuse to believe that helping the poor is like lending to the Lord. I can follow the "get all you can and can all you get" philosophy and ignore the exhortation to "do good to all" because I don't believe that "in due time we shall reap" (from Galatians 6).

Or, more pointedly, I recently read about a couple; the wife supported the husband through medical school. Success followed, but then he deserted his wife and children to take up with a 26-year-old radiology technician. How does something like that happen? I'm going to speculate that it went something like this.

He saw this pretty young tech at the office and they flirted with each other. At that time, he had a prompting -- he "heard" God's voice, reminding him of the benefits of remaining faithful. But he hardened his heart.
There's a scene in Mr. Holland's Opus where Richard Dreyfus's character thinks about leaving his family to pursue glory in New York with a young woman -- a girl -- and as he reflects upon his life, he decides to stay. He says good-bye to the girl at the bus station, which is the right decision for all kinds of reasons.
This unfaithful doctor guy, in contrast to "Mr. Holland", hardened his heart against the truth and the way of life. Instead he chose to believe that doing this, deserting his family, was really OK for him to do.

And how do we keep that softness of heart? As I wrote earlier, it's the disciplines. How can I hear God's voice if I'm not reading or meditating on his word (the Bible) regularly, if I'm not praying or giving thanks to God or celebrating his goodness? Pretty tough.

As it says later in Hebrews, "make straight paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed" (Hebrews 12:13) -- make it easy to last a long time by softening your heart. Make it easy to soften your heart by doing the disciplines.

And by the way, help is available

Back to chapter 4, where we have this incredible sequence: Verses 12-13 talk about how the word of God is living and active, and how God can see everything -- all our motivations, our attitudes. Then come verses 14-16, which talk about Jesus our great high priest. This is a great passage:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Do you see why I love this part? God can see everything about me, it says in 12-13. Right afterwards in 14-16 it says he loves me anyway, he knows my weaknesses, he is eager to give mercy and grace and help. Indeed, I can approach the throne with confidence and receive that mercy and grace and help.

If that doesn't do anything for you, then — hey, are you alive?

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