And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day… So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. -Genesis 2:2-3
Like many of you, I have been praying and asking God to show me His desire for us during this strange time in our world’s history. As Christians, we know that nothing happens without God’s permission. That doesn’t mean everything that happens is His perfect will, but it does mean that He has allowed whatever happens for a purpose, and that He will work it out for His glory and our good (cf. Romans 8:28). So with that in mind, I have been praying, “Lord, what do You ask of me? And what do You ask of Your Church today?”
I recently took a course on Salvation History* that opened my eyes to so many Biblical truths. Admittedly, before this study I did not often think about God’s purpose for rest. Yet, from the beginning He instituted rest as something of great importance. The pinnacle of Creation was not the creation of man in God’s own image, even though God called it “very good.” The pinnacle of Creation was the seventh day, the day of rest. Genesis 2:3 says, “God blessed that day and made it holy.” Why was the seventh day specifically called “holy”?
God’s purpose became clearer to me as I learned that in Hebrew (the original language of the Old Testament) the words for “seven,” and “oath” (as in the oath sworn to make a covenant) are the same word – sheba. God called the seventh day holy because on that day He rested and made a covenant with His creation. The covenant meant that God was our Father and we His children. It was an indissoluble bond in which He called His creation to share in His holiness and in so doing become holy. From the beginning, God’s desire has been for intimate relationship with us. And just so that we would always remember the covenant that God made with us and the truth that we are His beloved sons and daughters, God instituted days and times of rest. The seventh day of every week was to be set apart as a day of rest. The seventh year was a sabbatical year. And after seven times seven years, the people were to celebrate a year of jubilee. On a specific day in the Year of Jubilee, God told the people to proclaim the Day of Reconciliation (Lev 25:9), which means a day of return to relationship with Him.
Today we think of rest as a time of relaxation and leisure, an absence of a long to-do list. But God did not create rest for that purpose, at least not principally. He instituted rest to give us times of deliberate returning to Him and focusing on Who He is and who we are in Him. He gave us rest to reaffirm His covenant of love with us, His sheba, so that we would stop our activities and focus only on worshipping Him.
This pandemic has stripped us of many things, but in general it has provided us with time to rest. Once we understand God’s divine purpose for rest, we realize that we now have more time to spend with God in prayer. Our normal lives are so busy, and I believe most of us would say, “I would pray more, but I just don’t have time!” Now we have time. Let us not waste it.
God is calling us to Him. Can we hear His voice? No matter where we are in our walk with Him, the Lord is calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. Profound and intimate relationships take time. The Lord is asking us for time to just be with Him in His presence. In my own personal prayer, I have discovered that desire plus time equals presence. In other words, when I go to God with a longing heart full of desire for Him, and I am willing to wait on Him, He floods me with His presence in His own time and in His own way. It is the experience of Jeremiah 29:12-14: “‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”
Years ago my sister was diagnosed with cancer. Soon after receiving the devastating news, her husband, my brother-in-law, made a decision that had a wonderful ripple effect on the entire family, and I believe for generations to come. He realized that in his life up until then, every time he faced a difficult situation, he would buckle down, focus on getting through it and simply endure it until it ended. His eyes and prayers would be focused on the end of the trial. This time he understood that God wanted him to receive from the trial itself. He determined to live each day focused on the moment, asking God what He wanted to do in him that day. By faith my brother-in-law experienced Romans 5:3-5 during this very hard time in his life:
“We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
This time of pandemic and confinement will be over one day. If we live through it just waiting for it to pass, we will miss what the Lord has for us today in this moment.
Hebrews 4:9-11 promises that there remains a rest for the people of God, and that we must strive to enter that rest, which is God’s rest. Isaiah 30:15 says, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved…’” And Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). This pandemic has imposed on us a rest from many of our normal activities. God calls us to use this rest for our good and His glory by returning to Him, giving Him more time and attention than we have before, and seeking Him with our whole hearts. He promises that we will find Him.
*Salvation History from the Augustine Institute; two primary texts from the course referenced in this article are Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins and Holy People, Holy Land: A Theological Introduction to the Bible by Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering
By Adriana Gonzalez