As I made one final swipe of the dishrag across the kitchen counter, I noticed a ballpoint pen, left there from the previous night. A sensation, which I can only describe as a quickening joy, surprised me as I picked it up, realizing that I had the freedom and opportunity to go and write with that pen. “You really are a writer”, I sighed happily to myself, as I headed off to the delightful task.
Writing is my pleasant work; gendering feelings akin, perhaps, to the kind experienced by Adam and Eve, before the fall transformed work into the toil and drudgery now necessary for survival. Though most of us today do not have to till the ground to survive, (God bless the farming industry!), too often our daily occupation is one from which we hasten to be relieved at the end of the day, and retirement a delightfully beckoning dream.
Before that fateful indulgent bite, it seems to have been otherwise—the unspoiled couple fellowshipped with God at the end of each day, in a cool relaxed atmosphere, breezy in tone and feel, like an evening porch visit on a Caribbean twilight. It is easy to picture them there, sharing with the Creator their discoveries and exploits from tending the garden each day, work and rest in joyful tandem, each serving the other as naturally as breathing-in serves exhaling.
A couple of chapters later we watch as their first two offspring, now working adults under the curse, bring the products of their labour to offer to God, in hopes of acceptance, at the end of some expected time period. The activity at labour’s end was no longer a sweet celebration, between heaven and earth, of fresh levels of fulfillment from embracing the gift’s and opportunities provided by the Father in Eden; but rather, a religious offering—evidence of their striving in human effort to be acceptable. These latter circumstances, though a helpful, temporary, stop-gap, were not of the Creator’s original design, and stirred the vices of anger, envy, bitterness, resentment and finally…murder. How greatly humanity continues to labour under the same threat which the Father cautioned the covetous Cain against: the sins fomented in our performance culture, like a pack of ravenous hyenas, encircle us hungrily at the end of our work days, waiting to devour us, as we restless consider the worthiness, or lack of the same, of our offerings to our gods.
Vanished with Eden’s joys are the regular trysts on the veranda with the Giver and Sustainer of life, meaning and purpose. Whence fled rest? Shut away in the Garden? Or else reserved for the wealthy, — “If I were a rich man…”?
No! a thousand sabbaths No! The writer of the book of Hebrews declares unapologetically that “There remains (continuous tense) a rest… for the people of God.” Yet, because we do live post Eden, he explains elsewhere in Hebrews chapter 4, that this is a rest for which we must labour. Yet, again, because we live in the wake of the completed atoning labour of our Redeemer, and in the light and fulfillment of the Father’s redemptive plan— and whole-hearted acceptance of that work as sufficient, evidenced in the resurrection—our labour for rest is again transformed back into pleasant work: —
Like the Apostle John reports of Jesus’ view, “To do Your will, Lord, that is my meat; to do Your work, that is my food”;
Like the Apostle Paul confesses, “In You is my substance; in You I live, I move! In You I have my being; to me to live is You!”
And as Eric Liddell, the famed Olympic runner turned missionary, we can say, “When I (run) [fill in your pleasant work!] I feel His pleasure!”.
And even like our Lord Jesus Himself, we can say, in answer to an offer of earthly sustenance “I have food you know not of…My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.”
However, like every servant of Christ who has been carried away in his or her zeal for His service, to the neglect of our bodies or some other earthly duty or responsibility, comes a call to rightly manage our pleasant labour. We do this by maintaining the trysting place, our communion with God. Jesus marvelously exemplified this: though eager to do all the perfect will of the Father, perfectly, He never indulged in a compulsive workaholic moment. Instead He was regularly seen slipping off to private times with the Father, never refusing the Spirit’s call and welcome into rest. He knew that to live otherwise invites an evil alchemy which re-converts our worship and reasonable service into a begrudging offering, leaving us self-absorbed, self-consumed, and toying with murderous thoughts.
Is this perhaps what happened to the once gorgeous angel called Light-Bearer? How it came about that Lucifer, one of heaven’s highest ranking and most beautiful of angels, could let it settle into his mind that he could ‘take on’ the Almighty God is one of those eternal head-scratchers. Yet his temptation on that cosmic level is one we face daily on an earthly scale, when we shift our gaze from the Face of the Beautiful One to our own.
This archangel was amazingly described as ‘perfect’, Ezek. 28:12 & 15. Yet overweening ambition was still his undoing. Driving ambition parades as a mentor who is out for our good but is in truth a harsh task-master. It can start as innocently as a sinking feeling that settles on us as we watch someone else being promoted; someone whom we figure to be less gifted than we are. So, we begin to strive and to reach for our own zenith, our own pinnacle, our own glory. Never feeling free to take a break; like the title of a book I saw early in my parenting/homeschooling years, ‘When I rest, I Feel Guilty’. I never read it as I felt I knew its message only too well but did not feel ready to let go of my goals. Mercifully, God arranged a few strategic crashes. Otherwise, like the ‘Cherub that covered’, I would have become consumed with desire for my own progress and promotion to the extent that fellowship with the Godhead would no longer have been my delight. Mine would have been just like satan’s fate, different only in scope, but just as tragic for my soul’s eternal destiny.
Welcoming Christ’s rest acknowledges, like Jesus, that we can do nothing of ourselves. I am always freshly reminded of how vulnerable I am to pride, envy, covetousness and all her children, after a time of successful accomplishment. Affirmation and encouragement, however well-intended, invariably leave me searching around inside myself for the process by which I attained this height—was it the ‘night-toil’ while others slept? Was it the natural gift honed by much practice? A superior endowment upon my capable head? The serendipitous flick of a wrist or deft kick of a heel? —Nothing sends us boring deeper and harder into self-effort, that leads to gross error or burnout, than thinking it is all up to us.
At break of day or cool of the evening, the Father waits to breathe into us, from His matrix of love, His creativity, innovation and administration into our world —a launching place of rest in Him. One of several gifts I received from the earliest days of our family’s Summer vacation visits to my Mother-in-law’s and her Methodist church, was the offertory verse sung at the end of each Sunday morning’s act of financial giving:
“All things come of Thee, Oh God
And of Thine own have we given Thee”
What can we offer to the One who gave it all? —The ideas, the capacity, every resource, even the desire to do according to His good pleasure. What a deep rest this calls us into!
Welcoming rest in the trysting place, briefly or for extended periods, gives opportunity for this vital re-membering — reconnecting with the One who loves and gives to us beyond our comprehension.
From the brief glimpses of heaven that we have in Scripture, we could conclude that it is a place of incessant rest, as its inhabitants perpetually behold the face of the One who is its light and its temple. The goodness, order, peace, truth, life and love emanating from the Throne of God is rest indeed! “Where, in heaven we may wonder, did satan find time, between ‘glories! and holies!’, to conceive, “I will exalt my throne…”? Yet often we try to dethrone God from below, like Martha, advising Him to make others help us fix the world ‘just right’. This is probably what spawned the adage that ‘a woman’s work is never done’, or the other that ‘when our children are small, they tangle our feet and when they are older, they tangle our hearts’. Those perspectives are enough to keep a woman tripping or else ‘ripping about’ seeking to restore Eden, or at least home, to those in our orbit. Whatever our motives, superficial or visceral, stoked by the ambitious infernal or stroked by domestic pride, may we reach for what the Father offers, set aside the tools of our trade and come aside to engage in our pleasant work, our reasonable service, our spiritual worship and, in sweet communion, enter His rest.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
I am Denise Stair Armstrong; born and raised Jamaican. I received all my formal academic education in the land of my birth at Shortwood Teachers’ College and the University of the West Indies, specializing in English Language & Literatures in English. The remainder I’ve gained home educating our three wonderful children – Joseph, Charis and Timothy, parenting them with my husband Claude, and in caring for my wheel-chair bound mother. I enjoy reading, cooking, gardening, theatre and ballroom dancing with Claude (only!) and digging into the Word of God.
My passion is worship expressed primarily through writing inspirational pieces that urge readers not to miss how much the Lord has “cramm’d earth with heaven”. My heart is to encourage them to traverse the gap between all our hearts and the cultures that shape them, via the Bridge that is Calvary’s cross.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
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