He was scary. Those red eyes; the impish grin; the sun-parched skin; the greased apparel. He roamed the streets without ever reaching anywhere. He carried a huge blackened duffle bag that seemed to grow heavier each passing day. He wore no shoes. His feet calluses served as soles against the emaciating hubris of asphalt and dirt. He had no name but his identity was renowned. No one ever came near. He was constantly at least ten feet away from civilized humanity.
There was only one instance when our eyes met. I was on my way home from school as I spotted him savoring what seemed like a corn cob. His horrid hair, kept me from fully scrutinizing his version of a feast. In a split second, he looked up towards my direction and his eyeballs screamed at mine while a cacophony of messages were hurled. I felt an unusual pain, the excruciating agony of a person seeking to discover a lost story. I looked for a second, but I melted the next. I could not stand staring at the caricature of my very existence so graphically depicted inside this man’s countenance.
There was no difference between him and my personal sojourn. It was just that I am the sanitized version of what is plain true about the person that I know I am. I quickly grabbed my school bag and rushed home.
He was too painful for me to endure. My head knocks from an unusual vertigo that had me spinning on how I actually looked like from within.
How is it that this nomad avoids toil, while I seem to be neck-deep in rigor, yet somehow sensing the mutuality of our frustration?
Homeless and helpless, defines us both.
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat–
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
When they contend with their enemies in the gate.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 NIV
It is but appropriate to meet the central aspect of our syllabus in the call to rest. The irony of this invitation springs from the very nature of what God does so well: wonderful work. Before seeking to enter such repose, it is important to recognize the primacy of fruitful labor within God’s itinerary. He works within a framed rhythm that sets the universe on a course of fluid motion. The Scriptures introduces God, not loading off in some leisurely cruise, but right in the middle of constructive work. The cadence of the first pages of divine revelation heralds the consummate quality of God’s craftsmanship. It is within the pulse of this divine industry that our call to rest arises.
Equally crucial is a determined awareness to shun any semblance of sloth in conjunction with God’s known work schedule. The call to rest within our ongoing steps towards godliness is not an invitation to resign, nor retire in lieu of some guaranteed cash-out benefits. On the other end of the spectrum, lies the necessity to understand the evils of compulsive work. Work done apart from the centrality of God’s supervision is deplorably a royal waste of time and resource. The prayer of rest must guide our work by leaning in on God’s extensive labor.
The current phase of work in our generation simulates the sophisticated machinery of humanity’s ancient enterprise to build the tower of Babel. Nothing was for mediocrity: first-class was the by-word of production. Efficiency was set in motion without any compromise. Persons took on the chains of production under the steady whips of grinding machines. The result of Genesis 11 was catastrophic. The stairway to heaven turned into a nightmarish monument to human ineptness. It is a testimony to all human ventures devoid of God’s superintendence.
The opposing scenario presents an equally disruptive reality. Society is fraught with lazybones whose primary pursuit is towards charity. Their existence is contingent upon the expected benevolence of those whose calling is that of enabling a race of parasites.
The call to rest has nothing to do with these previous preoccupations. The mandate is primarily for those who are called to do serious work, in God’s name.
The Psalmist declares with certitude the condition of fruitfulness: “Unless the Lord builds the house; Unless the Lord watches over the city …” all efforts precluding God’s input lead to the highway of uselessness. In deep personal tone, he warns of the unrivaled intensity of unaccompanied human effort, with all the savvy as mere dross. The opposite is lucid: “to those he loves, he grants rest.”
The secured provision towards God’s own is wrapped around the vehicle of rest. God’s work ethic covers all the necessary grounds for human existence. Absolutely: everything from air to morsel. The primary work of the believer then is rested prayer. It is work that anchors on the sufficiency of the LORD’s being.
The illustration of heritage presents the stunning commitment of this divine grace. The way of rest takes into consideration the overriding motivation of God’s love in seeking to lead us, in all our work. Children are bestowed to us by way of the most delicious of human intimacy. There is hardly any vestige of labor in the act of sex, and yet the seeds are planted to bloom with wondrous profundity. Our children serve us well within the gates of our secured villages. With fluency, we are affirmed: “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” With humility, we acknowledge the sole competence of our working God to satisfy our vats with his goodness.
What this does to our perception of work is that of providing precision on who truly grants our needs. God’s invitation for us to come to him guarantees the gift of rest.
We are roused to a new kind of labor. We build homes, not despondent from lack of help but profuse with guided workmanship. We raise families, not burdened from lack of wisdom but equipped with sacred sagacity. We look back at our labor and find none to brag. It has been God all along, carrying us through all our dedication and centered devotion.
The beauty of this arrangement rests upon the weight of its accompanying freedom. God grants us all things. When he decides to remove anything, it is a mere reallocation of his sovereign grace. When he adds something, it is a rehearsal of creation.
To all this, we pray: “let us do this, Lord!”
I have always dreamt of having a boy. He was destined to become the NBA’s post-Jordan phenom. It was a long time coming, but on our third pregnancy, all signs were looking bright. My excitement to mentor a young turk was feral. I would accompany my wife wherever she went, as though I was in charge of transporting the Ark of Israel. I handled her with obsessive attentiveness.
When the announcement was made in church, the congregation responded with a feast. Hail, to the coming champion! The festivity was short-lived. I was doing garden work when my expectant wife showed up with tears describing a tragic irregularity. The doctor validated our fears. Luke Daniel will not be able to cross the line.
It was a week of deep sadness. I remember merely holding my wife’s tremors with my own trembling hands. When I made the announcement in church, their alloyed tears flowed freely. Through the darkness, God had granted me the vista to have a glimpse of its discreet blessing. I declared publicly: “Despite the pain of loss, I praise God for having at least experienced how it feels to be a father to a son, even for a few days. I truly am grateful.”
After these words, there was one young man seated at the front, whom I’ve never met before, who stood abruptly and left.
After a week, I received a phone call from him. With awkwardness, he revealed why he had to leave. He was convicted through his soul. He was visiting from out of state, trying to clear his mind. He had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and had personally scheduled an abortion. After heeding the clear message, he cancelled the procedure while promising the young woman, his pledge of marriage. He called to ask, if I had time to officiate their wedding.
It was a simple yet eloquent manifestation of God’s intervention through chaos. The redemption of this young family fuels my soul with exceeding gladness. Indeed, everything has been turned over from tears to heaven.
Resting solely upon the magnanimity of God’s enduring work, my fondest dream took on an eternal shape. The scope of God’s work has been unveiled. It may seem like I do most of the work but it is the LORD who does the heavy lifting. I have found the best effort to be that of resting under the shadow of His wings.
My son, who now resides in my Father’s mansion, has become a phenom, solely by God’s working grace.