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Jul 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 12, 2015 – Hebrews 3:7-11; 4:1-11

Contemplative Prayer Part Two:
Entering God’s Rest

Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me,
As in the day of trial in the wilderness . . . .
As I swore in My wrath,
“They will not enter My rest.” 
Hebrews 3:7-11 (read also chapter 4:1-11)

Intro: Last week I introduced Contemplative Prayer as a helpful skill in our spiritual journey

Today we’ll go further into Contemplative Prayer
– in it, we learn to rest mindfully in the eternal now
• I realize this statement is too abstract to be really useful, so to simplify:
◦ sitting in silent prayer, we want to rest in direct awareness of God–his immediate presence
– I wanted to begin with the more philosophical or poetic statement
• such statements sometimes touch and stir the soul before the intellect gets in the way
• so “resting mindfully in the eternal now” is not a bad place to begin – it just needs clarification

A brief explanation of the biblical reading

The first reading is a quotation from Psalm 95
– it indicates two historical situations:
• an event – when Israel was prevented from entering the promised land
• and a comment God made regarding that event hundreds of years later – an “update” of sorts
– our second reading (Heb. 4:1-11) is an update on the update: “it is still called ‘Today’” (v. 13)
• in other words, when the Psalm was written, Israel was given another chance to enter God’s rest
◦ and then, when Hebrews was written, Christian believers were given that chance

Our author points out that the psalm was written “after so long a time” (several centuries! Heb. 3:7)
– so the “today” persists through time
• from Israel’s wandering in the wilderness to when the psalm was written
◦ whenever a community hears the invitation, their opportunity to respond is today
• in 3:7, the Greek word for time is chronos, or measured time (minutes, hours, days, and so on)
– with God, “today” is not static nor confined to one calendar day
• this is the first of several surprises – God’s Spirit says “today,” today!

Another surprise is the way our author reinterprets the term, “My rest”
– in the context of the psalm, it referred to the promise land
• they made that arduous trek through the desert, looking forward to resting in their own land
• but our author goes all the way back to creation, when on the seventh day God rested
◦ this was Israel’s reference point for their Sabbath
◦ and it is our author’s reference point for the rest we can experience in God

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:9)

– God’s rest is, in a sense, a return to Eden, where we rest in him
• but now we see a pattern:
Adam and Eve were not allowed to return and Israel was not allowed to enter the land
◦ that is the warning our author raises

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. (Heb. 4:1)
Andrew Murray commented, “We have . . . the most precious assurances of a rest for the soul . . . . But when they are not believed they cannot be enjoyed. . .”

• if people hold back, they are held back permanently
God invites us: “Please come and sit with Me for awhile”
We answer: “I would love to, but I’m very busy” or “I’m too upset right now”
◦ and then the door closes–in fact, it is precisely where Psalm 95 ends

A third surprise: We “enter that rest” (4:3)
– the author takes for granted that God’s rest is inherent in the Christian faith

Andrew Murray, “To-day! . . . is a word of wonderful promise.  It tells us that To-day, this very moment, the wondrous love of God is for [you]–it is even now waiting to be poured out into [your] heart; that To-day, all that Christ has done, and is now doing in heaven, and is able to do within [you]–this very day, it is within [your] reach. To-day the Holy [Spirit] in whom there is the power to know and claim and enjoy all that the Father and the Son are waiting to bestow, to-day the Holy [Spirit] is within [you], sufficient for every need, equal to every emergency.”

What is it, to enter this Sabbath rest?

First, the Sabbath is not a day (Sabbath doesn’t mean “Saturday”)
– it means to stop labor, to take a break–it is a “Sabbath pause”
• the true Sabbath is ongoing — it parallels chronological time
◦ in eternity, it is always “today” (as Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever,” Heb. 13:8)
◦ sometime, notice in Genesis chapter 1 the rhythm of the repeated phrase:

And there was evening and there was morning, one day (Ge. 1:5)

• this is how the six days of creation unfold, but not seventh–there is no mention of evening and morning

William Barclay, “. . . Rabbis argued that, while the other days came to an end, the day of God’s rest had no ending; it was eternal and everlasting.”
Abraham Herschel, “That the Sabbath and eternity are one–or of the same essence–is an ancient idea.”

– we drop into today–this present moment–we are drawn into eternity

Abraham Herschel, “With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy.

• it is God’s rest we are entering — he invites us to join him
◦ the Sabbath pause is not a restful state that we have to manufacture

Paul makes a similar use of the Hebrew Scriptures as our author
– he quotes God’s message to Isaiah

At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.

• then Paul says, “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:2)
◦ for “time,” Paul did not use chronos, but kairos, which refers to a specific season, a chosen moment
• Paul uses the same structure in Romans when he stresses loving one’s neighbor

Do this, knowing the time [kairos], that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep . . . (13:11)

– daily we live through chronos time,
• but in Contemplative prayer, God’s kairos intersects our chronos
• God’s “now,” his “today” becomes this present moment — and this is where we find rest

Jesus observed that though his disciples were in world, they were not of it (Jn. 17:11, 14, 16)
– in a similar way, we live in clock and calendar time
• but we experience moments that open to eternity
• and though we learn to live in the moment, we do not live for the moment
◦ as though all we had was this moment to enjoy everything life in the world has to offer
– our Sabbath pause is entering God’s rest in this moment and finding it to be a doorway

Briefly, the Sabbath pause is characterized by:
surrender – we give the moment to God and ourselves to God in the moment
• we let go of everything–even trying to understand the meaning of our kairos experience
• we let love take us where our intellect cannot
openness – to whatever God brings or chooses to do or say in this moment
receptivity – a willingness to hear, accept and respond to God

For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (Heb. 4:10)

calmness – regulate our emotional reactions
• the way brain is wired, even adults can learn to do this
awareness of God’s presence
• there is a well known quote by Irenaeus that “The glory of God is a living man”
◦ but less well known is what follows:

Irenaeus, “and the life of man consists in beholding God.”

• this is what defines the “living man” (person)

Before we’re done, there’s a paradox we have to resolve

Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest . . . (Heb. 4:11)

– “diligent” translates a Greek word that means to speed up, endeavor, or labor
• we can state the paradox like this: “Let’s work hard to enter God’s rest”
◦ most of us know that it can take lots of effort to relax
• pressures and tensions interfere with Contemplative Prayer and its Sabbath pause
◦ we can even sit in silence with God worrying about whether we’re doing it right
◦ then it’s like trying to fall asleep — if I keep checking and worrying, I’ll never fall asleep

John Chapman, “God’s Will always intends our good. God’s Will is carving us into the likeness of His Son.
“Every moment is the message of God’s Will; every external event, everything outside us, and even every involuntary thought and feeling within us is God’s own touch. . . . Everything we come in contact with, whether pleasures or pains . . . . We are living in God–in God’s action, as a fish in the water. There is no question of trying to feel that God is here, or to complain of God being far, once He has taught us that we are bathed in Him, in His action, in His Will.”

– these dynamics can work in reverse
• Contemplative prayer can relieve those very tensions and worries that would otherwise distract us

The wall that I think will stop most of us from entering God’s rest is: “The way things are right now”
– that’s what stopped Israel from entering God’s rest
• their spies reported the way things were in the land: the people are strong, their cities fortified, and giants live there (Nu. 13:28, 32)
• theirs was a history of stalling short of God’s rest — even after the exile

“The time has not yet come” they argued, “the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt” (Hag. 1:2)

◦ our author sweeps away this objection, explaining that God’s “works”

were finished from the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3)

– our situation will always be “the way things are”
• there isn’t any other time or any perfect situation
◦ that’s why we have to settle for a Sabbath pause now and then
• it is precisely because of the way things are that we need to turn to God
◦ besides, there’s always more in the moment than the way things are — there’s the way God is!
◦ if we wait, a prefect moment will never come, but we can perfect this moment

At first, it may be work to enter God’s rest, but eventually it becomes natural

John Chapman explains that as we go on in prayer, it requires less conscious effort and a greater consciousness “of His continual assistance. . . . we no longer feel our duty [is] to be activity (bustle, hard work, etc.) the day for that is past . . . . At first our whole duty seemed to be to run hard to catch the train, but afterwards our chief duty seems to be to stop in the train.”


Conc: What I hope you’ll do this week:

First, practice taking Sabbath pauses — God always allows us to come up for air

John Chapman, “Cultivate the habit of getting a few instants or a few minutes of peace as often as possible. It is like opening a window to let peace flow in: or, still more, like shutting a door to keep the noise out.”
Francois Fenelon, “One raises one’s heart for an instant to God, and renews one’s strength for further duties. . . . in a moment you can recall the presence of God, love Him, adore Him, offer Him what you do or what you suffer, and calm before Him all the agitation of your heart.”

Second, take with you what you need most, namely:
Trust – in Hebrews 3:6, we’re told to hold fast our confidence and in 4:14, it is our assurance
• the whole passage brings us back to faith and trust
• we must do this with all those annoying thoughts and anxious feelings–throw them on God (1 Pe. 5:7)
JesusThese things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace (Jn. 16:33)

Third, let’s encourage each other, because some of us are prone to developing a “hard heart”

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:12-13)

– a hard heart is one that is will not open and cannot be changed

Fourth, recognize those events and feelings that trigger unrest and use them
– turn them into triggers that bring you back to a Sabbath pause
• remind yourself, “Breathe” and perhaps tell your soul (like a bird returning to its nest),

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. (Psa. 116:7)

One Comment

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  1. Ingrid Starrs / Jul 16 2015

    To enter God’s rest is to observe the workings of the mind, to watch the business, to watch every emotion and judge them not. The same way we pick up a bucket of popcorn and enter into watching a good movie. To enter God’s rest is when we finally become entertained by the relentless creative mind. Entertained instead of buying in and believing the stories we play and replay excepting them as truth.

    Yes Chuck, today, this moment, now, anytime we choose we can realign with God’s rest. We can realign with peace. Fabulous!

    I went (with 1800 others) to see the Dalai Lama on his birthday. He said, “The only difference between you and I is I have a quiet mind.”

    The Dalai Lama has mastered the principle of God’s rest. On his birthday he appeared to sit back and enjoy a host of characters delivering lines of love and adoration to him. Four hours of heartfelt entertainment was had by all. Beautiful!

    When we truly become intimate with the workings of the egoic mind we gain a glimpse of what we’re up against when God said, “You shall have no false god’s before me.” To see this is to know grace.

    When we leave the present moment time is created. There is only the illusion of time. When we believe our thoughts we create a past and a future and the illusion begins. As well as our false identity.

    To enter God’s rest is fun. We discover that if we speak one word the whole world is created. In our delight we may come to a point where we cease to speak because falling into the internal center of an infinite God is simply awe inspiring.

    Thank you for your reflection Chuck. It helped me bring clarity to this moment. 🙂

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