By Mandy Smith
On Labor Day weekend we reflect on both the value of work and the value of rest.
The Department of Labor’s statement on Labor Day says, in part, “It is appropriate . . . that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership—the American worker.”
It’s fitting for a nation to show appreciation to those workers by giving them a day off from their work. On Labor Day we rest from our own work.
There’s a different holiday we celebrate every Sunday—an invitation to rest because of God’s work.
Hebrews 4 reminds us of God’s people wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. This journey from Egypt to the promised land didn’t usually take 40 years, but because the people had hard hearts, God kept that generation from entering into his promised rest.
Hebrews 3 (quoting Psalm 95) says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did . . . during the time of testing in the wilderness. . . . So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’” (3:7, 8, 11).
In the workplace we learn: “You don’t get to rest because you haven’t worked hard enough.” But this is not the way with God. He says, “You don’t enter my rest because your hearts are too hard.”
If our hearts are hard, we keep on working . . . keep on trying to be better. How can we ever receive God’s promises when we aren’t willing to rest in them? How can we ever rest if we don’t believe his work is enough?
Hebrews 4 expands on this:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. . . . Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. . . . Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:9, 10, 14-16).
God was not angry because his people didn’t work hard enough. God was angry because the people weren’t willing to trust in his work. Today, will you soften your hearts so you can rest in the promise that Jesus’ sacrifice is enough?
Originally from Australia, Mandy Smith is pastor of University Christian Church, a campus and neighborhood congregation with its own fair-trade café in Cincinnati. She is the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry.