Friday, February 22, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 22, 2013

So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 10:12-15)

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest . . . (Hebrews 4:11a)

Our Sunday night church services when I was young were aimed at getting people to come forward to the altar for prayer. Once there, a group of the fine old saints would gather to pray for those who were brave enough to make the journey up front, signaling to the congregation that something was amiss and needed to be fixed (I made that trip often). There was a comfort in that experience, but it was also occasionally confusing, as one would encourage the seeker to “hold on!” while another would urge, “let go!” I never quite knew which one to do, and sometimes feared I would let go when I should have held on and end up making God mad at me.

The writer of Hebrews comes close to creating that kind of confusion in admonishing the readers to “make every effort to enter that rest.” Rest is rest, isn’t it? To rest is to take a break from one’s labors. Yet we are told to exert effort in order to enter rest. Seems counter-intuitive at first.

But the rest isn’t one of disengagement, it seems. Moses speaks to the ancient Hebrews about God’s historic love for them and his choosing of them “out of all the peoples.” In that choosing they are to exert effort in service and obedience. This choosing is a bit like how we see the ordination of a priest or pastor: One is called out from among the people to lead the people in the way of the Lord. In a similar way, the Hebrew people were chosen, not to the exclusion of the world, but for the sake of the world. They were to be the light on the hill that would draw the world to God. That was their rest. And it’s ours as well.

If my effort is one of trying to curry God’s favor and rack up celestial points, then it becomes legalism. If my effort is one of posturing and power-grabbing in order to show others that I have attained sainthood, then it becomes hypocritical abuse. But if my effort is one of love, devotion, and service, then I just might find rest there.

The writer of Hebrews leaves us with a call to redemptive rest as we follow Jesus, the one who carries the ultimate ordination:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

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