This year I was so blessed to take a vacation in Hawaii! It was relaxing and beautiful and I spent the time with good friends. But I confess, it is hard for me to take a vacation. Being a pastor is an awesome privilege and I am fortunate that I love what I do. It is really easy however to get so caught up in work that you feel that you can't stop. It becomes dangerous when your work becomes the basis of your sense of significance and security.
In today's passage from the book of Isaiah, the southern kingdom of Judah was seeking strength and security from Egypt rather than from God. And God wasn't happy about it.
In Isaiah 30, the political leaders of Judah were seeking help from Egypt against the Assyrian empire. But this was not God's idea. In this chapter, God (through the prophet Isaiah) tells the Jewish leaders that Egypt's help will be useless and compares the leaders to rebellious children who only want to hear pleasant illusions and not the truth.
God then tells them where they will find real saving power. It won't be through their alliance with Egypt. Instead He says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust in your strength."
At this point, hearing about Egypt and Assyria, your eyes may be glazing over. But what if we put this in a present day perspective. What if Assyria represented the world today and Egypt represented the things we rely on to survive and thrive in this world? Then relying on Egypt would be like finding strength in things like financial security, career significance, or pleasure and trusting those things to save us.
With that in mind, let's look at God's word as an equation:
Repentance + rest = salvation
God tells them that salvation comes from two things: repentance and rest. Repentance means to return, to turn from sin and to turn back to God. This makes sense. But the second thing: rest??
This goes against everything we've thought about Christianity. Usually we would fill in the equation this way:
Repentance + (reading the Bible, going to church, praying, witnessing, going on a missions trip, doing good works) = salvation.
But God says that repentance + rest = salvation. Rest means to refrain from activity. Rest is NOT doing.
This sounds so good but honestly it is so hard! Tim Keller writes in "Every Good Endeavor": "All of us are haunted by the need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity. But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts, if we can be free from the need to earn our salvation through our work, we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective and renews our passion...A Christian is able to rest only because God's redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ."
True salvation means turning back to God and resting in the finished work of Christ, not relying on financial security, career significance or the pleasures of this world to save us and give us strength. This is good news!
The second equation is just as challenging. God continues:
Quietness + trust = strength
The Hebrew word for strength implies victory. The Lord tells them that strength and victory will come from two unlikely sources: quietness and trust. Usually we equate victory with hard work, tremendous effort and unwavering commitment. Not that those are not a part of strength and victory. But in this case, strength and victory will come through a quiet trust in His work and His unwavering commitment to His people.
Rest is an act of trust. To be able to stop, you have to have confidence that things will still work out even if you stop. It is saying that everything is not all about you or under your control. God asks us to trust Him and His ways.
How did the Jewish leaders respond to God? Isaiah 30:15 "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it."
They rejected God's word. And the image that Isaiah gives them is that the things they are relying on are similar to a high wall that shatters like shards of pottery under the weight of expectation.
In a similar way, when we refuse to follow God's way and reject rest, quietness and trust we experience an incredible amount of pressure, stress and anxiety that will eventually cause us to collapse.
How about you? How will you respond to God's gracious invitation to repentance, rest, quietness and trust? Will you find God's salvation and strength?
Do you trust God enough to rest?