The person who is truly at rest, and also continues to seek it, is full of gratitude and thankfulness for the situation they find themselves in.
This is because true rest is rooted in Jesus Christ Himself, and in an understanding that He is a sovereign King who always is at work for our best.
The restful heart gives thanks because we don’t know how it will turn out
I look in the mirror and think, “I’ve gained forty pounds….and I’m going to keep on gaining weight until…until…” and I imagine in my mind how bad it will be, one day, and am more discouraged than ever. Or we look at the situation our country or our world is in, and we lose heart because surely God will not intervene, and we as human beings will only continue to destroy ourselves, so therefore it’s not only a current disaster but an ongoing one.
In all these circumstances, the restful heart can choose gratitude. When we are exhausted, and the baby is crying, and we have to go to the doctor again, and the bank balance is lower than it has ever been, we have the option to say, “It’s bad, and it’s going to get worse.” But we also have the option to say, “It’s bad, and God is the King, and He is in charge of it”.
Think of the times when you were most at rest. On holiday. When the house was suddenly quiet. In the middle of a worship service. On a long walk by yourself or with the family. Playing a game with friends. A great part of your sensing rest at those times is that you are currently thankful, and for a moment the whole world is tinged with that sense of goodness. “If only it could always be like this,” we think – and we are often wise enough to say, “Well there’s no good thinking on the end of this good thing: I’ll just be grateful for what I have right now.”
And that’s what true rest does. It is grateful, and thankful, and at rest in the soul because of what is, not what might be: and that which is before us now is reviewed in light of deeper truths than what the eyes can see. “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind,” said King Solomon. And he had much to delight his eyes.
The restful heart chooses thankfulness because it may be the only way to find rest at this time
First, rest is always possible.
When we cry out that it’s not possible, that we can’t sleep because of this or that family issue or health reason or whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, we’re not understanding what true rest is.
Rest goes far beyond sleep. Far beyond a space of quiet in the house. Far, far beyond a holiday or a good film uninterrupted by children screaming.
Naturally there are practical options – asking for help, taking a day off, getting some quiet space, trying a new medication, changing your work shifts.
But when you’ve either exhausted these options or, because of a particular season in your life none of these are truly possible, thankfulness can bring you to a place of rest – sometimes, within moments.
Lying awake at four in the morning. Standing in the midst of a flooded basement with a baby screaming in your arms. Staring at the computer screen with three days of work to do and only four hours in which to achieve it. About to start another twelve hour shift. In a prison cell.
Thankfulness is always possible. Always. And it is one of the ways that the Lord brings us His rest.
Because it centres the heart – just for a moment, sometimes – and is a reminder that He is the one who brings rest. Anytime, anywhere, in any circumstance. One of my favourite verses is, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5.16)
The end of that verse is where the hope and rest is found. Your rest is in Jesus Himself. In the very personification of rest, the One who is organising all these things for your good in the end. It is for your good now, but not the way we understand good. “How can it be good if….?” we cry. But we give thanks – in everything.
The restful heart knows that unthankfulness breeds more unrest
How can you be content and quiet when your heart is a maelstrom of anger and frustration?
How do you sit at peace when you are picking and choosing the very things that destroy that peace?
You can’t, and you don’t. Because the destruction of rest is found in envy, and covetousness, and unthankfulness, and complaint.
I’ve been reading through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy recently. I will admit to you now that it is heavy going. I find myself easily discouraged by just how much death, and anger, and striking-down, and failing, and complaint that there is. The people of God had been set free from four hundred years of slavery, but it didn’t seem to get better as they moved to the promised land.
Paul tells the story when writing a letter many thousands of years later to the new and growing church:
“Do not complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition… Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10.10)
We often take that last verse as a support through a particular kind of temptation – to seek more money, to lust after that car or that woman or that body, to take that bribe or ignore that lie. And that support is there, and the way of escape is there for those.
That way of escape is also made available for us when the temptation is to reject rest and to be ungrateful and angry.
That’s how we are able to bear it: whatever ‘it’ may be. The temptation to grumble and moan and tell the world how hard our life is: it’s “common to man”. It’s typical. We all face it, every day.
But God is faithful, and He will make the way of escape.
He has made the way of escape, through Jesus Christ.
And that way of escape is thankfulness.
Take the way. Take the escape. Come out of the dark, echoing, dripping, miserable tunnel of complaint and step out on the path of rest.