“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” – Isaiah 26:3
If you’re at all like me, sometimes it may be difficult to learn how to rest and enter into peace. At times, I’m constantly thinking of what I “should” and “could” be doing with my (“free”) time, of all I should be “accomplishing” and “working” for. Even pleasures and hobbies can be made drudgery if turned into tasks and checklists. I should work on this song, I have to write this blog, I should go for a hike or get outside, I have to read this book… Times of rest should be filled with peace, not anxiety over all that I should or could be getting done.
Even times set apart for reading the word, prayer, listening, worshiping, resting in and waiting on God can become anxiety-ridden because they must or should be completed as a task or duty. I have to pray for so and so; I have to read this chapter from this book of the Bible; I have to ask God about and get an answer for this and that; I have to…I should…I must…
Sometimes, this is how I find myself coming to God — filled with anxiety, under a sense of obligation and duty, with a checklist mentality. Being with the Father should be our greatest rest, what fills us with the greatest peace. It should a place where fear and anxiety are silenced, not increased.
St. Augustine must have also struggled with finding this rest and peace that belong to the Children of God:
“Call me back from wandering under Thy guidance; let me return to myself, let me return to Thee…Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose [find rest] in Thee.”
I pray that as children of God, we can approach God from a place of hunger, thirst, desire, and longing, rather than obligation, duty, and “I should” or “have to.” Yes, sometimes we must make a commitment to seek God when we don’t feel like it, but for myself I pray that even the times of committed effort is rooted in a sincere love and desire for God that runs deeper than emotional energy or a sense of duty and obligation. John Piper argues that our desires are not too strong, but too weak. The stronger our desire, the more we can pour that desire into God, and the more we can seek God for fulfillment, peace, and rest in that desire.
Why we approach our heavenly Father could be a strong indicator of how we approach him. If we come to him because we have to or should — out of fear, obligation and duty — then we will probably come with a sense of anxiety and apprehension, or even fear: “Am I praying enough? Reading the word enough? Listening enough? Worshiping enough? Obeying enough? Am I doing enough for God?” If we approach him because we love him, trust him, desire him, want him, believing he is who he says is, then we will probably come with a sense of peace, and enter into the rest he has for us, his children.
One of the greatest, and simplest, revelations of my Christian journey thus far has been this: that I follow and obey God not out of obligation or duty, but because I love and desire him. And I can only love him and desire him because he first loved and desired me. He knew me, loved me, and chose me before I could ever return the favor. The imagined expectations we place ourselves under, and the ones we falsely think God has placed over us, slowly dissipate when we realize that his perfect love casts out all fear. Because he truly loves us, we can truly love him in return. When we truly love him, we truly desire to please him. Everything I have ever done, am doing, and ever will do should simply be a response (albeit limited and finite) to an infinite, eternal love.
I am constantly relearning (as we all must), time and time again, that because I have been loved and desired I can love and desire; and because I love my Father and desire to please him, I can follow and obey him from a place of peace, in a state of rest. And this place of peace and state of rest can overflow into every other area of my life (job/career, hobbies, dreams and desires, relationships, etc) as I remain in this truth.
The psalmist, David, must have also known well what it means to long for rest and peace in a state of anxiety and restlessness, and prays to an understanding Father:
“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path… My soul longs for You, as a parched land… Let Your good spirit lead me on level ground. For the sake of Your name, revive me. In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble… The Lord sustains all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down… The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth…” – Psalm 142 – 145