An (Unexpected) Invitation to Rest

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

From Isaiah 30
This reading for today is from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived in Jerusalem somewhere between 750-650 BC. This was a time in ancient history when Israel was divided into a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom, and the great Assyrian Empire had recently conquered the Northern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom and its capital, Jerusalem, were in the Assyrian’s crosshairs but had not been conquered by them. However, the prophet Isaiah constantly warned Jerusalem’s leaders that if they did not clean up their act and turn back to God then God was going to allow the dominant empires of Assyria and Babylon to invade their homeland and carry out God’s judgement against them.

Our reading for today is one of these warnings from Isaiah. Under the threat of invasion, Jerusalem’s leaders began to make decisions that showed their lack of faith in God. Instead of turning to God as their primary source of hope against the threat of invasion by the Assyrian Empire, Jerusalem’s leaders did the unthinkable — they turned to Egypt, the nation that had previously enslaved them, and looked to them as their primary source for help.

This is an important reading for us today because it’s a helpful example of what God’s people should NOT do during a time of national crisis. And a time of national crisis is definitely where we find ourselves today.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus and the total shutdown that it taking place all over the world is a very real threat that we all are feeling in some form or another right now. Schools and sports are completely shut down with no clear answer as to when they will return. It’s a weird time in our nation’s history, and all of this disruption to our normal everyday lives and the uncertainty about what the future holds is going to slowly test our faith and truly reveal how much we actually trust God.

And so, as God’s people living in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, we need some wisdom and instruction regarding how we should respond and what we should do?

What can we learn from what God says through the prophet Isaiah in the reading above?

In the midst of a foreign enemy entering their nation and threatening their way of life, God’s people were desperate to find relief and security. Many of us can relate to that right now. Over the last few months, a new enemy has threatened our nation and disrupted our normal way of life.

How are you responding to this disruption?

Are you anxious or worried about what’s going on?

Are you angry or bitter about how all this playing out?

What’s your mindset?

How are you feeling?

Do you feel a restful trust in our God and his unrivaled control over the universe?

Or do you feel unsettled and restless about all the uncertainty?

God declared through the prophet Isaiah that his people would be saved if they returned to him and rested on him. But, according to the prophet Isaiah, the ancient Israelites were unwilling to embrace a restful trust in God, and they looked elsewhere to find the relief and security that they were looking for. When things got difficult and desperate, they turned back to an old source of relief and security instead of accepting God’s invitation to turn to him and to rest on him.

Where do you feel yourself tempted to turn right now for some relief and security?

Are there any old habits or sources of comfort that you are tempted to turn to right now?

Have the last few weeks revealed anything to you about where you’ve placed your trust?

How much has the stock market dictated your level of peace and comfort?

Do you feel an impulse or an urge to take action and protect yourself right now?

If our God spoke to you today, what might he say to you?

These words spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah almost 3,000 years ago are the same words that we need to hear today. God says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  

“In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  

Quietness in this passage is the opposite of panic and restlessness. This does not mean that we are supposed to be indifferent to the struggle or ignore our personal responsibilities. It simply means that we must be insistent to keep God in the equation and to trust him more than anything else that we might be tempted to look to for strength during this time.

Many people are looking to our government to save us from the spread of this virus and the economic disaster it could bring. Many of us are putting our hope in our healthcare system or the creation of a new vaccine to save us. And some of us are just looking to distractions — social media, television, Netflix, video games, pornography, alcohol or whatever — to give us a sense of relief while we just close our eyes and wait for all of this to hopefully just go away.

But God invites us into something so simple that we struggle to believe it will actually work. God simply invites us to find the relief and security that we need in returning to him and in resting on him; to find the strength to endure in quietness and in trust.

Are we willing to turn to God and embrace this restful trust in him during this time?

As the psalmist writes in Psalm 146, “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.”

So what does this look like practically?

How do we live out this restful trust in God over the next few weeks and months?
  

3 Ways to Accept God’s Invitation to Rest


1. Embrace this forced slowdown as an opportunity to mature as a disciple of Jesus.  

This is an excellent time to develop new rhythms and habits in your life. Use these next few months of isolation and inactivity to learn the ancient practices and develop the spiritual disciplines of a disciple of Jesus.  

Silence and Solitude

Weekly Sabbath

Personal or Family Bible Study

Learning Catechisms

Fixed-Hour Prayer

Slowness

A Simplified Lifestyle  

On average it takes about ten weeks for a new behavior to become an automatic discipline in your life. You can do this during this time of shutdown and social distancing. One way that you can accept God’s invitation to a restful trust in him is by embracing this forced slowdown as an opportunity to mature as a disciple of Jesus.    

2. Enjoy this extra time with your family and enjoy the little things in life.  

Science has proven that a life of gratitude and thankfulness improves your physical, mental and emotional health in pretty dramatic ways. The Bible informs us over and over again that God desires a heart of gratitude and thankfulness more than religious sacrifice or devotion. You can show gratitude to your Creator by simply enjoying your life.

Don’t dwell on what you don’t have right now; pay attention to the little but significant things that you do have, to the important things that God has graciously given you and truly enjoy them with a heart of thankfulness. One way that you can accept God’s invitation to a restful trust in him is by enjoying this extra time with your family and enjoying the little things in life.  

3. Engage conversations with a life-giving mix of humility and hope. 

We live in an age of talking points and tweets where everyone has an opinion that they feel everyone else should know about. Resist the temptation to add any more fuel to the fires of personal opinions all around you. None of us knows what the best course of action is right now so hold on to your criticisms and critiques about how things are being handled or your opinions on how you would do things differently.

Speak with a life-giving mix of humility and hope. Remember that there are real people who are experiencing real suffering because of this COVID-19 crisis. Be compassionate and calm with a godly optimism whenever you talk, text or tweet about our current circumstances.

We live in a time and a culture where it is fashionable to criticize and second-guess everything, but this actually communicates a lack of faith in God as the one who is ultimately in control of the universe. And so, one last way that you can accept God’s invitation to a restful trust in him is by engaging conversations with a life-giving mix of humility and hope.

The ancient Israelites refused God’s invitation to rest in him and in the process they turned away from the only real solution to everything that they were facing. And so, as you read through this passage again, listen to God’s invitation to trust him and his promise to take care of those who are willing to turn to him.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.  

From Isaiah 30
In this midst of these difficult circumstances and the uncertainty of our future, God invites his people to find relief and security in returning to him and resting on him; to find the strength to endure in quietness and in trust.  

This is the same kind of invitation that Jesus offered many years later when he said:  

“Come to me, all who are struggling and burdened with a heavy load on your back, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and not arrogant. You will find the rest for your souls that you need. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  

Nothing can separate us from the love of God except our own unwillingness to come to him.

In the midst of all this isolation, inactivity and uncertainty, will we hear God’s invitation to rest and are we willing to take him up on it?