Worship as Rest

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What is true worship? Pastor Mark gives a surprising answer from Exodus on how it involves resting. 

One of the most beautiful places I have been to is a place called Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) in southwest China, named for the nine Tibetan villages along a valley. From Chengdu, you can take a 10-hour bus ride up into the foothills of the Himalayan mountains or take an hour flight up to a very precarious airport landing strip. We drove from Chengdu through the picturesque Huanglong Park, where you can see multi-level waterfalls and crystal clear lakes, with snowcapped peaks off in the distance. From there we made our way to a small village where we met some guides who rode in on horses from the mountains. We paid them to take us on horseback for a three-day camping expedition up into the mountains with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.

One of the striking things about the upward journey from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou via Huanglong was how many shrines and temples proliferated along the way. Some were strategically located on outcroppings of rock, others in mountain caves, and sometimes there's just a pagoda on a peak.

It made me reflect on how humans think about connecting with the divine and moving closer to God. Something about the elevation as well as the difficulty of getting there seem significant. If God is far above and beyond us, it makes sense we should have to go on a quest to overcome that distance. Being away from human civilisation plays a factor as well – perhaps many of us feel closer to God in nature as surveying something grand and beautiful reminds us of how small we are in the vast created cosmos.

Next year as a church we will be diving into the book of Exodus, a book that is meant to teach us what God says about approaching Him. It is a book about true worship, and one of the most surprising things it teaches is that worship involves resting. Not climbing, not questing, not removing yourself from civilisation, but resting. 

Exodus 31:16-17 read this way:

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’

This is surprising language! In Hebrew, it literally says that God rested and took a breath. What does that mean? It can’t mean that God is tired, we know that God doesn’t tire or sleep. He creates the world by speaking, it is not a difficult thing for him to do. That is one reason I think it is a mistake for us to think about Sabbath as primarily physical rest – it involves that but it is not that at its core.

What is God doing on the seventh day that we are supposed to emulate? 

There are perhaps a number of things that could be said, but one clear thing is that He intentionally stops and surveys what has been done for the purpose of appreciation and celebration. The stopping allows for a meditation on the “it was very good” of creation.

Worship as rest means that we stop and meditate on the goodness of God’s creation. But there is more for us who live on this side of the cross. In the book of Hebrews we are told that there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, a rest that we should strive to enter into. This sabbath rest is believing in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. So Jesus died on a Roman cross and had all of God’s wrath against sin poured out on him so that if any of us will repent of ours sins and trust in him – we can be pardoned, saved, delivered, adopted… and one of the best ways to think about that is as entering into rest. Taking a breath of appreciation and celebration and meditating on that finished work. We rest by thinking about the gospel and pronouncing “it is very good!”

worship-as-rest-pullquote-1We worship God by resting in what He has done to deliver us. Is that how you think about gathering on the Lord’s Day for worship? It should be. Not just a duty to be checked off, or a job for those in full time ministry, or an activity, or tuition. Instead, a solemn rest of appreciation, celebration and meditation.

As we study through Exodus there will be many points of application that involve work on our part. At its core, however, let’s remember that worship means resting. As we studied through Galatians we were reminded again and again that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. All we need to enter rest is to trust in Christ. 

As we gather Sunday by Sunday, let’s set aside the day as a 1 in 7 reminder that God is good. His creation is good. His redemption of us in Christ is very, very Good. Let’s rest in that.