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Finding Rest

[Excerpted from Enjoying God. ]

A student came to me recently and was shaken about her relationship with the Lord. She had made a commitment to get up every morning and begin the day with prayer, Bible reading, and seeking God. These are all commendable disciplines. But one morning an emergency arose, and she didn’t have time to seek the Lord. She came to me after class and asked in all innocence, “S.J., do you think God is mad at me because I couldn’t spend time with Him this morning?”

That may sound silly to some people, but the possibility was very real to her. I responded tenderly, “It’s awesome that you’ve developed these disciplines, but you need to know how the Father looks at you. You need to know His heart. He’s not nervous or anxious about it. He knew this emergency would prevent you from spending the first moments of the day with Him even before you did. He knows you want to spend time with Him, and He loves that. Just keep pursuing Him.”

Like this young woman, many in the Body of Christ believe God’s acceptance depends on how faithfully they serve Him. But God’s love and acceptance are completely unconditional. You can’t do anything to win His approval. He loves you because, in His grace, He has chosen to do so. You are fully accepted by the Father because you are in Christ. Grace can never be repaid. It carries no price tag—not because it’s worthless, but because it’s priceless.

It’s sad that far too many believers still struggle to do all the right things so God will love and accept them. They have grown up believing that a “good” Christian is a person who attends church, reads the Bible, prays, and witnesses to others about Christ. While these things should be an integral part of a believer’s experience, they should be the result of intimacy with the Father rather than a means of gaining acceptance.

Disciplining yourself in Christian practices will never produce lasting joy in your life. Too many of you are doing things out of duty rather than delight. You’re praying and reading your Bible out of routine rather than relationship. You live with continual guilt, feeling that you aren’t doing enough for God. You get up early every morning and try to spend quality time with the Lord, but it’s never enough. You memorize portions of Scripture and witness to everything that breathes, but you always come away feeling as if you haven’t accomplished enough. You’re consumed with what you think you owe God and expend a great deal of energy trying to do more.

No wonder so many of you are exhausted and burned out. Despite all of your efforts to serve God, some of you have even come to the place where you despise the stuff you’re doing. Look at what Jesus had to say about godly service: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29).

How does your lifestyle compare with the one described in these verses? Jesus actually used the words “rest” and “easy” to describe the Christian life. While He wasn’t talking about our circumstances, He was referring to our spiritual perspective. If these words don’t describe your lifestyle, then you aren’t experiencing the kind of life the Father has for you. If serving God is a chore and is making you miserable, something is wrong!

Martin Luther once said that most Christians have enough religion to feel guilty about their sins but not enough to enjoy life in the Spirit. I know what it’s like to try to live the Christian life based on performance, but I also know what it’s like to surrender to the love of the Father and allow Him to work the Christian life in me. I’ve had it both ways. I’ve walked in both fields. I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

I’ve walked in the fields enjoying God, feeling His acceptance, and being motivated to obedience because of His love. I’ve also strolled through the coarser grasses, feeling a tinge of shame and fear because I never felt I could quite measure up to His standards.

The good news of the Gospel is that you can live in the rich land of a vibrant relationship with the Father. The sooner you allow the Spirit of God to give you a clear understanding of His grace, the sooner you can escape the performance trap and experience the Father’s affirmation and approval.

Several centuries ago a famous European pianist performed a concert before five thousand people in one of the continent’s splendid music halls. He played one of his most popular pieces, and when he had finished the audience gave him a thunderous standing ovation. Afterwards he was asked, “What did it feel like to receive such applause? Was it the greatest experience you ever had?” The pianist replied, “I liked the applause, but it wasn’t the most important thing to me. After the audience had sat down I noticed my teacher of thirty years sitting in the top corner of the balcony. He looked at me and gave me a nod of approval. That one nod from my master brought me more pleasure than the standing ovation of thousands.”

The pianist had learned to live before an audience of one. Jesus also lived before an audience of One—His Father. One nod from His Father was more powerful than all the miracles He had performed. The Father’s nod was the only source of approval that Jesus needed.

When we realize that the loving nod of the Father is upon our lives, then we will be free to find our acceptance and identity in Him alone. We too will find ourselves living before an audience of One.

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Father, I long to know the height and depth of Your love. Reveal Yourself to me in a fresh new way. I ask that You remove the wrong concepts that I have of You as Father and replace them with the reality of Your presence in my life. Free my heart to recognize You as Father.

Wrap Your arms around me until I know nothing but You. I want You to become my everything. I need You. I am tired of performing and responding in fear. I want to pursue You passionately until You become the One I live and die for. In Jesus’ name.

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