A Rest Remains

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Heb. 4:9-11)

Imagine if you could have fun all day, from morning until evening. Not just contentment, but actual fun. Imagine if that fun didn't make any physical demands on you, aside from the attention it required. You don't even have to leave your bedroom. I'm not talking about television, but we may have found ourselves whiling away hour after hour when we unexpectedly fall in love with a show that has five seasons available on DVD.

This is what video game addiction looks like. It's a growing problem worldwide. The industry has tried to deny the connection between gaming and addiction, but even World of Warcraft has messages on transition screens that remind you to attend to your real life. The problem is, for a growing number of people, they have no real life outside of the game. The more you invest in a virtual world, the less you have in the real one. If you don't play games and don't understand the appeal, maybe you can think of something you do enjoy and remove the elements which inherently limit you from doing it 24-7. My point isn't directed at video games in particular, but the fact that we have more ways than ever to amuse ourselves to the detriment of our real lives.

Jesus' call to follow him is not a call to have fun; it is a call to significance. It can be draining and inconvenient, which means it stands in tension with a culture of entertainment and consumer options. The way businesses (and churches) compete with the diversity of options out there is to make things as easy and fun as possible. This leads to a disconnect in the organized church—how to reach people through cultural channels that are inherently entertainment-oriented, but then get people to follow Christ on his terms. There is a way to navigate culture, but the majority of commentators seem oblivious to the problem, and in the meantime, the percentage of Christians among our target demographic is shrinking.

Obedience to the Lord is a call to action, and those actions, properly understood, are rarely easy. Self-denial is not inherently fun. Nor is giving up our time and resources in his service. Loving others, the way Christ loved us, involves a sacrifice. It cost him his life; we cannot demand an easier or more entertaining path for ourselves.

Using consumer culture to develop disciples is not working well. Rather than introducing change, the church becomes increasingly conformed to secular society. Christian values which are difficult to live out in our culture, like those relating to sexuality or the sanctity of marriage, have become abandoned or downplayed to accommodate cultural views on marriage, divorce, and adultery.

Nearly everything that Christ calls us to is difficult. The concept of temptation is built around the idea of some easier alternative to obeying God. If at our core we are people who are conditioned to seek gratification, it's no wonder that as we live our day-to-day lives we don't feel close to him. We find ourselves on the broad road and not the narrow one (Matt. 7:13-14). I have spent portions of my life trying to relieve stress and make my journey as easy as possible. I wasn't encountering Christ on that pathway very often.

The author of Hebrews writes chapters 3 and 4 on the topic of a rest for the people of God. There was not only a rest for the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, but there is also a rest for us, at the end of our labors. It is a Sabbath rest, which means it is at the end of things, just as the Sabbath is the last day of the week. That rest, ironically, is available for those who do not rest in this life, but who persevere through the wilderness. If we wish to enter into his rest, we need to share the faith of those who obeyed (Heb. 4:2).

Those who perished in the wilderness allowed their hearts to go astray; they were drawn into the sinfulness of the world that surrounded them (Heb. 3:10). It was the easier path, for those who were tired of the journey. Thousands of years later, we face the same tension and the same choice—will we be drawn into the myriad of options out there, or remain committed to the one? Will we adopt the values which surround us, or will we refuse to compromise, no matter how difficult it makes our lives?

God calls men and women today as he did then. It is a call to obey, to walk the path that Jesus took. It might be fun at times, or it might mean hardship and pain. Either way, it is about his will, not ours. We need to choose him, no matter how difficult the journey. Along the way there is no guarantee of entertainment, but there is a promise of joy and his power. At the end of that path is the day we will be with him. It is a Sabbath day, and we will rest when we get there. Until we reach it, we have work to do.

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