You Might also like
By Scott Hubbard — 2 months ago
In the beginning, God created rhythms. He spoke on day four,
Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years. (Genesis 1:14)
When Adam entered Eden two days later, he stepped into a dance of day and night, month and year, winter and spring and summer and fall. And then, between the rhythms of the day and the month, God added one more, a pattern taught not by the heavens but by his own example: the seven-day rhythm of the week (Genesis 2:1–3).
God could have made a rhythm-less world if he wanted — a world without days and weeks and months and years. But in his wisdom, days four and seven of creation serve day six; rhythms make the world a good habitation for finite humans, in need of rest and refreshment. As creatures of dust, we are creatures of rhythm.
“Which is why it’s so concerning,” Kevin DeYoung writes, “that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less.” He represents many when he says,
We don’t have healthy routines. We can’t keep our feasting and fasting apart. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Sunday has lost its significance. Everything is blurred together. The faucet is a constant drip. (Crazy Busy, 94)
In other words, life today looks less like Eden, and more like Egypt.
Days in Egypt
By the time we reach Exodus 1, Genesis 1–2 is a lost world. We find no reference to weeks or months, seasons or years in Egypt — only to an endless sequence of workdays. Perhaps some Egyptians lived by routines of work and rest. But for Pharaoh’s slaves, Egypt was a world without rhythms.
Unlike the restful God of creation (Genesis 2:2–3), Pharaoh exhibits a single-minded madness for labor and production. When Israel grows mighty, he sets them to work (Exodus 1:11). When Moses tells him to let the people go, he makes their work harder (Exodus 5:4). And when Israel finally leaves Egypt, he pursues, wondering how he could have allowed them to leave their work (Exodus 14:5). To Pharaoh, a slave’s 80-year life was merely a sequence of 29,200 workdays, inconveniently disrupted by the need for sleep.
“As creatures of dust, we are creatures of rhythm.”
Though the modern West has no singular equivalent of Egypt’s restless king, the cultural air we breathe carries a pharaonic scent. Not only do average work hours in America exceed that of many other countries, but as DeYoung notes, the boundaries between work and rest have stretched and blurred. We no longer need to go to the office to make our bricks; we just need Wi-Fi. And even our “off time” regularly falls prey to what Andrew Lincoln calls “the hectic round of activities [showing] that leisure itself is caught on the treadmill of working and consuming” (From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, 404).
Such is the rhythm-less life, a life with no square on the calendar labeled “Rest.” And many need a fresh exodus.
‘You Shall Not Work’
As soon as God rescues Israel, rhythms return. The first mentions of month and year appear as God commands Israel to celebrate the exodus annually (Exodus 12:2–3). Soon after, we find the first reference to the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23), Israel’s weekly commemoration of creation and redemption (Exodus 20:11; Deuteronomy 5:15). The drumbeat of endless days gives way to the rhythm of the seasons.
Pharaoh knew only how to say, “You shall work,” but God knows how to say, “You shall not work.” Over a dozen times, he tells his redeemed people, “You shall not do any work” (or “any ordinary work”) — a command that applied not only to the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), but also to Israel’s festivals (Leviticus 23:7–8, 21, 25, 31, 35–36). In this blessed shall not, God snatched something of Egypt out of the lives of his people, and put something of Eden in its place.
Today, of course, we no longer live under the old covenant and its cultic rhythms. Christians are not bound to observe Israel’s festivals — nor even to keep a literal Sabbath, which, along with the festivals, has found its fulfillment in Christ (Colossians 2:16–17). But the imperative to rest still reaches us today, indirectly if not directly.
The heavens above still sing their rhythmic song. We still walk as creatures of the dust. God’s 6-and-1 pattern still invites our imitation. And Jesus’s own routines of work and rest still model the fully human life (Mark 1:35; 6:30–32). “You shall not work,” though not a covenantal command, is still the wisdom of the saints.
So, how might we begin unlearning the rhythm-less ways of Pharaoh? How might we gather up our days into some sustainable pattern of work and rest? Though we would be wise to consider, at some point, seasonal or annual rhythms of rest (in the form of weekend retreats or weeklong vacations, for example), weekly rest is likely our best starting point.
“If nightly sleep places a period at the end of each day’s sentence, weekly rest adds a paragraph break.”
If nightly sleep places a period at the end of each day’s sentence, weekly rest adds a paragraph break: once a week, we slow down, catch our breath, and live in the white space of life’s page. We pause after the pattern of the world’s first week and remember that we were made for rhythms; we were made for work and rest.
Consider, then, a few modest first steps.
Rhythms of rest require boundaries. The best resters build a gate in time, the entrance of which reads, “No work allowed.” The boundary need not protect a strict 24-hour period (since, again, we are not under the fourth commandment). But unless we put a boundary around some period of time — Friday morning, Thursday afternoon and evening, sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday — rest will likely prove elusive.
Setting a boundary, of course, is far easier than keeping a boundary. As soon as we build a gate, something will start banging on it. Keeping the door closed calls for bold faith that God will provide for us once we set down the pen, close the computer, finish for the day. God told Israel to rest not only when work allowed for it, but even “in plowing time and in harvest” (Exodus 34:21). In other words, “Even in your busiest seasons, when your livelihood seems to depend on restless work, trust me and rest.”
To be sure, we would be wrong to set our boundaries so firmly that we close our ears to urgent needs. That kind of coldhearted boundary-keeping made Jesus angry (Mark 3:1–5). But exceptions to our boundaries should be just that: exceptions. If they become the rule, we may need to reevaluate our sense of what needs truly are urgent.
As many quickly discover, however, a day off does not equal a day of rest. Just as some people return from a trip saying, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation,” so we sometimes end a day off feeling like we need another. Maybe we packed the day with good but exhausting activities (sports practices, home projects, taxing social events), or maybe we entertained ourselves into oblivion. Either way, our “rest” has left us more restless than rested.
Again, God’s own pattern gives us our goal: “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). Following God into this kind of rest requires not only setting boundaries, but also filling those boundaries with genuinely refreshing activities — activities that send us back into our work replenished in mind, soul, and body, ready to spend and be spent for the good of others.
The kinds of refreshing activities available to us will vary according to life stage, of course. Rest for a husband and father will look different from rest for a single man — less reading and napping, perhaps, and more time with the kids outside. Even still, all of us would do well to consider (and discuss with family or roommates) what some refreshing rest might look like, taking all factors into account.
Perhaps some time alone refreshes us — or perhaps people time does. Maybe we benefit from reading poetry or taking a walk. Some will want to be more physically active; others less. Probably everyone could benefit from curbing digital technologies and finding what Albert Borgmann calls a “focal practice”: an activity that “has a commanding presence, engages your body and mind, and engages you with others” — playing music, fishing, handwriting a letter, cooking a meal.
And of course, one activity rests at the heart of the Christian’s refreshment: worship.
Worship your Redeemer.
Before God gave Israel the fourth commandment, he gave them the first: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2–3). The Sabbath rested on (1) the reminder of redemption and (2) the call to revere God above all. Which implies that, if Israel were really to rest — if they were really to find refreshment in the Sabbath, and not just a day off — they needed to worship their Redeemer.
“Ultimately, rest flows not from a weekly pause, but from a Person.”
Millennia later, Jesus would issue an invitation that follows a similar pattern: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Ultimately, rest flows not from a weekly pause, but from a Person. Unlike Pharaoh, he has no need for store cities and slave labor, for he owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). He looks not first for workers but for worshipers, and he calls us not to Egypt but to the Eden of Himself.
For good reason, then, many Christians seek to join their weekly day of rest with their weekly day of corporate worship. If we can do the same, wonderful. If not, we can at least find some special way to say with both our hearts and our lips, “Jesus, not Pharaoh, is Lord” — and then live it out by laying down our bricks.
By Scott Hubbard — 1 month ago
“Judge not.” Few words of Jesus are more familiar, even to non-Christians. And when understood, few are more devastating.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1–2)
In the face of others’ aggravations and sins — their thoughtless comments and annoying tones, their insensitive laughter and failures to follow through — how natural it feels to convict them in the court of our imagination. How gratifying to hear our inner prosecutor give their words or actions the worst spin, and then to close the case before the defense can even speak.
And how easy to forget that one day, the judgments we laid on others will be laid on us; the measures we used to assess others will be used to assess us. One day, we will enter the court of our imagination — and this time not as judge, but as defendant.
How many emails would be abandoned and text messages unsent, how many thoughts would be discarded and words unsaid, how many conversations would be redirected and posts unread, if only we heard our Savior say, with eternal sobriety in his voice, “Judge not”?
Of course, “judge not” does not mean what some would like it to mean. Matthew 7:1 is the life verse of many who simply would like to live in sin undisturbed. Rarely do they read the rest of the chapter, where Jesus warns against “dogs,” “pigs,” and “false prophets” — and expects us to judge who they are (Matthew 7:6, 15–20). Rarer still do they read Matthew 7 alongside John 7, where Jesus commands, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
Critical thinking, discernment, and “right judgment” belong to every mature disciple of Christ. But there is another kind of judgment to which Jesus says, “Judge not” — a kind produced in the factory of our unredeemed flesh, marked by a tendency to (1) indulge hypocrisy and (2) withhold mercy.
“Let me take the speck out of your eye” (Matthew 7:4). Our words of judgment, whether spoken or merely thought, may seem unobjectionable, perhaps even kind. We really do notice a speck in another’s eye — some small pattern of sin or folly that our brother has failed to see. And don’t we all appreciate the friend who points out the spinach in our teeth or the shirt tag climbing our neck?
But wait: “There is the log in your own eye” (Matthew 7:4). The spinach-noticer has ketchup smeared across his cheeks; the tag-discerner forgot to put his pants on; the speck-remover has a birch tree jutting from his left eye. In other words, “You hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5).
The faults and annoyances of others — that is, their specks — have a way of taking our eye from the mirror and putting it over a magnifying glass. In the moment of offense, how easily many of us assume, without prayer and with scarcely three seconds’ worth of thought, that we are only the observers of specks and logs, and not also the bearers of them. We hear her retort without remembering our own exasperating comment; we bristle at his third reminder while forgetting our own failure to communicate well. We quickly play the role of prosecutor, but refuse to cross-examine ourselves.
Those who “judge with right judgment” do not pass by others’ specks without comment, but they spend some time searching their own eyes before poking another’s. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Hypocrisy, of course, is never the friend of mercy. When we spend more time noticing others’ sins than our own, we struggle to wear the “spirit of gentleness” that Paul speaks of (Galatians 6:1). Numb to our own desperate need for mercy, our judgments burn without soothing, cut without healing.
“We have a way of swelling others’ specks into logs, and of shrinking our own logs into specks.”
“With the measure you use it will be measured to you,” Jesus warns (Matthew 7:2). But in the grip of wrong judgment, we often use one measure for others, and another for ourselves. A spouse’s sharp words are plain cruelty, full stop. But our own sharp words are warranted by the circumstances — or at least excused by tiredness, stress, hunger, or provocation. We have a way of swelling others’ specks into logs, and of shrinking our own logs into specks.
John Stott writes, “The command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous” (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 177) — or as the apostle James puts it, to show mercy (James 2:13). But generous, merciful judgment takes energy and time. It requires an eye for complexity, a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt, a self-distrusting posture and a prayerful heart. Far easier to madly swing the gavel.
Two Great Judgments
How, then, do we shut the mouth of our hypocritical judgments? How do we lay down our merciless measures and “judge not,” especially when faced with real offenses? We begin where Jesus begins in this passage and remember that we are not first the judge, but the judged. And to that end, we live today in light of two great judgment days, one past and one future.
Every Christian knows something of the experience Paul describes in Romans 3:19:
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
At one point or another, we stood, mouth stopped, before the judgment seat of God. Every excuse was stripped away; every defense failed. We faced the holy, holy, holy God, and could plead only guilty.
“Mercy met us at the judgment seat of God, bidding us to go and speak a better word than judgment.”
Jesus assumes as much earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. How else would we be “poor in spirit” and “meek”? How else would we “mourn” and “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3–6)? We remember what it feels like to be weighed and found wanting. We can’t help but remember. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “To be silenced before the throne of God is an unforgettable experience! It shows every time we speak with and to others” (The Christian Life, 41).
But of course, we were not only silenced before the throne of God; we were also forgiven there. God’s burning coal of grace touched our lips, saying, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Mercy met us at the judgment seat of God, bidding us to go and speak a better word than judgment.
When we remember judgment past, unrighteous judgments no longer rest upon our lips so easily. The pardoned criminal cannot condemn his fellows as he did before. Mercy has touched him — and mercy cannot help but beget mercy.
Jesus then lifts our gaze to the judgment yet to come:
Judge not, that you be not judged. With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1–2)
The day is coming soon when “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10) — great and small, rich and poor, well-known and unknown. And what will happen when we stand there? The rubric we raised against others will be raised against us.
Those who have judged without mercy, consistently and unrepentantly, will face “judgment . . . without mercy” (James 2:13). Their merciless judgments will become evidence that they never received, never treasured, the mercy of God in Christ, and so they will reap the same judgments they sowed.
Yet those who have learned, by grace and through much repentance, to take up a measure of mercy will be, amazingly, “not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Not judged on judgment day! Only the grace of a cross-bearing Christ could craft such a wondrous thought.
Those who revel in that future day now cannot help but think and speak differently now. They do not throw away discernment or critical thinking; they strive, with God’s help, to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). But even when they must confront, rebuke, or remove a speck from another’s eye, they do so as those who once were headed toward judgment, but now are wrapped with eternal, unchangeable mercy.
By Abigail Dodds — 3 weeks ago
And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast — not quite as fast — as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all-out.
The old cliché “God will never give you more than you can handle” has taunted me over the years. I can remember several times in life when it has seemed evident that God was giving more than I could handle.
Would anyone claim the ability to handle the sudden, near-death experience of their son due to life-threatening seizures? What about loved ones walking away from God? Disability? Chronic pain? You likely have much worse trials to add to my list. We endure these circumstances because we have no choice, even as we endeavor to walk through them trusting that God is for us in Christ.
Still, as I was lying facedown on the bathroom floor, drenched in a sweaty fainting spell while paramedics worked on my seizing son in the next room, I certainly didn’t feel like I had been given a situation that was within my ability to handle.
A Lion and Our Limits
“Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war-horse” (The Horse and His Boy, 270). Aravis, a young princess escaping the evils of her country, Calormen, urged the talking horse named Bree to run as fast as he could away from the enemies that pursued them. C.S. Lewis tells us this story in A Horse and His Boy, one of the seven Chronicles of Narnia. Bree and his friend Hwin appear, by their own reckoning, to be running all-out. “And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which,” as Lewis tells us, “is not quite the same thing.”
This desperate sprint across the countryside by two talking horses — and the unlikely boy and girl on their backs — would quickly reach a peak of terror none of them could have anticipated. For not only were they chased by a terrible army of Calormene soldiers, but a much nearer and more dangerous enemy roared at their backs: a great lion.
“And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast — not quite as fast — as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all-out” (271). This simple scene in the midst of a children’s story profoundly changed my perspective in three ways over the past decade and beyond: (1) it has changed how I understand my “limits” in the midst of difficulty, (2) it has reminded me of Who it is that bears down on me in those difficult times, and (3) it has helped me glimpse the goodness of God in how much he chooses to bear down on us.
Applying on the Bathroom Floor
I suppose there is some irony that while Bree found new speed with the Great Lion Aslan at his back, my story involves barely moving at all, having blacked out during a moment when I desperately wanted to be present for my son’s crisis. How is the horrible physiological response to stress (blacking out) in any way parallel to Bree finding a new gear with the Lion at his back?
“When you’re under the pressure of the Great Lion, never, ever let yourself forget: all his paths are steadfast love.”
Well, as unlikely as it sounds, I found my own new gear, facedown on the floor. As I lay there, I cried out to God, asking him to save my son, while I was forced to find a new gear of trust in my Lord. I wasn’t there to watch over my son every second, but God was. I couldn’t make the seizure stop, but God could. I wouldn’t go with him if he died, but God would be there. I, like Bree, found that I had not been trusting as much — not quite as much — as I could. I had not been enduring as much — not quite as much — as I could. There was new speed to discover with the Great Lion in pursuit.
Have you learned this yet? That what you consider your limits aren’t your limits? That you don’t actually know what your limits are because you aren’t the Maker and Sustainer?
Beyond My Limits
We think we’ve given our all, we think the reserves are gone, but actually, we have never had our limits truly tested. When my mind says, I can’t do that; it’s beyond my limits — I can’t endure that loss, I can’t live with that trial, I can’t face that outcome — God is perfectly capable of applying the kind of pressure that will prove me wrong.
Paul tells the Corinthians,
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
You see, the new gear that we find in the midst of hardship is not a testament to our strong constitution. It is a Spirit-empowered gear that blows faith and hope into the hearts of those who are burdened beyond their own strength. It is a testament to his strength at work in us, even when we are weak and sweaty on the bathroom floor.
Paths of Steadfast Love
God often shows us, then, that we most certainly can do what we think we can’t (by relying on him). And as counterintuitive as it sounds, he doesn’t get us there merely by encouragement or through positive thinking or by pouring on the affirmation, but, as with Bree, by bearing down and increasing the trial that drives us to him.
“When God pushes us past our limits, it is his grace to us. He’s driving us toward his goodness.”
You see, as Bree quickened his pace beyond what he thought he could, the Great Lion was increasing the distance between them and the true enemies that were coming after them. Aslan did terrify them, but for the sake of their own safety and well-being in the end. We can trust that even if we, like Paul, feel we have received the sentence of death, God is subjecting us only to what is right and good in the end, and not a drop more or less. He really does work all things together for the good of those who love him — and in so doing, conforms us to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:28–29).
When God pushes us past our limits with circumstances that have us sprinting and gasping, it is his grace to us. He’s driving us toward his goodness. He’s pressing us beyond ourselves to new vistas of himself. He’s moving us away from the things that would really harm us by putting distance between us and our old enemies — the world, our flesh, and the devil.
And when you’re under the pressure of the Great Lion, never, ever let yourself forget: all his paths are steadfast love (Psalm 25:10). You can trust him, even facedown on the bathroom floor.