Have you ever noticed that when God anchors our faith, sometimes He uses two seemingly opposing truths? Consider these:
“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)
For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Working out the logic can make our heads spin. Such as with this paradox:
Rest. But never relax.
You won’t find this principle quoted in the Bible, but you’ll find its truth threaded throughout Scripture’s pages.
Does the thought of resting lift you up and comfort you with visions of peace? What about the warning to never relax? Do you now feel like I dropped you in a lion’s den of anxiety? Fear not. Let me explain.
As Christians, we’re in Christ—the most secure and safe place anyone can be. No one and nothing can truly threaten us (Rom. 8:31). Someone can kill our body—which is a disturbing thought—but if we go down, we go up. If our body dies and is placed down into the ground, our soul, which can never die, has already stepped up into the presence of the Lord.
Billie Jo, one of my best friends, and I talked about this comforting truth as she battled cancer. Resting in Christ removed her fear of death, even if it didn’t remove all her fears of the actual dying process. Pain is pain. But even in the face of the scary unknown, Billie Jo was braver than she’d ever been because she knew the Lord. She knew He was with her in her storm.
We often reminded each other of the story of Jesus asleep in a boat with His disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When a violent storm struck their boat, the disciples panicked. They woke Jesus and accused Him of not caring about their peril on the sea. Without a word to the men, Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39 ESV).
Then Jesus turned to His disciples. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (v. 40).
Why Are We So Afraid?
When life’s storms strike and the facts seem to indicate we’re going down, fear zaps our minds and leaves us reeling. If we have no reason to disbelieve the evidence, panic seems our only option.
If the seasoned fishermen believed panic was necessary, how did Jesus remain at rest? How did the storm’s fierce tossing of their boat not disturb Him? The answer lies in His questions. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
When Jesus asked His disciples these crushing—and unexpected—questions, I wonder if they even heard His words. Were they too stunned by what He’d just done to comprehend that He’d spoken, much less what He’d said? Or maybe His words “Peace! Be still!” and the deafening silence that followed, rang in their ears.
Either way, instead of answering Jesus, the disciples had a question of their own. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (v. 41).
To the disciples, rest had seemed impossible and absurd. Until, that is, Jesus spoke and creation obeyed. Suddenly, a clearer—and more stunning—picture of the Man at rest in the boat emerged and left them in terrified awe.
The Man in the Boat
Jesus could rest during the storm because He knows who He is. He knew He was fully Man in need of sleep after a long day. But He also knew He is the Son of God, Creator of the wind and the waves, and One with the Father and Holy Spirit in nature and essence.
In other words, He is God. And He knew it.
The disciples knew it too, but not really. They had only an inkling because of all He’d said and done up to the moment He fell asleep in the boat. Because their faith wasn’t anchored in a clear understanding of who Jesus is, the storm’s winds tossed the disciples’ faith around as much as it tossed the waves.
The men fixated on the storm instead of Jesus because they still didn’t understand His power. Neither do we. Not really. It’s why we’re still too often “so afraid.”
Let’s not fixate on our storm, but fix our eyes on the Man—the Man who speaks and all creation obeys. The Man who heals the sick and raises the dead. The Man who conquered sin and death and rose to life so we can live forever.
Let’s look to the One who is more than a Man. He is God. And He loves us with an everlasting love and power from on high.
Rest in Jesus
When we understand (and remember) that Jesus is everything He says He is, we’ll rest in Him. And the truth of who He is will calm our souls. We’ll realize (and believe) we have nothing to fear—if we belong to Him.
For those who don’t belong to Christ, He’ll be their Judge one day, which is something to fear greatly. But all who are in Christ can rejoice always because we are secure in Him forever (John 10:29). He is our eternal Anchor.
In Christ, we have everything we need to weather any storm (Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3).
Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
“And remember, I [Jesus] am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
“Now it is God who strengthens us together with you in Christ, and who has anointed us. He has also put his seal on us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.” (2 Corinthians 1:21–22)
Rest in Christ. Always.
But never relax. Ever.
I probably should have warned you that I was about to drop us into the lion’s den. But do not fear. Because of the exceedingly great promises we have in Christ, we can rest in Him. Always. But because of sin in this world and in us, we can never relax. Ever. (At least not until the day we’re raised with Him in glory.)
Rest, But Never Relax
Billie Jo rested in Jesus, but she knew herself too well to think she could ever let her guard down. She knew if she slumbered in her faith, Satan’s tools of fear and doubt in God’s faithfulness and goodness would rip her out of her rest.
Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. (1 Peter 5:8).
The enemy skulks around with his claws and teeth bared. He’s not a cartoon character. He’s real. And he’s evil. I don’t just mean he does evil. I mean he is evil.
Be on guard. But don’t panic. Heaven rules.
We can sleep in peace. But spiritually speaking, we must stay awake because sin remains. And it’s relentless.
Satan loves to wrap his lies in a veil of truth to make them look and sound good. But when we succumb to the lies, we find only death and destruction. The “sword of the Spirit” (God’s Word) shreds the lies which threaten our peace and tempt us to sin (Eph. 6:17).
Let’s read and study our Bibles daily (Josh. 1:8, Psalm 119:9–10, Prov. 30:5, 2 Tim. 3:16–17).
And hide His Word in our hearts—and obey it no matter the cost.
Let’s pray without ceasing (Phil. 4:6, 1 Thess. 5:17).
And trust in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to obey all God’s commands and intentionally walk in His strength. His is the power that raised Jesus from the dead. We can do this because He is our strength (Rom. 6:10–11).
We can know the truth, root out the lies, and rest in Jesus. He leads us beside (and anchors us in) peaceful waters. He restores our soul (Psalm 23:3 ESV).
Fear, But Fear Not
Former slave trader and notorious sinner-turned-pastor and hymn writer, John Newton, taught this glorious—and paradoxical—truth in his hymn “Amazing Grace.”
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.1
Grace taught that scallywag to fear the Lord always. To stay on guard and never relax. Newton knew too well what a sinner he could be.
Grace also taught him the joy and call of Christ for His children to rest in Him. Always. Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection from the dead purchased Newton’s freedom from sin and its punishment. And it relieved him of all his fears.
Christ did the same for Billie Jo, for me, and for you—if you’ve truly trusted in Him.
No matter how we word it, in Christ, the comforting truth and fervent call remain the same: Rest. But never relax.
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1 John Newton “Amazing Grace! (How Sweet the Sound),” Hymnary.org, accessed December 21, 2022, https://hymnary.org/text/amazing_grace_how_sweet_the_sound.
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