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Resting in Grace

by Curtis Rittenour
From the April 2013 Signs  

The most peaceful experience of my childhood was visiting my grandmother. When I was a young boy, my mother would drive to Grandma’s lake home in Minnesota on the weekend and drop me or one of my brothers off.

Grandma loved having us visit and cared about even the littlest of our problems. She pulled slivers from our feet, helped us catch fireflies, and put pink lotion on our poison ivy. Many evenings she would hold us in her lap while we ate applesauce and watched the Minnesota Twins play baseball on her old black-and-white TV.

However, the memories that stick the deepest were the Sabbath walks we took down a sandy dirt road to a nearby graveyard, where many of my Scandinavian relatives are buried. While Minnesota summers can be hot and humid, the ten-minute stroll led us to an old cemetery that was like an oasis. The cool, green grass, tall trees, and flowers provided a relaxing site, like a beautiful garden. It was a quiet and safe setting.

God has provided all of us a safe place to know His love. It is called Sabbath, and it comes to us on the wings of time every week. We begin learning of this gift by walking into the first book of the Bible and into a garden.

In the beginning was grace

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Before you yawn and settle back to hear the rest of this familiar story, stop and think about who created our world. When you walk through Creation week day by day, the focal point is the work of the Creator. “God made . . . God saw . . . God said . . .” While the creation of Adam and Eve was the crowning act of God’s work, His final act was to make the Sabbath.

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:1, 2).

The basic sequence was simple: God worked, and then God stopped working. The Bible uses words like “completed” and “finished.” Then came holy time, Sabbath, which was a sign of this completed work of creation. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8–10 reiterate this idea of keeping the Sabbath holy by “stopping work.”

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.”

Why do we not work on Sabbath? Because we need to stop and remember the work that God did at Creation. The Hebrew word for Sabbath (Shabbat) literally means “rest.” God created the heavens and the earth, and then He rested from His work.

The work of another

But how could Adam and Eve “rest” on that first Sabbath in their new garden home if they hadn’t worked all week? God did all the work. They could only rest in the work of God. Have you ever “rested in the work of another”?

Let’s pretend you’re having company over for dinner. You’re a young mother with three kids under five years old. Picture yourself running around town, frantically trying to do last-minute shopping. After loading the minivan and starting for home, traffic suddenly backs up. And as if that isn’t bad enough, its 98 degrees outside, and your van starts to overheat. So you shut off the air conditioner and open all the windows. In the midst of all this, your three children start crying loudly.

All the while you are thinking to yourself, The house is a mess! My dish in the oven must be burnt to a crisp! The table isn’t set! And I have five minutes before company shows up! You feel like jumping off a bridge. But as you walk up to the front door, it swings open. There stands your husband smiling. He gives you a warm peck on the cheek and says, “Welcome home, honey! I took off from work early because I thought you might need a little help. Everything is ready. Our company called, and they won’t be here for 30 minutes. Let me take the kids. Go relax.”

As you walk into the house, the place is immaculate. The table is set. Everything is ready. Your husband takes the children while you walk over and plop into a chair and let out a sigh of relief. At this moment you are “resting in the work of another.”

This young mother certainly had been working. But when she arrived home unprepared and discovered everything had been made ready by her husband, she could rest in the work he had done.

When God finished creating the world, Adam and Eve rested in the work God had completed.

A finished work

If you look carefully at the words in Genesis 1 and 2 that describe what happened on Friday to introduce the Sabbath, you’ll see verbs like finished, completed, and rested. Now ask yourself, “Was there another Friday in history when these same words were used?”

Fast-forward to another weekend. It’s Friday afternoon, and Jesus Christ, the Creator of the world, is hanging on a cross. He’s dying for your sins and mine. He’s carrying out the great work of redemption. And as He breathes His last breath, He cries out, “It is finished.” Then He bows His head and dies. The Savior has finished the work of salvation, and as Sabbath steals over Jerusalem, the Savior is laid to rest in a garden tomb.

God marked the ceasing of Creation’s work by making holy time. So the Lord Jesus ceased from the work of salvation by also stopping and resting. God’s work of creation and redemption are like sisters holding hands.

Sabbath is God’s way of reminding us every week that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). True Sabbath keeping is resting in God’s grace. If we would receive God’s free gift of salvation, if we would truly experience Sabbath rest, we must learn to reach out and take God’s hand.

A time to remember

A few years ago I had a strange yet warm experience. It happened near my grandmother’s home. She died when I was a boy, and I moved with my family to the Pacific Northwest, only occasionally visiting relatives back in my home state.

One weekend I traveled to Minnesota to visit relatives, and along the way, I passed near the place where my grandmother used to live. I hadn’t driven by it for many years, so I turned toward the old farm. As I went slowly past, I remembered the little sandy road that continued on to the cemetery, the place where we used to take Sabbath walks when I was a child.

When I neared the graveyard, I pulled off the road, turned off the engine, and opened the car door. What flooded my senses took me totally by surprise. The warm September evening was filled with scents and smells that I had not experienced for more than 40 years. I was immediately transported back to the part of my childhood that was filled with the love of my grandmother. The odors of late summer powerfully reminded me of that long-ago time in my life when this special lady would take my little hand and walk with me to a place of peace.

God longs to reach out and take our hand every week and walk beside us into a garden of grace. The Lord wants us to remember on the Sabbath that salvation is a gift we may receive if we would only stop and rest in the work He has done for us.

Resting in the Work of Another

Here are some suggestions to make the one day in your week special and restful:

  • READING: This could be the Bible or an uplifting book that helps you contemplate the wonders of God’s love and creation.

  • WRITE: This could be a letter to a loved one far away or even a letter of gratitude to God.

  • NATURE: Go for a long, relaxing stroll out in the open. Doing it alone gives you time for meditation and contemplation. Doing it with others gives you opportunity to connect with loved ones.

  • FAMILY: Our busy lives means we often only see dear ones at dinner and a few hours before bedtime. Taking one day a week to talk and spend meaningful time together can enhance our relationships.

  • SICK AND NEEDY: There are others who are lonely and hurting. Don’t doubt the cliche “it’s better to give.” Helping them will not only brighten their day but provide us with enormous benefits too.

  • DON’T WORRY: Most importantly, the Sabbath is a time to think outside of ourselves. Stop fretting about the laundry that needs washing, the dishes that need cleaning, the paperwork that needs organizing and simply rest.