The Exhausting Rest of the Christian Life

Carl Laferton | February 25th 2014

The Christian life is full of living between the tension of two truths.

So God’s kingdom is here, but not yet here. We are joyful in Christ even as we grieve the state of our world. In our weakness, God shows his strength. And so on.

Here’s one that has struck me recently. The Christian life is about being exhausted, and restful.

Exhausting Labour

Speaking of his desire to keep Christians going in faith until the Lord returns, Paul writes: “To this end I labour, struggling…” (Colossians 1 v 29). To “labour” means to work exhaustingly. Labouring causes things to be a struggle. Jn this state of struggling on, Paul finds “his [Christ’s] energy, which so powerfully works in me.” But it’s not that Christ provides his energy for Paul before Paul reaches the point of feeling unable to keep going; it’s that he provides it once Paul reaches that point.

Paul, of course, was an apostle. But to “labour” is something that is intrinsic to the Christian life. In fact, it is what real love prompts in us (1 Thessalonians 1 v 3).

The Christian life is not about putting your feet up—quite the reverse. It is about working so hard for others, out of love for them and in response to Christ’s love for us, that life is actually a struggle.

Rest in Christ

And yet… the Christian life is also restful. Jesus did, after all, invite people to come and find rest and a light yoke from him (Matthew 11 v 28-29). How can life be an exhausting rest?

Because of what we’re not labouring for:

  • Salvation. We don’t need to work for it (Ephesians 2 v 8-9). Our labour doesn’t earn it. There is no need to exhaust ourselves seeking to win God’s approval. We can rest in God’s love for us even as we work hard.
  • Control. We don’t need to be in charge of our day. The outcome of our ministry does not rest on our labour. Our job is to do the good work God has kindly given us to do today (Ephesians 2 v 10). We can rest in God’s control even as we work hard.
  • Provision. We don’t need to worry about what we will have tomorrow. God knows what we need, and (either through our efforts, through another’s efforts, or through direct intervention) he will provide it (Matthew 6 v 31-33). One day, he will provide us with entrance to heaven. We can rest in God’s provision even as we work hard.

So, as I consider my own life, I need to ask myself:

  • Am I exhausting myself for the wrong reasons? Am I failing to be restful when it comes to my salvation, the course and outcome of my day, or my provision for tomorrow?
  • Am I resting in the wrong ways? Am I failing to work hard, even to the point of total tiredness, in order to perform the good works God has prepared for me? Am I saying “God, enough” rather than “God, grant me your energy”?

We rest, as we labour. We labour, as we rest. And so the default feeling for the Christian should, I guess, be a tired-out joyfulness.

Carl Laferton

Carl is Editorial Director at The Good Book Company and is a member of Grace Church Worcester Park, London. He is the best-selling author of The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross and God's Big Promises Bible Storybook, and also serves as series editor of the God's Word for You series. Before joining TGBC, he worked as a journalist and then as a teacher, and pastored a congregation in Hull. Carl is married to Lizzie, and they have two children. He studied history at Oxford University.