Individual piety is both a learned and nurtured activity, out of which a person can run hard and rest well in the gospel. The intention for every Christian is to run hard and to rest well (John 15; 1 Peter 5:5-6).
However, these two devotional practices are often misapplied. Neither of these disciplines can be exercised without a true, gospel-saturated knowledge of Christ living in us and of the Holy Spirit abiding with us. In running hard and resting well, the gospel keeps us fruitful in our spiritual growth.
Running Hard: The Christian’s Call to Perseverance
Anthony Burgess (circa 1600), a Puritan, wrote widely on the subject of perseverance. He encouraged the Christian to enjoy a high level of assurance and not to persist in low-level obedience. He wrote, “Nothing will darken thy soul more than dull, lazy, and negligent walking” (Burgess, 1654, p. 673).
There is a great reward for the Christian’s call to persevere. Perseverance holds promise for this life and also the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). Running hard in the Christian life calls us to consider three things:
1. Running demands that we finish the race that is started.
One could be prone to think that physical exercise is piety, but that is not the meaning here (though physical activity or exercise is valuable and recommended). Physical exercise has great value, and a person should seek ways to be active as they are able (1 Timothy 4:8). But some Christians spend more time in the gym than they do in the Word.
Nothing is better than training in godliness.
There is value in finding a helpful balance between both activities. The Christian life is a life-time run. To hard run is a call to endure and to finish the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-26). The same amount of exertion and commitment to physical exercise should also be transferred to spiritual exercise.
2. Running is a biblical concept.
The Christian is to complete the sanctified life, seeking to glorify God and enjoying his blessings. Running hard illustrates the Christian in a race. We persevere by laying aside the obstacles that keep us from a “faithful run” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The Christian perseveres in and during affliction (Romans 12:12) while not giving up the reward (Galatians 6:9). So running is a biblical concept.
3. Running is enabled by God.
God strengthens, gives grace to, and blesses his children by their diligent discipline (Ephesians 3:8). We are wholly dependent upon his divine grace as we run (Ephesians 1:19-20). Elijah was a man who found strength in God’s enablement during times of great adversity. God granted Elijah strength from a state of depression. He ran a 15-mile spiritual run to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46). Elijah did not grow tired. He made the run ahead of the chariots.
So, Christian, do not lose heart, for you will reap the reward. Run hard, knowing that with God’s hand is with you!
Resting Well: The Christian’s Call to the Sabbath
Just as running hard might conjure up different images for different people, so resting might evoke yet other images: someone sleeping next to a lake, relaxing by the seashore, or lounging in their pajamas. As such, rest has several personal benefits for us:
1. Rest gives a person the space to refocus their heart on God.
The individual suspends normal activity for worship of the Lord, leaning on and trusting his grace for burdens to be lifted (Matthew 11:28).
2. Rest is both an individual and a corporate response to God’s ordered pattern of the spiritual life.
Sabbath is a point in time, a designation often surrounding the Lord’s Day, to lay aside normal patterns of work and to enter a time of suspended hurry. The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following for Sabbath-keeping:
Kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but are also taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Chapter 21, Section 8)
At this point, I do not want to sound legalistic or Puritanical in my suggestions. Rather, I am encouraging us to think reflectively about what the confession states and to consider the numerous pauses that God’s people were instructed to observe.
Sabbath-keeping or rest should be a more frequent spiritual discipline for the Christian. The Christian should seek to suspend normal functions that preoccupy their attention upon drawing near to the Lord. The suspension of normal activity could include meditation on the Scriptures (Jeremiah 4:14; Matthew 12:35), a time for prayer (Psalm 130), and a time for repentance and reformation (Psalm 119:59; Ezekiel 36:31).
For others, personal piety is enjoying the Lord’s Day as filled with activities and busyness. They do not see a violation of Sabbath rules by enjoying entertainment, or taking a time of recreation, or the need to work a job. And still there are others who believe leisure is under God’s benevolent kindness. If this is you, receive the means of grace, knowing the Giver of all good gifts is the Lord.
What does the Scripture say about Sabbath-keeping?
There are a variety of interpretations to Sabbath-keeping:
There is the Sabbath-creation mandate. God rested on the seventh day from his work (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:3ff). The instruction for a man to “rest” like God is a pre-fall mandate. “Rest” is a God-glorified event of suspending work to trust his provision for the day and to renew strength in our bodies.
The Sabbath is a picture of Israel’s rest. The Sabbath legislated the Israel’s work week. They were to suspend from their labor and worship the Lord. Their Sabbath-keeping marked their redemption out of Egypt and portrayed a future Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Christ is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus performed healings and miracles as an application of his compassion to those in need. He proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor (Jubilee) and announced his rightful direction of the Sabbath regulations (Luke 4:18-21).
The Sabbath is an eternal day taught in Scripture. At the eternal day, the Christian will rejoice in the presence of the Lord, no longer burdened by sin. Christ the Victor will reign and make all things new. Men will experience restoration from the fallen world with the full experience of God’s grace and joy (Romans 8:18-23; 2 Peter 3:3-13; Hebrews 4).
I do not mean to state a formal position on Sabbath-keeping. Rather, the encouragement is for the Christian to seek rest from a hurried life of busyness. The Christian finds ultimate rest in the gospel, and this final rest does not make void the personal practice of a good night’s sleep, a sabbatical, or a vacation. Each Christian should seek the disciplined habit of rest as they come to understand the Scriptures more fully.
Run Hard, Rest Well in the Gospel
The forms and practices of running and resting in the gospel are numerous, and simple suspension of those enjoyed activities could be the very thing needed to redirect a person’s devotion to God.
But we must remember that acts alone are not salvific. A person’s discipline does not earn them salvation before God (Romans 5:1). Rather, the Christian has died to the law and has been raised from the dead. The glorious truth of the gospel is that the Christian can bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4).
So run hard and rest well in the gospel.