Not long ago I heard a sermon that was almost entirely a recaptiulation of the story of Rudy, who always wanted to play football for Notre Dame and pursued this dream with dilligence and persistence. It was a struggle, and he kept at it, and though many people didn't think it was possible and told him so, he never lost hope, etc. etc.
I think the point of the sermon was that we should all be more like Rudy. It had the character of a pep-talk, intended as encouragement, but I couldn't find the Gospel anywhere in that message. It was all about confidence and hard work and persistence in order to reach your goal, with nothing about redemption, nothing about rest, no hint, in fact, of the Cross.
I think it's fairly easy to fall into this trap as an encourager. It's the you-can-do-it trap. As encouragers, we want to give hope, and in fact we've all grown up with this sort of encouragement. It's easy, it sounds good, and, well, perhaps it has its place. After all, we have all faced challenges before which we were tempted to give up, but words of encouragement have helped us carry on, push through, even conquer.
Nevertheless, the message of Jesus is, "Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 1:28-30). But how does this message jibe with Paul's frequent characterization of his own life of tireless struggle, race-running, goal-pursuing, etc.? Wasn't Paul a Biblical Rudy, striving to win his crown of glory?
I'm not going to answer these questions today, simply because I don't quite feel equipped to do so. But I will go this far: Biblical "rest" is the character of life in the Kingdom of God. It is life as God intended. Work--back-breaking, life-shortening labor, producing much sweat and little fruit--this is the predominant character of life in this world since Adam's fall. God said it would be so (Gen 3:17), and it is.
So Christ's promise of rest is closely associated with God's overall plan of restoration. And of course we have learned to think of these Kingdom things not merely as "yet to come," but also, for the redeemed of God, in some degree a verifiably present reality. That is, we who are in Christ can experience rest.
Well, although I haven't really answered my initial questions regarding rest and labor, I've made a start at thinking about these things. I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts as well. More on this in the coming days.