“God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” – Augustine
You wake up Sunday morning. Your mind begins to race. All thoughts are not about what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, or how fast you need to shower. Instead, you have a deep, haunting thought. It’s a thought which silences your voice. Imagining the church service causes a panic attack. The shower waters mask the tears welling up from your soul. “I have sinned.” “I fell again.” “I already had those awful thoughts this morning.” “I can’t escape this. God, why am I still struggling?”
Can a church service cause that much anxiety? Yes. The burden of a struggle we can’t seem to conquer can cloak us in a shadow of shame. There are many of us who know what I am talking about. Even if you are not singing during worship, you feel like you want to run out of the room. “Can I fake a phone call?” “Would people judge me even more if they see me walk out? What if they think I’m rejecting God?”
Struggling causes so much anxiety towards our relationship with God. Is it possible for this anxiety to stop?
Who Are You Worshipping?
Entering any church service must cause us to answer a question (whether or not we realize it). Who am I worshipping during this service?
Think about that question. We all want to shout, “I am here to worship God!” Thank you, for the Sunday School answer. But, think about it. Why did you come to church? Why did you dress that way? Why are you having those interactions?
If it is anything other than to show your need of a savior and the greatness of the love of Christ, then you have saddened the heart of God. In cleansing the temple, Christ condemned the temple leaders for making his house a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13). If we come into a church wanting to show how good of a Christian we are, to get some sort of recognition from others or God for our attendance, or to feel better about ourselves by putting another down by our “godly gossip” and our “pious prayer prattle,” then we have committed the same atrocity.
Church was never meant for our erecting of edifices to ourselves. Instead, church is to be a place where we come needing Jesus. Our heads look up, and we can only sigh, “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Anxiety can make us want to run away from church. Yet, Jesus stands there. He looks you in the eye and says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” He is not a God of shame. He is a savior bringing us into rest (Matthew 11:28-29).
As we listen to the music, we do not need to fear our struggle. We need to embrace Jesus and his rest. This is who we worship. We are only there because of Jesus. No one came to see you. We came to lay our burdens down and follow Christ.
The Whale of Rest
God knows our struggles. He knows we run from him. He knows our instinct of fight or flight. When we answer the question of who we worship, then we can find the place of rest in struggling.
Jonah. A man after God’s own heart. Yes, I said that. We tend to make fun of Jonah. But, he is a man God did not give up on. He is a man who was a prophet who ran from God’s command. He disobeyed God’s word. Yes, a preacher! So, I guess he wasn’t above reproach just like us. Jonah’s struggle over God’s command almost cost the lives of everyone on that ship.
But, what happened? A big fish (or whale) gave him a place of rest. God knew he did not need more striving or punishment. He needed a place to get his mind back on God. The whale was not a place of punishment. It was a place of rest. It wasn’t a tropic resort (even though it had the smell of one past its prime), but it was a place to breathe. Jonah 2 records a beautiful prayer of a man seen as God’s runaway. Jonah couldn’t fight his struggle to reach the people of Nineveh until he rested in struggling. He looks towards God (v. 4), and finds rest.
Resolution came only through rest (v. 9).
Our struggles cause so many storms in our lives, yet we cannot brave the storm unless we have rested in God. It is only in the secret place, at the table with Jesus, we are able to return our gaze back to our savior.
Our Living Hope in the Struggle
Struggles and sins cause so much soul-searing pain. We are burdened by them. Anxiety becomes a way of living. We hear sermons giving us battle plans for victory over struggles. Yet, after another failed, we throw that plan away like instructions for a DIY project.
We do not need hope in the next plan, the next accountability partner, the next book, the next seminar, the next ________ (fill in the blank). Our strivings for perfection only stir up our flight from God. We come to church feeling like a failure trying to rewrite that “F” into an “A.”
Our mind must go back to the question, who are we worshipping? Are we worshipping our strivings and plans for conquering our struggles? That means we are putting our hope in a book, a Bible study, an accountability partner, an internet filter, or whatever we use to stop us. Ultimately, we are still making church into a den of thieves.
Jonah (even with his struggles) knew where his hope was. It was not in a ship bound for Tarshish. It was in the God of salvation. His rest came when his hope could no longer be in his strategies and schemes. It came when his hope was in the living God of salvation.
Our hearts will only be restless until we find our hope in the living Christ.
We come to church to be healed by God through his word. We come to lay our burdens down. Jesus is our living hope bringing us a restoring rest. Psalm 23:3 promises God will restore our soul. Our soul cannot be restored through our strivings after perfection. It can only be done through our good shepherd – Jesus Christ. Let him lead. He does not lead us like an accountability check sheet. Jesus leads us like a shepherd – down paths of life, with a staff of comfort and protection, with peace during our struggles, and with a destination where he is the only reason we arrived (Psalm 23). Jesus is our living shepherd giving us rest and hope for the journey.
Our struggles weigh us down, but our shepherd gives us hope for each step.