I’m not big into New Years Resolutions, so usually I don’t make them. I don’t love New Years Resolutions because I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. The idea of not doing what everyone else is doing has turned into a way to prop myself up in life, to make me feel good about myself (the truth is that we do these sorts of things to make us feel good about ourselves in comparison to others, don’t we?). We all have our own way of propping ourselves up, even if it’s just in our minds. It’s bad.
Anyway, that’s not the point. The second reason I don’t love New Years Resolutions is that it seems everyone picks very lofty goals. I am not in the habit of quitting things – swimming competitively for so many years probably instilled that in me. So I am not one to make a goal and give up on it later. I would much rather choose a very small, seemingly insignificant goal and succeed, building on small goal after small goal. Can you imagine what our lives would look like if we chose small, achievable goals instead of lofty goals that are asking to be given up on? And if we built, year after year, on those small goals that we accomplished?
But that’s not the point either. The point is, last year I chose a phrase instead of a resolution, so my phrase for 2015 was “repentance and rest.” It came from Isaiah 30:15, which says, “For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, In quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing.” When I chose it, all I knew was that I needed to repent – to turn back to the Lord – and I desperately needed to rest – physically, spiritually, emotionally. What I didn’t know was that those two themes would come up again and again for the next few months. My salvation is in repenting and resting. This is horrible news and great news.
It’s horrible news because all that Rebecca Landry wants to do is to DO! to ACHIEVE! and to make her own way. I feel helpless when I repent and rest. After college I found myself with a strange and insatiable need to make every minute of my day count. This sounds like a good drive – to live a full, meaningful, and productive life – and it’s not altogether bad. But what could be a helpful drive turned into a curse for me. Much anxiety stemmed from the pressure to make every minute of my day count for something. My mind had taken the mantra of our culture to live each moment and to make the most of your life and twisted it into a debilitating compulsion. The guilt that accompanied the pressure to make my moments count robbed me of the ability to maximize my worship, service, and passion in life and make my life count. In his book “Crazy Busy,” Kevin DeYoung says, “We know we could pray more, do more… so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves.” Aren’t we all a little familiar with that “mild disappointment” that comes from a lack of productivity. We might not realize it, but productivity is a horribly subjective idea. Who has the final say on what is “productive” and worthwhile to do? In this strange little earth we live on, I think we’ve gotten the wrong idea of productivity. What if it’s productive to repent and rest, because it makes us place our trust in Christ and nothing else? I think this is something we’d better not get wrong in life.
My salvation is in repenting and resting. This is great news, because when it comes down to it and I am honest about myself and my capabilities, all I am capable of doing is repenting and resting. In the depths of my heart, I know that all I can do is rest on someone else. Repent and turn to the Lord? Rest in what He has accomplished? Both of these require humility but in the end are the only two things of which I am capable. I cannot save myself, but I can do those two things.
Another verse that came along as the year unfolded was Psalm 127: 1-2. I was at first most familiar with verse 2:
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
There is something spiritual about just going to bed. Ceasing our work that is in vain without Jesus, and receiving sweet sleep. In his book “Crazy Busy,” Kevin DeYoung says, “God made us to need sleep and when we think we can survive without it, we not only spurn His gift, we show our mistaken self-reliance.” Then I realized the verse that comes right before:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
I started putting all these dots together… First, my very salvation is found in repenting and resting, leading me to trust the Lord. Secondly, unless God does the work, I labor in vain. In vain means unsuccessful! Unless God is in it, my work is worth nothing.
Two things declare to my own soul and to those around me that I am not my own Savior and that I am a finite creature with definite limitations: rest and prayer. Prayer is the talk of trusting God with something but rest is the manifestation, the action of trusting Him with it. These things can feel like a waste of time though, right? Because I’m not doing anything about the situation. So I stack on the tasks – to make my own way, to feel good about myself, to make myself look good, to keep myself busy, so that others will love me for doing things for them.
Unless the Lord does the work, we labor in vain. We must make sure that He is behind the work of our lives. How do we do this? Rest, repent, pray. These three things are a means to understanding that anything I accomplish is really the Lord’s work. They are also a declaration to myself and others that I can rest without stress because I’m not the one running this show anyway. And, as we see in Isaiah, they are my very salvation.
So it emerged: repent, rest, and pray. Three things that help me declare my finitude and send me to the one who saves me. Last summer I read “Crazy Busy” by Kevin DeYoung. It’s a quick read and I recommend it to you. I write and underline in all my books, and I could’ve underline every word in that book. DeYoung notes that as humans we must plan for the unplannable and “understand what’s possible for us as finite creatures and then schedule for less than that.” Later he writes, “We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance – and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.” Part of being okay with repenting, resting, and praying involves swallowing a whole lot of my pride of being an important and irreplaceable person. This pride is sly.. it hides inside by saying “Rebecca, your friends need you to do this. Rebecca, you’re the only one who knows how to do that task.” DeYoung said it well: “We assume ‘If I don’t do this, no one will. Everything depends on me.’ But the truth is, you’re only indispensable until you say no. You are unique. Your gifts are important. But you’re not irreplaceable.”
Ouch. Seems harsh, doesn’t it? We need to hear it though. I need to hear that I’m not irreplaceable, that what I get done tonight doesn’t necessarily matter, that I can’t solve problems on my own, that I can’t save myself. Hearing and knowing those things sends me to repent – to turn back toward the Lord – and to rest in Him, what He has done, and what He continues to do.
I heard the hymn “Come Ye Sinners” yesterday and this struck me:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
To venture wholly on Christ and let no other trust intrude upon my trust in Him, not even trust in my own abilities. He only requires that I feel my need for him. I’m so glad God said, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” and didn’t say, “In proving yourself and effort is your salvation, in applause and getting it right is your strength.” But did you notice what comes right after that? God said, “But you were not willing.” Jesus, let me feel my need, and make me willing.