United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

Title: “God’s Rest”

July 9, 2023

Seminarian Henry Norkplim Anyomi


Opening Prayer

        God Almighty, You made this world and all that’s in it. You made our families, our communities, and everything we own. Thanks for creating rest too – because we know You rested after making all things. Today, help us to better understand the rest You offer us in Jesus, Your Son. We pray that our lives will be filled with Your peace, Your grace, and Your rest. In Jesus name. Amen!



Friends, I’m glad to be here this morning to reflect on God’s word with you. As per usual, thanks for your participation as we reflect together. May I ask a few questions? (please don’t feel obliged to openly respond): Has any of your noble intentions ever fallen through before? Have you ever felt you weren’t making much progress in the pursuit of some goal or change?


Let’s begin our meditation in Romans, which informed my asking those questions. Here, we come face to face with an “unusual” Paul – one who is in a struggle against evil, whose inner sin relegates his desire to do good, who is a captive to the law of sin, and who has literally become, “wretched” (verse 24). It is variously argued what Romans 7 is really about. Some themes which the text may be said to encompass include the utility of God’s law, the frailty of Paul’s flesh (and human flesh, by extension), the divergence between good and evil or life and death, the trappings of sin, and the deliverance of God through Jesus. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary draws attention to the final verse (i.e. verse 25), where Paul arguably gives a crisp summary of what his reflection throughout the text is about. Two words stood out to me in the over two-page commentary: “desire” and “vulnerability,” which would be guideposts to us in our meditation .

These words cut it for me because that appears to be Paul’s heartfelt cry in this text – the fact that he is worryingly vulnerable to sin, though he desires to fulfil God’s law.


Further, Paul says this vulnerability to evil has become a default setting, a law, a natural inclination (verse 23). And friends, notice that these remarks in Romans were made at a pretty late state of Paul’s missionary life. Indeed, scholars argue that the Book of Romans is the last of Paul’s “undoubted” letters to have been written . Here is the catch: Paul was talking about vulnerability to sin vis-à-vis his desire to follow God’s law at an advanced stage of his Christian walk (where he may have learnt from past missteps). Indeed, Paul, having been raised under Judaism, knew exactly what was expected of him under God’s commands and would have done his best to fulfil them. As we learn through his other letters, he was “faultless” as far as righteousness based on the law was concerned (Philippians 3:4-7).


So, what does Paul want us to know about this intention-reality gap? What is it really about this question of vulnerability and desire? Paul has an aha! moment in the passage when he thinks of Christ’s power of redemption, thanks to our Lord’s gift of atonement. Paul thanks God in the midst of his agony because Christ not only gave up his life for us, but he was also once like us. Though without sin, Jesus knows what it is like to have mortal flesh, he knows what it is like to have ailing friends and family, he knows what it is like to be spited and sidelined, he knows what it is like to have nothing, he knows, he knows it all … So, in acknowledging the limitations within the mortal flesh and its liability to sin, Paul was calling to our attention the one in whom the answer lies. We do well in desiring to fulfil God’s law, but without Jesus, that desire would only remain a mere desire, which may never come to life. But with our Lord Jesus at the centre of that desire, we are empowered to push past our vulnerabilities to sin, evil, disease, torment, and death. Jesus actualises our godly longings. Not by might, not by power, Jesus does.


I recently read a book titled, “the Anatomy of Peace” from the Arbinger Institute. It is a fable that addresses the subject of everyday conflicts and shares practices aimed at helping people to perceive the root causes of conflicts, positioning them to build strong relations with family, colleagues, and friends. Like Paul’s emphasis on Jesus in his struggle, parents are foregrounded in this book – they are told, “you matter.” For a bit of context, in the book, some parents bring their children to a camp for a two-month program intended to reform them, literally, “fix their behaviors.” To the dismay of the parents, the camp managers announce a mandatory two-day program for them (parents) intended to help them appreciate their role in wards’ journeys towards change. A star character, Lou Herbert, who was losing his son to drugs, couldn’t just believe his ears when he was told that the change he was seeking could only happen if he changed himself. I’m itching to dive into the Matthew reading now, but let’s pick this up again. The point, however, is that as believers, we matterthe state of our hearts matters which cannot be without God’s Son, Christ Jesus.


Now we are the feet of the Master, Jesus himself. What’s his charge? He gives an open invitation to all who are weary and burdened to come find rest in him. Sounds like Paul really knew his stuff. Doesn’t it? He knew where his help came from! Anyway, there aren’t many open calls like this in the New Testament, so let’s zoom in for a moment. It’s important to note that it doesn’t end with the call. Yes, the call is important and so is our response. But even more significant is what happens when we’ve come, following the call. Christ gives us rest. Our Lord not only tells us the channel to this rest; he also tells us what the endgame is – the giving of rest. That’s important, friends, because when something is given, it means it is a present, perhaps something we couldn’t find or couldn’t afford ourselves, something that wasn’t accessible elsewhere, something pristine, something precious … And I may know which category your story falls in, but perhaps, like me, you may have been in search of that original, precious, unadulterated rest. You may have tried in vain, like Paul, to desire and to reach for it. But thank God, Jesus is offering it afresh to us today – rest like no other, God’s rest offered from the heart of Jesus, God’s Son.

But what is it about “heavy burdens and yokes”? In Jesus’ days, the Pharisees and Scribes were known to make “unfair and unnecessary demands” of the people in regards to keeping God’s law. Jesus who saw himself as the fulfiller of the law perceived his yoke as lighter because he wouldn’t make the kinds of demands that the dominant interpreters of the law would make of people. To Christ, God’s law came down to the pursuit of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” in the service of God and love of God and neighbor. This reasoning would put Jesus at odds with the Pharisees and Scribes because on sabbath day, for instance, they saw acts like picking grains to eat as well as healing the sick as sin. Jesus, however, would elevate mercy over sacrifice and tend to the needs of God’s people. Today, like then, there are people and happenings that put “unfair and unnecessary demands” on us. We don’t have to put up with them, friends, our Lord invites us to come. We have only to turn to Jesus.


Back to the Anatomy of Peace story, how did Lou Herbert support his son’s rehabilitation process by being transformed himself? Lou gradually learnt to guard his “state of being” – i.e. to keep his heart at peace whether or not his circumstances were peaceful. This personal change saw him build bridges in his marriage, family, and work relationships. Lou ceased to be selfish and unfeeling and started seeing the humanity in others. Friends, like Lou, we may be seeking a positive end – in our case, the rest of God. Again, like Lou, we matter – but our fixation shouldn’t be on what we can ourselves, or what we own, or what has been bequeathed to us, or even our track record. Rather, we as believers ought to allow Christ, the Prince of Peace, to have total control of our hearts. It is only then that we can fully access God’s rest. And with Christ as our focus, God’s mercy, justice, faithfulness, and love would naturally flow out of us. These as well as the fruit of the Spirit are by-products of Christ’s presence and reign in our hearts.

In closing, God’s exhortation to us is that rest is God’s gift. No matter how desirous and hardworking we are, we can’t access the rest that God promises without Christ, due to our human imperfections and demands. With Christ at the center, however, we escape abuse, receiving God’s grace to be the best we can be. Friends, the good news is, as we speak today, this rest is available in our midst, thanks to Calvary’s Cross. And all we have to do is receive. In this life and that which is to come, may God’s name be praised for freeing us from our burdens and offering us peace in their stead. Alleluia! Amen!


Mindful Moment (3 minutes)

I invite you to participate in a mindful moment with me:

●     Gently close your eyes with me, making sure you are comfortable in your seat.

●     You may visualize a favorite scenery of yours (could be a stream, a mountain, a valley, etc) and soak in its beauty.

●     Think for a moment what today’s word means to you, keeping the phrase, “God’s rest,” at the very center of your reflection.   

●     Be kind to yourself when your thoughts vacillate from the subject of “God’s rest,” but carefully and gently bring yourself back to this subject again.

●     Finally, listen to your breath as it goes in and out of your body, muttering the words, “God’s rest is mine now and always” over and over till you feel it in your heart or at the center of your thoughts.

●     You may now slowly open your eyes. Look around and give thanks in your heart for everyone in this space.