In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This well-known verse has found its way on to many coffee cups, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and even the odd tattoo. Yet, it seems to not have found its way into our lives. Somewhere between reading it and living it, we Western, driven, achievement-oriented Christians seem to change it.

Come unto me when you’re done and I will give you rest. 

The first way we mis-handle this verse is to think that we can only really come to Jesus once we’ve gotten done with all our other work. The effort to be fruitful, even for the Christian, turns into an over-functioning obsession with completion. We say things like, “Well, as soon as I get  done with this degree, I’ll think about sabbath.” Or, “When the kids are a little older…” Or, “When I get through this busy season, I’ll take time to be with the Lord.”

Here’s the harsh reality, though: we are never done. Life is a series of tasks to be completed, and then we die! Jesus doesn’t require that we finish working for him before we rest with him. Why? Because he’s the only one for whom the phrase, “It is finished,” is actually true. We who believe in him should think about believing that too.

Come unto me you who are good and I will give you rest.

The more religious way to excuse ourselves from rest with God is to tell ourselves that we’re not good enough. As a pastor, I hear this one all the time. “Pastor, I would take a regular time to rest with God, but I feel like I need to straighten out a few things in my life, first.” Some of us seem to believe that before we come to Jesus for rest we must get our act together and be presentable. This, however, is nothing more than a church-sounding affront to God’s free grace.

The truth is, we’re not good enough to receive Jesus’ gracious rest. That’s precisely what grace means! If we were good enough, the rest of God wouldn’t be grace, it would be payment. You would have been good and now you could expect a certain quality of rest because that’s what God would owe you. That’s not grace, that’s religion. And nothing is less restful than graceless religion.

Come unto me, but find rest somewhere else.

The most common reason I don’t rest with Christ is because, fundamentally, I believe I can find rest in something or someone else. After a long day at the office, maybe you come home and reach for a beer before your Bible. Why? Because you know after you kick back a few you’ll feel “better.” When the urge hits, maybe you wander through the tawdry parts of the internet. Why? Because porn offers some kind of payoff. We say to ourselves, “I’ll come to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness, but I’m going to have to find rest somewhere else.” So, we wander into sin because we’ve never waited long enough with God.

Here is Jesus saying, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” His words don’t need to be change, only believed. He doesn’t require that we complete our work, only that we put it down regularly. We need not fear that we aren’t good enough, he already knows we’re not. Yet he loves us enough to offer us his rest anyway. Thought of this way, we’ll not need to wander sin for the false rest is offers, because we’ll be enjoying the savior whose true rest is given freely to all who ask.

I know you’re busy. I know you’re tired. Rest may seem elusive, but if we’ll believe the words of Jesus and commit to trust him, we can begin to practice the art of rest with him.