By Rondi Lauterbach
I was having coffee with a friend who teaches preschool. She had just finished her last day, cleaned out her classroom, and turned in her key. I asked her if she had any summer plans.
“I really just want to go to the beach and play with my grandkids, but I have so much unfinished work to do.”
“Oh, you know, the stuff you put off when you’re too busy finishing the school year: closets to clean out, a nasty refrigerator, doctor’s appointments to make, piles of papers to file. I probably need to start cooking again, too. I guess I can rest when I’m all caught up.”
You probably understand her dilemma. You have your own unfinished task list, the things that got pushed off until the summer because you couldn’t imagine squeezing them in during the school year. Whether you’re a teacher or a student, a mom or a working woman, you know that summer doesn’t guarantee rest.
What are we supposed to do with our unfinished work? When can we finally rest?
Not when, but where
I know what some of you are thinking. Just leave it. What’s the big deal? Go to the beach. Head to the pool. Leave town. Once the piles of laundry and unweeded vegetable garden are out of sight, they’ll be out of mind. Rest first. You can always get that other stuff done later.
Changing location is a great solution if you have the right perspective on your work. If an unfinished task is just a task, then you can come up with a plan to get it done later and run off to the park. But if your unfinished work is freighted with heavier meaning, then you have a different kind of problem. It’s not just unfinished work, it’s a burdened conscience. That problem won’t be solved by running to the beach. We need to run to Jesus to cleanse our conscience from dead works and give us true rest.
We can rest, not because our work is finished, but because His work is.
Now that’s a neat little saying, but what in the world does it mean? To answer that we have to ask two more questions.
What is his work?
Two times in Scripture God finished his work. And two times he rested.
The first was the work of creation. On the sixth day he declared his finished work “very good!” and on the seventh day he rested from all his works.
The second was the work of redemption. After Jesus had suffered the full penalty of God’s wrath for our sins, he shouted, “It is finished!” and died. He will never have to do that work again. In a sense, he is forever resting from that work.
These two works—Creation and Redemption—are the great work that only God can do. They are way too big for us. But we try anyway. In fact our culture, even our Christian culture, encourages us to.
So I try to create myself, by using my work to define who I am.
Or I try to redeem myself, by using my work to atone for past failures or moral defects.
It’s only when my identity and justification are settled that I’m free. Free to do my work.
What is my work?
My work sits on top of his finished work. I’m not trying to invent myself. I’m not trying to justi-fy myself. I’m just doing whatever good work God has given me to do. My tasks, crafted for me, who has been created by Him, shrink down to their proper size.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10.
So, let’s say you’re looking at the half weeds, half dead vegetable garden you planted in the spring in hopes of a summer harvest. If it’s a task you desire to do as unto the Lord, you might say, “Oh, my, I really let this get away from me. I’ll set up a watering schedule and get the kids to help me clear those weeds. We’ll see if we can salvage some of it and chalk the rest up to experience.”
But what if you had planted that garden in hopes of “becoming” that woman who gives baskets away to all her neighbors? You look at your garden and think, “I’m such a loser! I never do any-thing right. I can’t even grow vegetables!”
You just turned a perfectly lovely task, gardening, into a monstrous identity project.
Or, let’s say you look at your friend who has already signed her kids up for camp, swim lessons, a reading program at the library and a volunteer project at the local nursing home. If signing your kids up for summer activities is just a task, you could say, “Those are some great ideas. If they don’t work out, maybe I can find others.”
But what if your summer schedule is the measure of your success as a mom? Then you might wail, “I’m such a terrible mom! I’ve really blown it by not getting my kids into wholesome, life-changing programs like my friend!” Then your online search becomes marked by desperation.
You’ve just turned summer activities into an effort to justify yourself as a mom.
No wonder we can’t rest!
If you recognize yourself in either of these scenarios, then you can understand why you’re so tired. When unfinished tasks hang over us like a death threat, they’ve been invested with too much meaning. Good works have become dead works.
The good news is that Jesus, our Creator and Redeemer, can cleanse us again:
“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered itself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” Hebrews 9:14.
Believe this today and enter his rest.
Rondi entered the Ivy League full of personal ambition and left under a new Master. Her passion is to help women see Jesus in the Word and be nourished by him. She has been a pastor’s wife for over thirty years, a mother of three, and now a very happy grandmother. She and her husband Mark live in San Diego.
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