“Thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength”
Did you know that, in this passage, “repentance” literally (in Hebrew) means “retirement” or “withdrawal”? I just discovered that recently and it revolutionized the way I see this passage (and my whole life, for that matter).
When my kids were little, I used to struggle so much to wake up before them (and by struggle, I mean “fail to”). For any of you who are tempted to judge me, remember that not all of us are morning people. And for any of you that think being a stay-at-home mom is a cake walk, I’ve got 2 words for you… “Try it!”.
My struggle to wake up early was a serious source of guilt for me. I was a relatively young Christian and didn’t yet have a good theological grasp on the fact that God approves of me because of His blood-sacrifice and not my performance, so I looked to more mature Christians, who enjoyed their “quiet time” and thought for sure that God must be so disappointed in me for not waking up a solid hour before my kids to have a serene moment to meet with Him, because “that’s what good Christians do”, right? Now I understand that their quiet time was rooted in longing, rather than obligation (unless they were as immature in their thinking as I was, and just better at getting up early anyways).
Well, for those of you who find the battle between flesh and spirit to be heightened in the wee hours of the morning, let me share with you the testimony of our firstborn son.
As much as I lacked the drive to wake up early, I did have a genuine hunger for the Word (hallelujah). If you lack a hunger for the Word, that’s something you should seriously pray for. because that’s something all Christians should hunger for. It’s life-transforming and awesome! It’s also been my experience that sometimes we just have to read past our discouragement about reading. I’ve learned that the more I read it, the more I want to and the less I read it, the less I want to.
Because I longed for time in the Word, I would often wait until breakfast or lunch (or both), and while my kids were devouring a plate of food (rather than busying themselves with anything that may have caused instant death or kidnapping), I’d make a mad-dash to the bedroom for a few interrupted moments to read the Bible.
I had no clue how the Sovereign Lord was going to redeem what I only perceived as a weakness of mine, and give my kids an example of what it means to hunger for the Word of God. But my son distinctly remembers, time and time again, looking up from his finished plate of food, hoping for seconds (hey, he’s a boy and no matter how high the pile, it still ain’t enough!), only to discover that his mama was missing, and he knew, without fail, that he would find me in my room, face down in the most sacred of Books, face aglow with the countenance of someone who has just met with God. He is now 16 years old, and those memories affect him.
They affect him the same way my memories affect me: To see my mom in the depths of her suffering, Bible open, Scripture-adorned walls, heart pleading from it’s depths for perseverance and sanctification. It affects my oldest son the same way it affects me to see my mom’s well-worn Bible perpetually open, even in my grown-up years, in front of whatever seat she was recently sitting in, and the feeling of her prayer-stained walls. And whenever I think of my own longing for the Word, I think of my sweet, saintly mother, who the Lord gave to me as an example of holiness and fervent pursuit, not just in deed, but in the deepest caverns of her heart, where she longs for the courts of the Lord and flees to His holy mountain, day by day.
I am in a different stage of life now and thankfully can capture those quiet moments in the morning, and begin my day, gaze fixed on things above. I no longer drop into sleep as though it were an exhaustion-induced coma. I am no longer drained entirely from chasing 3 wild boys without pain-receptors or frontal lobes, to make sure they don’t die on my watch. I’ve also learned to go to sleep when I’m tired, rather than trying to stay awake with my insomniac husband, because now that our kids are 16, 14 and 12, we can actually get time alone together throughout the day. I am so grateful for the treasured morning moments, but I am also so grateful that when our kids were younger, (a) I didn’t realize how exhausted I was because I was too busy enjoying it and (b) God enabled me to accidentally exemplify for our sons a longing for the Word that they would have never seen had I been awake before them.
So I read this passage and He beckons me: “Come away, with Me, to a quiet place for awhile”.
Did you know that “rest” in this passage also means “quietness?” Quietness, soul quietness… you know, REST, that’s our salvation and our strength.
And to add yet another dimension to this already deeper-than-we-can-comprehend passage, the first half of Isaiah 30 is spent exposing the folly of God’s chosen people, Israel, in that they were seeking protection from sources other than Himself, specifically from those who had kept them in slavery for over 400 years. “Woe to the rebellious children,’ declares the Lord, ‘Who execute a plan, but not Mine, and make an alliance, but not of My Spirit, in order to add sin to sin; Who proceed down to Egypt without consulting Me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” (Isaiah 30:1-2).
When God is calling us to withdrawal (repentance), He is calling us not only to separate ourselves from the distractions that surround us but also to separate ourselves from putting our trust in the things that oppress us. He wants us to find our strength in properly-placed trust in Him. He calls us to radical, life-altering trust in, and sacred fellowship with, the King of Kings, amidst both the mundane and the chaos of life.
This is our salvation and our strength!
We live in a time when the busy-ness that seeks to distract us from the Eternal, hunts us down even in our own living rooms. through things like television and the internet. We live in a time when fearful things meet us at every corner, things like wars, famines, earthquakes in various places (even human-induced earthquakes), which are all the beginning of birth pangs.
It is easy enough to satiate ourselves with lesser things, to get a moment of “rest” by vegging out in front of a movie, when we ought to turn towards the life-sustaining words found in the Sacred Scriptures, to give us comfort and soul-satisfying rest.
And it’s easy to look to our oppressors to save us. A good example of this, that hits close to home for me, is that I live in Appalachia, where industry is using the surrounding lands to dispose of their radioactive poisons, which is in turn poisoning our air, water and soil (you know, the things you need to survive!) and they are doing so “legally” by “donating” money to politicians. And many of us, who are fighting this, are seeking out these same politicians to protect us. I can only look to the hand of the Almighty for that protection, for He has never oppressed me, but only set me free, and He alone is mighty to save!
One way that I sometimes fail to place my hope in the proper place is that I, too often, trust in money to provide for us, rather than Jehovah Jirah, Who promises to meet all of my physical needs, if I will only seek first His kingdom and His righteousness! “In repentance and rest you will be saved”.
This is all nonsensical. We look for rest in things that won’t give us rest, and place our trust in things that are untrustworthy and oppressive.
But to meet with God… this is where we find ourselves sustained. This is the place where terror turns to trust and we are reminded that our God reigns sovereign forever, over all wars, famines, pestilence, earth-destruction, slavery, oppression, etc., etc. And He is redeeming it all! As Romans 8:18 aptly puts it, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”! He has an eternal plan that we have yet to see or comprehend, but the greater our knowledge of the Holy One becomes, the more we find understanding in the midst of seemingly senseless circumstances (Proverbs 9:10). Although we cannot trust in our circumstances, which only cloud our vision all the more when we neglect to come away and quiet our souls, we can trust in the One whose “hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor His ear so dull that it cannot hear.” (Isaiah 59:1). And in this restful-withdrawal is our salvation, and this quieting-trust our strength. Amen!