Being a full time student, runner, pro-life activist, and extroverted 21 year-old male makes for a high energy semester at school. My junior year at Westmont College has been a very rich experience, but it has also been both physically and emotionally taxing. Between my responsibilities and my mom’s re-diagnosis with cancer, my last 6 weeks of spring semester were pretty hard; yet, I am blessed with some of the most beautiful and amazing friends a man could ask for.
Since getting home a week ago, I have purposely rested; not something I usually do, but as Thomas Merton once said “There must be a time of day when the man who makes plans forgets his plans, and acts as if he had no plans at all” (Merton 260, No Man is an Island). In my case, that “time of day” turned into a full week.
The day before I went home, we celebrated our friend Chelsea’s graduation at a beautiful house with a large yard in Montecito, Santa Barbara. It was one of those moments when our hearts resounded with praise, for we were fully enjoying each other and “when friends particularly enjoy each other’s company, they are reflecting God’s design” (Alcorn 357, Heaven). It’s like our hearts were tapping into eternity as we experienced foretastes of glory divine. These are the moments we were made for. Theologian Randy Alcorn couldn’t have put it better when he said “What we love about this life are the things that resonate with the life we were made for. The things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer – they are previews of the greater life to come” (Alcorn 167, Heaven). Previews. Foretastes. Perfection.
God loves to give us more than enough to satisfy our souls, yet somehow not enough, for we constantly desire more of his perfections and beauty, both directly, and manifested through the body of Christ. There was something special about that graduation party; I fear I won’t do it justice in words. But it will suffice to say that few things are sweeter than the experiential act of belonging to a community, a body of believers gathered around and for Jesus; especially when such experiences are intentionally planned after a long semester, when the burdens are lifted, the schedule is empty, and the hearts are eager for rest.
J.I. Packer perfectly describes the condition of my heart among the company of those I love most:
Hearts on earth may say in the course of a joyful experience, “I don’t want this ever to end.” But invariably it does. The hearts of those in heaven say, “I want this to go on forever.” And it will. There is no better news than this.
Unlike the world who mourns when life-giving moments meet their end, followers of Jesus simply look ahead and yearn for the day when we will go “further up and further in” (Lewis 213, The Last Battle). These special encounters and experiences on the fallen earth are merely damaged copies of what will ultimately be revealed. Though admittedly, I did take a short nap during this graduation gathering, I spent the remainder of my time talking, laughing, drinking, eating, sharing stories, etc… This too is rest. “This is the rest we can anticipate on the New Earth – times of joyful praise and relaxed fellowship… Eden is a picture of rest – work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, abundant food, a beautiful environment, unhindered friendship with God and other people…” (Alcorn 329, Heaven).
There’s a Secret…
There is a beautiful secret and assumption that has been lurking behind all that I have written thus far: Christians can enjoy this rest in all that it entails on a deeper, more intimate level because of Jesus. We are not united by who we are, but who He is. We are not united through our similarities (though there are many), but through the Spirit that dwells in each of us. “We know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us His spirit” (1 John 4:13). John goes on to say that because of His spirit, “love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). Furthermore, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16), so that we can look at our brothers and sisters in Christ and say, “You’re a Son, You’re a Son, You’re a Daughter, You’re a Daughter” (2 Corinthians 6:18). When the same Spirit dwells in each of us, we are brought into a deeper and more intimate union and relationship for we share the same Father.
So. This means that the type of restful experiences I have just recounted meet their fruition in Christ. In other words, the joy that was exuding from my soul and the rest that my heart was entering only did so because of Jesus and the Spirit that was unifying and leading our community into a time of relaxed fellowship. Tim Keller expounds upon this mystery: “When Jesus says, ‘I am the Lord of the Sabbath,’ Jesus means that he is the Sabbath. He is the source of the deep rest we need. He has come to completely change the way we rest. The one-day-a-week rest we take is just a taste of the deep divine rest we need, and Jesus is its source” (Keller 42, King’s Cross).
Unity & Mission
If you can resonate with these beautiful communal experiences I have described, then you know how life-giving and restful it can be. Imagine the power such a community wields in mission! When the world sees the Church doing life together, serving one another, loving each other, simply enjoying the same spirit that unifies the believers, they are often drawn to Jesus. Jesus both prayed and predicted this would happen: ”I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23, emphasis own). This doesn’t disqualify the need and command to verbally preach the gospel, for that will always be necessary and will often follow once one is drawn to the Church, but it does show the joy and significance to be found in the body of Christ when we function as a pleasing fragrance of Jesus. And according to Jesus, our unity will testify to the world that Jesus loves them. This too is good news.