Archives For Hebrews

For the last fifteen years, I’ve pretty much had only one answer to the question, “How are you doing?” It’s always: “Tired.” Or maybe, “Busy, tired. But good!” As far as I can tell, this is the standard answer to the question.

How are Americans doing? They’re tired.

When I started college in 2000, I became acquainted with “busy.” It was a lot of work. And I was always tired. Then I started seminary and realized I previously had no idea what “busy” was. For much of seminary, sleep was like a hometown friend that you gradually lose contact with. And then I graduated and entered the real world and discovered, yet again, that “busy” always has added dimensions and “tired” is essentially a lifelong companion. Then we started having kids, and well, I’m looking forward to sleeping in again when I retire.

Life is good, but it’s hard. Life is rewarding, but I’m exhausted. I know I’m not the only one.

So why are we so tired? Sure, we’re tired because we work too hard, we go to bed too late, we book our schedules too tightly. But those are just the practical reasons. I’m interested in the theology of it. The theology or rest, and also the theology of tiredness. In this short post, I’ll just offer two biblical reasons for our constant tiredness.

Tired 1

The primary reason we get tired is that God designed us that way. He actually built it into the fabric of his world. God created everything in six days, then rested on the seventh. And that becomes the pattern in Scripture. Just as God rested, we human beings are called to rest as well.

This implies that even before sin entered the world, human beings needed rest. We needed sleep. This only makes sense: Could something as obviously divine as sleep be a mere side effect of sin?

So our need for rest is actually good. It was modeled by God himself. We were designed to put in a good day’s work and then to need rest, to finish off a solid work week and then to need to relax. Rest is good, and so is tiredness.

Next time someone answers your “how are you” with “I’m tired,” maybe your response should be: “Good!”

But another major reason for our tiredness is the fall of humanity into sin. This world is broken. Every aspect of this world has been tainted by the reality of sin. This makes the world dysfunctional, disorderly, and actually: tired.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes declares all things “vanity,” which is his way of calling life a huge enigma, a stubborn puzzle that frustrates humanity at every turn. And in that context, he says,

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it” (1:8).

It’s a tired world. Worn out. Full of weariness to an unutterable extent. Sin bogs us down, trips us up, and quite literally pulls us toward the grave.

We are tired from living in a sin-stained world. The exhaustion of this world will eventually overcome us all. In the final chapter of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher reminds us to pursue God while we’re young, before this weary world exhausts our bodies so fully that they come to a grinding halt (12:1–8).

Our own sin contributes to this exhaustion as well. As Paul makes clear in Romans 1, human beings are worshipers by nature, and while we are designed to worship God, we often turn our ultimate pursuit to idolatrous ends.

For many Americans, our idols are our careers, our reputation, our financial stability, and our carefully purchased world of comfort. This means that we often work harder and longer hours than God intends because we are pursuing much more than we need. Our greed forces us into cycles of achievement that wear our bodies down. We believe in the myth of the self-made man or woman, so we expend more energy than we have to create our own kingdoms.

But God created us to be dependent. You’re tired because you need rest. That feeling of exhaustion is God’s reminder that you need him, that you can’t do everything yourself, that there are not enough hours in the day to build his kingdom and yours at the same time.

So go ahead and be tired. Don’t be ashamed of it. Enjoy that satisfied exhaustion that comes at the end of (and all throughout) a job well done. But if you find yourself feeling exhausted and realize that you’re wearing out your body in idolatrous pursuits, then take God’s gift of fatigue seriously and rest. He made you human for a reason; he designed human beings to need rest for a reason.

Our goal should not be tired-free living, as though we were professional vacationers. Our goal is to be tired for the right reasons, to enjoy a godly exhaustion our whole lives, and then to finally enter that blessed rest of God for all eternity (see Hebrews 4).

Discipline VS Punishment

Mark Beuving —  November 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

If you’re not experiencing the Lord’s discipline, you’re not his child. That’s how blunt Hebrews is about it:

“Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-11)

The author of Hebrews compares the way we human fathers discipline our children to the way God disciplines us. Human fathers discipline their children “as it seems best to us.” We’re trying to shape our children, to make them into godly people. So when our children step out of line, exhibit bad character traits, or fail to demonstrate godliness, we intervene. We discipline our children. We don’t let the bad behavior or attitude slide. We love our children too much to allow those bad behaviors to harden into their character. So we do our best to discipline our kids in such a way that they see the consequences of their actions and learn to desire the good.

girlincornerIn the same way, God disciplines us. None of us is making it through life without sin. So if you find yourself without discipline, that doesn’t mean you’re doing fine. It just means you don’t belong to God. When you exhibit bad behavior or poor character or some form of godlessness, God will discipline you in order to shape you—unless you don’t belong to him. Discipline isn’t fun, but if it’s not there, you can be sure you don’t belong to God. God disciplines his children because he loves them.

But here is an essential point: discipline is different than punishment. God doesn’t punish his children. He disciplines us.

As a father, I try not to punish my children. When they disobey, my response is not designed to make them “pay” for what they’ve done. I’m not trying to get them back or wrong them for wronging me. My goal is not to inflict pain or shame; I don’t want to put my children down. All of that would fall under the heading of punishment: you messed up, so here’s your punishment.

By contrast, I’m actually trying to discipline my daughters. I confront their disobedience and help them see and feel that what they did is not okay. But I’m trying to form godly character in them. I want them to learn, not hurt. Not feel embarrassed. I’m not trying to make myself feel better, I’m taking my responsibility to help shape their character seriously. I’m trying to help them grow through the experience. I have no desire to inflict pain on my children. (When I became a father, I was surprised to learn that my parents’ insistence that “this will hurt me more than it hurts you” was actually true.)

Sometimes when we sin, we wait for God to punish us. To take something we love. To make us hurt in some way. And sin often does lead to complex and prolonged pain. But Hebrews assures us that God is not punishing us in these moments. He disciplines his children. He doesn’t punish us. When God disciplines us, pain is not the goal. Discipline is not fun, but it’s designed to shape us, to grow us, to make us into the people God wants us to be.

So if you are experiencing God’s discipline, take heart. It shows that you belong to him as a child to a father. And it means that his work in you is not done, it is taking place even in the midst of the pain you’re experiencing.

Battling Our Bibles

Mark Beuving —  January 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

Last night, the Bible study group my wife and I are privileged to be a part of took a sinister turn. We were discussing the benefits of reading the Bible, and we examined a familiar passage:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13)

The Bible is living and active, we said. It hits us in ever fresh ways and always challenges us with a healthy dose of the unexpected.

Then we began to explore the sword imagery. That’s a bit more aggressive. A bit darker. And then there’s the part about standing naked before the all-seeing and all-deciding Judge of all things. You can’t hide from him. That’s heavy.

While I’ve often taken comfort from this passage (and rightfully so), it struck me how violent this passage is. Here’s what it amounts to. We sit down with a cup of coffee in our comfy armchairs. We open our stylishly leather-bound Bibles, open them up, and flip to our decorative bookmarks. And as soon as we begin to pass our eyes over the words printed on the page, the Bible begins stabbing us.

We sat down to read a book, but the book is a breathing thing. It’s a weapon of warfare. And as we sit there and move our eyes from left to right and top to bottom, our souls are being hacked open. Our deepest secrets are being exposed. We are being stripped bare and held in the open courtroom of the only authoritative Judge in the universe. As we casually turn pages, a bloody battle is being fought.

And if our hearts are in the right place, if we approach the Judge in loving faith rather than defiant terror, then this battle that tears our souls open is also bringing us the victory. The Bible that is stabbing us is also healing us. It lays bare our secrets and our sordid intentions and rebuilds us from the inside out.

A casual onlooker would never recognize the battle taking place. When I read my Bible in a coffee shop, the eyes that scan the room would mistake my brutal attack for the peaceful flipping of pages and look away without calling for help. And when I close the book, stand up, and calmly walk away, they may not notice that I am a different person than the one who sat in that chair and opened that book. I don’t always recognize it myself.

Yet every encounter with the word of God is a bout with a warrior, an appointment with a skilled surgeon. The knife’s edge will cut deep, and we will lose much. But what we lose will always be those things we ought never to have held in the first place. And we will always walk away more like the people we truly are, more like the people God has designed and called us to be.


Constant Practice

Mark Beuving —  November 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12–14)

At the end of Hebrews 5, the author of Hebrews wants to dig into the deep stuff (about Melchizedek, specifically) with his readers, but he can’t. Why? Because they are immature in their faith.

That’s understandable, really. Lots of people in this world are immature Christians. For some, that’s because they’re physically young. How deep into the mysteries of God were you delving at age five? For others, it’s because they’re relatively new converts. If you’ve just submitted your life to Jesus after hearing a message on John 3:16, are you ready to start leading Bible studies on the sovereignty of God?

Immaturity is understandable. It’s a healthy part of growing up. But the author of Hebrews doesn’t hide his irritation. It’s one thing for a child to be immature. It’s another thing for a middle aged man to act immaturely. And the author of Hebrews was writing to people who had been in the faith long enough to have matured naturally, yet they had remained in a state of immaturity—of arrested development, if you will. He describes them as “unskilled in the word of righteousness.”

Unfortunately, our churches are often filled with the wrong kind of immaturity. We have people who have been church members for years and years, and yet remain unskilled in the word. They can’t handle difficult doctrinal discussions because they’ve never gone deeper than the main points of a Sunday morning sermon can take them. When the sermon does dive deeper, they check out. Shallowness is a hallmark of their faith.

One of the greatest tragedies of this situation is how easily it could be remedied. What does the author of Hebrews want from his readers in terms of maturity? He wants them to be able to train their powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil. Know what is good. Know what is evil. That’s maturity. Be able to dig deeper and tell the true from the false. And how is this accomplished? It’s simple: constant practice.

Pianists don’t become accomplished on accident. Engineers don’t casually create bridges or iPhones. Michael Jordan didn’t lazy his way into total league domination. Skill—maturity—is developed through constant practice. And our faith is no exception. If you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness,” there’s a solution. Constant practice.

You may feel like you aren’t enough of a scholar to pick up your Bible, read it, and understand it. But the reality is that you won’t gain this ability apart from picking up your Bible and reading it. The understanding will come through constant practice.

If you want to remain immature and “unskilled,” neglect is the perfect strategy. It will work wonders! But if you want to press on toward maturity, if you want to train your powers of discernment so that you will recognize the difference between good and evil, there’s a simple (yet taxing) solution: constant practice. Beware of substitutes.

When Jesus Sat Down

Mark Beuving —  October 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Of all the actions Jesus performed, one of the most significant was sitting. I’m serious:

“After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:3)

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12–14)

Hebrews repeats this important concept: Jesus did what he came to do, then he sat down. According to Hebrews, Jesus played the role of both priest and sacrifice through his crucifixion. He was the priest offering the perfect sacrifice to God, and he was also the perfect sacrifice being offered as an atonement for the sins of humanity. In doing this, Jesus purified us from our sin and brought us to God.

And then he sat down. That was it. All that he needed to do. With his last breath on earth he declared “It is finished,” then he went back to the Father and sat down. When you make a perfect offering, you don’t need to add anything to it.

This has so much significance for our daily lives. Jesus has “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” Your sins have been paid for. I know that we all feel unworthy of God. Sure, Jesus paid for my sins. Sure, Jesus has reconciled me to God. But I still feel like there’s something I need to do. I need to get cleaned up a bit.

But Jesus sat down. He made the perfect sacrifice—he’s the only one who could. And then it was done. So he took a seat. What more are you going to add to Jesus’ sacrifice? If God is fully satisfied with Jesus’ offering on your behalf, what more is he looking for? What is your effort to clean yourself up before God going to do, other than demean the perfection of Jesus’ crucifixion?

Our thankful hearts should lead us to do much for God’s sake. But don’t forget where you stand. You’re God’s child. Not because you deserve it, but because God received the perfect payment on your behalf. God’s satisfaction with you is not evidenced by your stellar obedience, but by Jesus’ seated posture at God’s right hand.