In the midst of our busy lives, there’s a lot of talk about rest. We have a problem—an ongoing, never-ceasing, hamster-wheel experience in everyday life. 

Sometimes rest feels like another item on our endless to-do list.

Hamster Wheel

This was going to be an article on how God provides us rest, but how we often don’t see or take it. Just as the piece was nearly wrapped up, I asked my husband to read it. When he finished, he gently asked, “But what’s at the heart of your hamster-wheel running?” 

Sigh. It’s much easier and prettier to talk about how rest might look than to delve into my own issues. Why am I running so hard that I don’t feel I can rest? Even in writing, I’ve seen Jesus cut through my pretenses. He gets straight to the heart, which he’s tenderly pursuing.

And as I’m exploring why I can’t rest, I’m finding at the heart of everything—all my racing around, striving, and lack of rest—that I’m trying to justify myself when he has already justified me. As Paul declares, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

Court of Heaven

To be justified is to be declared righteous by God. It’s a verdict that comes to us through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. He alone has made me right in the sight of God.

Yet rather than resting secure in the righteousness of Christ, I often decide I’m the best judge. I use my own standards to decide if I’m worthy. Consciously or unconsciously, I have a list of criteria I need to meet in order to feel I’m living up to my standard of being a wonderful mother, wife, friend, neighbor, church member, Christ-follower . . . fill in the blank.

In order to justify myself, I become enslaved to hamster-wheel living: I need to follow up with that person to ensure they didn’t misunderstand me or to ensure they feel I loved them well. I need to spend more time with my kids so they know how loved they are. I need to serve the people around me better. I need to volunteer for another activity. The list never stops. 

When I live under the impossible weight of trying to justify myself before others, there’s never rest. I’m always bumping up against my failure to live up to my own expectations. I want to hear someone say, “Okay, you’re good. You can stop and rest now.”

And yet Jesus already has. He was perfect for me. He was and is more than enough for all that I lack.

Get Off the Wheel

On the cross, Jesus justified me once and for all; he paid all there was to pay for my sins. He made me a co-heir with him of all the promises of God. Through Jesus, God has secured an eternal rest for me in heaven—rest from tears, from death, from mourning, from crying, from pain (Rev. 21:4).

God also secured a present rest for me. In the here and now, I can rest because Jesus has made me right with God. I have nothing left to prove to anyone, including myself (1 Cor. 4:4). That’s hard for a hamster-wheel runner like me to accept. But it’s true and bears repeating: Those in Christ have nothing left to prove. Jesus has rescued us from our restless striving now and forever. 

I can step off my hamster wheel and stop racing after all the things I think I need to do to make myself right since I’ve already been declared right before God. I am his child—completely seen, completely forgiven, completely justified. That is why I can rest. You can too. 

From Not For

Still, resting in Christ doesn’t mean we cease working.

Paul explains that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). How do we knead this truth into our daily lives? When we rest from our futile attempts to justify ourselves, we can freely and gladly step into the work God has for us. His Spirit, not our own striving, empowers our effort.

None of this means our labor is easy; it’s still labor. But it’s now being poured through a filter of rest in God. No longer restlessly working for acceptance, we work from acceptance. Again, there’s nothing to prove. Our work can be freely given—without resentment or strings attached—because we have freely received. 

Rather than run in frantic circles on the hamster wheel of life, let us run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12:1–2).