Sean Nolan loves weddings. Through all the receptions and ceremonies he’s participated in, he realized that weddings have a lot to teach us about Sabbath rest.
I enjoy running and have learned and experienced much with God as a result of this rhythm incorporated into my life. I once ran in a half marathon in Nashville, and the experience provided a glimpse of the gospel for me. The main reason that I was running this particular race was to redeem the first not-so-great experience I had at that same race, years earlier. The first time I ran it, I’d never run a half marathon. Although I set some goals that I was able to reach, it wasn’t the best experience because of the physical toll it took on me. So, after about six years, the opportunity presented itself for me to take part in the race again.
Leading up to this second half marathon, I trained hard to make sure I could meet my goals and exceed my time from the previous race. Along the way, I developed some pain in my Achilles tendon, which led to an interruption in my training. Still, I didn’t want to drop out of the race. Instead I made the decision to rest for a few weeks, hoping that would give my body the boost it need to run.
The morning of the race, I was filled with anxiety. I hadn’t run very much in the month leading up to that day because of my injury, and I wasn’t sure how my body would respond. I knew it was a risk to have missed out on the weeks of training, but I counted on the hope that letting my body heal was enough to get me through the 13.1 miles.
The countdown began, and our group took off. I was feeling good. I began to pace myself behind a man and his son who were running together. They were the perfect rhythm, and it was doubly motivating because the son was at the most thirteen years old. I remember thinking, “If I can’t even keep up with a thirteen-year-old, I’m in big trouble.”
At about mile six, I started feeling my body betraying me. But, as any athlete knows, that’s when it’s time to kick it into another gear. That’s what I did. I kicked it into the “JUST FINISH” gear. It was very humbling. I don’t take for granted that many would be happy to complete a half marathon at all. I had some pretty aggressive goals and had even used words like, “I’ll be extremely disappointed” when asked about not meeting my expected finish time. I had set a pretty hard line on my definition of success. Not only did I not finish at my goal time, but I finished embarrassingly far behind.
Knowing the goals that I set and how hard I was working to achieve them, my wife was incredibly supportive. She continuously encouraged me when I was feeling disappointed in my body. On the day of the race, when I was walking out the door at 5:00 am, while everyone was asleep, I saw that my wife had written and taped a sign to the front door.
The sign said, “You can do it, babe! We are proud of you already!”
When I crossed the finish line after struggling and stumbling through the physical pain and emotional disappointment of my failure, the remembrance of that sign entered my mind.
‘I’M ALREADY PROUD OF YOU’
Whether I accomplished my goals, won the race, or didn’t even step foot on the course, I was already loved. My value had nothing to do with what I did in the marathon. This letter was a picture of the gospel. “I’m already proud of you.” Before I had done anything, before I even stepped to the starting line, she was already satisfied with me.
In Christ, this is how God views us. He is pleased with us, not because of the work we do or the way we finish. It’s because he doesn’t see us—he sees Jesus.
This reality, this love so unfathomable, leads me to a feeling of celebration, relief, and great joy! At first sight of my wife and son after the race, I welled up with tears and couldn’t stop smiling. My little boy spotted me and was calling out, “Hip, hip, hooray!” It reminded me of what it means for me to understand on a daily basis the great rescue I’ve experienced by the work of Jesus.
A good friend and mentor Keas Keasler once said, “The most theologically appropriate response to the resurrection is to dance.” I simply cannot argue with that. Understanding the gospel has reshaped the way that I live and rest.
THE GOSPEL SETS US FREE
The implications of understanding the truth of the gospel in our lives cannot be understated. For so long, I only understood the significance of the story of Jesus on the cross as meaning that when I die, I will get to go to heaven. It’s almost as though I approached life in a way that was apathetic about my current reality. I was grateful for God’s sacrifice on my behalf, but I was just hoping for the best as things played out before me.
Preaching the gospel to myself and studying the Scriptures led me to a personal awakening in light of the work of Christ. Jesus intended that we would experience the fullness of joy and life in Him on earth now, not only after death. Jesus’ words continually point to this message. John 10:10 says that He came to give us “abundant life.” In John 8:36, He reminds us that if He sets us free, we are “free indeed.” I had been dishonoring the finished work of Jesus by attempting to pay for my sin through my self-righteous life, when it had already been paid for by Him.
The central message of Jesus is that of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 4:23 it says, “He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” The significance of this idea cannot be understated. God intended for us, as His followers, to be intentional to live into this message. The most vivid picture is found in Matthew 6:33 when He says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” As we consider what it means to respond to His instruction, we can be encouraged that He is with us as we move forward.
We don’t need to be convinced that our world is a broken place. Politically, racially, economically, and culturally, our world is out of rhythm. In Romans 8:22 it says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” We all long for things to be the way they were in the beginning, at creation.
But, we receive a beautiful promise in the book of Revelation: The One who is seated on the throne says to John in a vision that He is making all things new again (21:5)! The most amazing thing about this is that God intends for us to join Him in the work of the renewal of all things. Jesus even instructs His followers to pray along these lines: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9–10).
In this verse, Jesus teaches us to ask that earth would look like heaven now. When we pray for and look at our neighborhoods through these lenses, we remember that God desires to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20) Or as author N. T. Wright says, “We are called to be part of God’s new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now.” We, as the family of God, get to join Him in this beautiful work!
Matthew 13:44 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” For most of my life as a follower of Jesus, I wouldn’t have used the word “joy” to describe the condition of my heart. So much of my lack of understanding of the finished work of Jesus kept me from seeing God’s intention for my heart and life. Jesus Himself says in John 17:13 that He desires that His joy may be in us to the full.
RESTING IN OUR TREASURE
To know that this discovery of the true treasure has reshaped everything about the way that the man in the above parable will live is a picture of the real response to the gospel. He is willing to forsake all else to give himself to the purposes of simply being with the treasure.
One of the most significant indicators of whether we’ve begun to give ourselves to the understanding and response to soul rest is if we are displaying the fruit of joy in our lives. When we know and understand the magnificent, mysterious, radical, and miraculous love and grace of Jesus, we will find our hearts bursting with the joy of the Lord.
Content taken from Soul Rest: Reclaim Your Life. Return to Sabbath by Curtis Zackery, Kirkdale Press (June 6, 2018), lexhampress.com.
Curtis "CZ" Zackery is perhaps best known for his deep empathy and contagious passion for the gospel, which defies barriers of age, ethnicity, and religion. Whether teaching, speaking, or writing, CZ provides a perspective on the gospel that is raw, accessible, and relevant. Curtis has served in various ministry and leadership roles over the last 15 years―including church planting, pastoring, and speaking on rest, the kingdom, and the beauty of the gospel. Curtis, his wife Monique, and two sons, Noah and Micah, currently live in Franklin, TN. Learn more at curtiszackery.com.