Rest in the Lord is a frequently used expression in the Bible. When the psalmist says, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7, NKJV), he’s not talking about physical rest that involves taking a break from activity, relaxing, napping, or stopping to gather strength to continue or complete some physical undertaking. Rest in the Lord refers to a spiritual rest from confusion, worry, stress, useless human effort, and a break from all internal, external, mortal, and spiritual enemies.
The Hebrew word translated as “rest” means “to be at peace,” “to be still,” “to be quiet or calm.” In place of “rest in the Lord,” some Bible translations say, “Be still before the Lord” (ESV and NIV), “Be silent before the Lord” (CSB), “Surrender yourself to the Lord” (GW), and “Be still in the presence of the Lord” (NLT). These versions convey the essential idea that to rest and be at peace, one must dwell in the presence of the Lord, surrendered to His lordship.
In the Old Testament, God promised the people of Israel a life of peace in the Promised Land and rest in His presence (Exodus 33:14; Joshua 1:13–15). But this restful, peaceful living depended on the Israelites remaining faithful and obedient to God alone by keeping their covenant with Him. To those whose hearts strayed from Him, God said they would never enjoy His rest (Psalm 95:7–11).
Eventually, because of widespread disobedience and unfaithfulness, the nation of Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon. After returning from exile, once again, the promise of rest in the Lord’s presence was presented: “So do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel . . . For I will bring you home again from distant lands, and your children will return from their exile. Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet, and no one will terrorize them” (Jeremiah 30:10, NLT). But, again, the people failed to learn that resting in the Lord meant surrendering wholly to the Lord in righteous living: “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).
In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews declares the good news that those who believe in Jesus Christ can enter His rest: “God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest” (Hebrews 4:1–3, NLT).
As believers, we are not granted immunity from life’s storms, but we have a choice about how we react to those storms. Our natural tendency might be to run around frantically looking for help, trying to save ourselves from trouble. We can either respond frenetically or rest in the Lord’s presence. We can either waste our time worrying or trust in the Lord to take care of us. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28–30, NLT).
The writer of Hebrews also tells us that there is a future, final rest for believers in heaven (Hebrews 4:9–11). In the meantime, we can rest in the Lord by taking everything—all our burdens, problems, and anxieties—to Him in prayer. We can tell God what we need even as we remember and thank Him for all that He has done for us already. As we do this—as we abide in Jesus Christ and God’s presence—He promises to pour into us a supernatural, incomprehensible peace to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6–7).
Right here and now, we can quiet ourselves, be still, and surrender ourselves to the Lord. We can see Him as Isaiah did, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). He is Sovereign over the whole earth, over our lives, and over every enemy, both internal and external, human and spiritual (Isaiah 46:9–11). We can peacefully wait for Him. We can be steadfast, longing, and always looking to Him for help. This is how we rest in the Lord.