Our Restless Hearts

It’s perhaps not terribly out of line to say that we are an anxious people, often times difficult to satisfy regardless of the blessings that we enjoy. We are always looking for something more, as if unable to find contentment, wanting things to be different than they are, desiring change without asking if that change is more of a loss than a gain. In many ways, we are a restless people who live amidst a restless society.

This isn’t surprising, or, at the very least, it shouldn’t be. The human heart, after all, is a restless thing. It is only when that restlessness is not focused or is focused on the wrong things, on the wrong object of our attention that it becomes not only problematic but outright dangerous, compelling us towards directions that we little understand as it creates a deep void within us. We try to fill this void however we can, with whatever we can. Yet, in the end, it never quite works the way we had hoped and the emptiness, the restlessness, it remains, leaving us to wander from one thing to the next.

In many senses, this is what’s wrong with so many elements of our society today. We have an unfocused restlessness that we don’t understand and that we are, ultimately, unable to satisfy.

Augustine of Hippo, the fourth-century bishop and theologian, recognized this restlessness within us as he wrote the most famous sentence in his Confessions, “Tu excitas, ut laudare te delectet, quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.” “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

Restlessness is our desire for fulfillment, and it is an ingrained part of who we are as people. It is natural for us to struggle with our sense of identity, with who we are and where we are going. We wonder to ourselves, questioning our place as we try to figure it out. We look around at the world as it is and we wrestle with it, seeing its blemishes and imperfections. It stirs within us a sense of disquiet and discontentment as we seek hoping that we may find.

Yet, for the trouble it can bring, this restlessness can be one of the greatest blessings and an incredibly important part of who we are. That is if we rightly understand what it is and what it draws us towards.

Here it is perhaps important to take a moment to dissect the statement that Augustine is making in order to properly recognize what it is that he is saying.

From the outset, we are struck by a basic, fundamental truth, objective in its nature. This is namely that it is God who formed us, (Gen. 1:26-27) and, in forming us, He created us for Himself, (Col. 1:16) for His glory and His pleasure. (Rev. 4:11) Yet that does not prevent us from feeling restlessness deep inside of us.

God Formed Us For Himself

Formed in the likeness of God, in His very image (Gen. 1:27) humanity represented the pinnacle of a creative God’s creation. It was by His breath alone, that breath of life, that man became a living being. (Gen. 2:7) This understanding of the special nature of creation is re-iterated by David as he declares:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Ps. 139:13-16)

As Jerome would state in his letter to the Ephesians “We are his creation. This means that it is from him that we live, breathe, understand and are able to believe, because he is the One who made us”. Here, God provides humanity with a special character that sets it apart from all creation. Though all things were created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16) it is humanity that the capacity to know God, to enter into an intimate relationship with Him, and, in that, love, worship, serve, and commune in fellowship with Him.

But why? Why create mankind with this unique quality about them? The answer, simply put, is that God formed us for Himself for His glory alone. From the very beginning of creation, as God took the dust of the ground, and formed man in the Imago Dei, He did so that they might manifest and bring forth His glory through all the world. When He commanded man to be fruitful and multiply, filling and subduing the earth (Gen. 1:28) He did so that the world would be, ultimately, filled with the knowledge of His glory. To this end, our purpose is to display that glory in all that we are and all that we do. This is why humanity, in all that it is and all that it does, is intended to do so to the glory of God, (1 Cor. 10:31) giving to him the full measure of the glory. (Matt. 5:16)

Thus, when it is said that God formed us for Him, this is what is meant. We are his workmanship, the closer we get to Him, to that original image of man, the closer we arrive at our purpose, which is why we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. (Eph. 2:10) This is, ultimately manifested itself in the two great commandments which are expressed by Christ Jesus himself, namely that we love God with all that we are, all of our heart, soul, and mind, and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:36-40)

It is through this that we see the true object of our peace and the fullness of rest, because it is only here that we see our true purpose and meaning in faith in Him.

The Essence of Restlessness

We arrive at restlessness out of a lack of contentment because we are, ultimately, dissatisfied. Experiential in nature, it permeates through all of us, a byproduct of the first sin that would lead to our expulsion from paradise. In an instant, we went from that perfect state of being to an imperfect one. To go from the perfection of God’s presence in Eden, where all is cared for, experiencing that unspoiled, complete communion with our Creator, to a sinful world of struggle and toil, of pain and sorrow, it is impossible not to yearn for that which was lost, it is impossible not to feel the void within us.

The inherent problem is that we do not recognize the source or the reason for our discontentment oftentimes. We recognize the restlessness within us, but we tend to attribute it to any number of things in our life. As we do they become the object of our focus, the object of our attention and pursuits as they confuse us. The inherent problem is that it creates a vicious circle whereby we try to ease our restlessness through our pursuits, but it just creates a deeper restlessness in us so we pursue with greater vigor, yet we find we cannot seem to mollify. In the end, all it seems to do is draw us further from the true object of our peace, and we become like Demas who, for the love of this world, find ourselves now far from where we need to be, where we should be, (2 Tim. 4:10) as it, without us knowing it, becomes the deeper desire of our hearts. We become wanderers, unable to find what we want the most.

What we have to recognize then is the true source of our restlessness. This is namely the distance between us and God, and the distractions which seek to pull our attention from Him.

In this sense, what we recognize is that restlessness, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not necessarily wrong for us to feel this restlessness in us. It is that we need to recognize it for what it really is. This is, namely, our desire for God, our desire to see after Him, to draw nearer to Him, to draw closer to Him. And why? Because He created us to be near Him as we glorify Him. When when we are removed or far from Him we want nothing more deeply than to be close to Him again, even if we don’t realize that is the source of our restlessness.

In this sense what we recognize is that our restlessness is ultimately because of our alienation from God. It is so deeply entrenched in us because we are homesick, wandering amidst this temporal existence seeking that place where we belong, that place that will fulfill us completely. We have longing which cannot be satisfied until we understand what the object of that longing is. Thus, when we, through the power of the Spirit, properly understand the restlessness within us it calls to us, drawing us amidst our dissatisfaction to God.

True Rest

What we then come to realize is that we can only truly know rest when we find rest in Him, when we commune with Him as we were intended. This is the beautiful reminder of Christ as he invites the weary and the heavy laden to come to Him so that they will find rest. (Matt. 11:28-30) Here, our precious Savior is telling the individual to stand apart from the world, to set aside the love of sin, and turn to him, drawing closer to God that they may share in the divine nature, finding rest in him and peace in the Spirit. Thus, in faith, the human soul delights in praising Him, finding its deepest satisfaction.

This is the teaching of Paul to the church in Philippi, as he declares that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. (Phil. 4:13) Written during his imprisonment, the apostle’s circumstances are such that they should breed discontentment and resentment, restlessness should weave through him. Yet he found contentment in whatever situation he finds himself for his rest is in the Lord. His life given to ever drawing nearer to the Lord his peace is secure.

Drawing closer to God is essential to our understanding of what Augustine is saying here. Everything in what he is saying is pointing us to an unavoidable truth. This is namely that our lives are to be given in movement towards God. He opens by stating that God moves us to delight in Him. More than this though, as the Roman Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft points out, Augustine uses ad, rather than pro, writing, “Fecisti nos ad te.” The implication here is that God made us to come to Him, our lives a journey towards that perfect peace that transcends all human understanding, a journey amidst a restless world towards the only true source of rest.

It is in this journey then that we find ourselves, not as we are, but as we are intended to be in communion with our Creator, recognizing that, as the created being, we are intrinsically bound to Him. Thus, we come to recognize that our rest does not come through our pursuits in this world, but, in our pursuit of God, when we practice His presence in our life, and we discipline ourselves so that we may be inclined towards His holiness.

When we do, we come to a beautiful realization, one which Augustine would express elsewhere, this is namely “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me. It was not that I found, O Savior true, no, I was found by Thee.” God desires us. He desires us so much that He actively pursues us so that we may have His peace. Recognizing the longing deep within us, He moves our souls deep within us so that we will seek Him. He moves so that we may find and know true rest, that rest can only be found in Him.

God thus moves us to praise Him because He is our great joy and our overwhelming pleasure. It is in Him that we discover who we truly are, and who we are truly meant to be. In the wonder of His love for us He gives to us a gift, a wondrous and marvelous gift, namely the restless heart, that even as we, through our sin, are separated from Him, we recognize that something in us is missing, something in us is, ultimately incomplete.

Of course, it would be the heart, which signifies the entirety of our being, that would be restless, for until we are reconciled with God, we are lost and broken, we are dead in our trespasses, yet alive in this world. We are the dead unable to find true, everlasting peace. Yet, in His love, by His grace, He provides for us the completion that we need through Christ Jesus, healing the lost and broken places within us, and calling us to faith through the power of the Spirit that we may be made alive through he who saves us.

See the restlessness of our heart then for what it truly is. It is not the call of this world or the things in it. It is not a void that can be filled with the temporal, with earthly achievement and adulation. Rather, it is the call to draw nearer to your Lord, to your Creator. It is the call to glorify Him in all that you are and all that you do, knowing that you are His workmanship, fearfully and wonderfully made as you were knit together in the womb. You are created for Him, and it is only through Him that you will know rest for your restless heart.

Lord, grant this unto us all…

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