It’s been a busy season. When you’re working in ministry, the Easter weekend and the time that leads up to always is. And as I was coming through the other side of that particular time frame and setting aside a day to be home and rest, I gave some thought to the question: How best to rest? Knowing that I hadn’t seen my family as much in the week prior, and knowing there was a lot I could fill that time with, I was reminding myself about the truth behind what it means to really rest…
How do we view rest?
The concept of rest can be uncomfortable for us sometimes. I think society has linked all kinds of assumptions and thoughts onto it’s real meaning and can get us feeling funny about prioritizing it. It’s a two-sided coin in how we view our need to rest. On one side is the feeling of laziness. In a world with so much to do and such limited time, we can feel lazy in wanting to prioritize rest! Or, we can hold a right to rest mindset in which we view our obligations through what we’re “expected” to do. For instance, work hours – I work until 5pm, and then it’s my time! Or, I have vacation time so I need to use every last minute of them. We get protective about “rest” time, but in truth, we’re not seeking rest, but usually an opportunity to fill that “free time” with other stuff. We leave work and then have a whole other calendar of busy time.
For me, a real view of work vs. rest has to include stuff outside of my “work hours.” Plenty of other things have demand on me. I can’t just go home and say to my wife “I’m done!” House work, social obligations, children, all have demand on my capacity. They are usually all great things, but still require focus and effort. I can often feel like I’m working even while laying in bed – my brain is still going a million miles an hour, and I’m not really resting.
Rest is a biblical concept, and one worth paying attention to. Starting in the very first book, God introduces us to the concept of rest, and so the first truth in rest is this:
1. God modeled rest for us
Genesis 2:2 says “By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” Obviously God wasn’t resting because He was tired. You’re not interrupting God’s day off by praying on Saturdays. No, He did this to model rest for us. He worked for six days and then He rested.
Think about the nation of Israel and how this had impact on them. They were farmers, so they worked long, hard days. God is certainly affirming work in this passage of Genesis as well. But, in the sabbath model, when the sun went down on Friday, you were done until Sunday morning. It must have been tough for them to follow this model sometimes – I imagine that farmers always have something they need to do. Animals have daily needs, crops are delicate and were their source of survival. How often would they have worked seven days, never taking a break had it not been for God’s model of rest? And how many of them would be able to keep up the non-stop pace for the long haul? Not many. In our culture today, we often idealize these people who never stop as hard workers, go-getters, self-starters, etc. It comes with a badge of honor most times, but that pace ends in burn out. You just can’t keep it up, and God knows this. That’s why He modeled rest for us.
2. God is rest for us
Here’s the truth about rest. True rest doesn’t come with a vacation day, a nap, a few hours to yourself, or any other kind of scheduled time. That can help, but as I already mentioned, I can lay in bed, with my mind focused on all that I need to do, and never find true rest. The truth is, that as much as sabbath was important, Jesus fulfilled the promise of rest and has become that rest for us. He didn’t remove the need for rest – Matthew 5 reminds us that Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. And in that fulfillment, He’s removed the tendency for legalism over what hours to observe or rules to follow. He promises in Hebrews 4 that He is our rest, saying “we who have believed have entered that rest.” Matthew 11:28 says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Real rest is a mental and spiritual focus shift toward Christ. He is the giver of rest, of strength, and renewal. If we’re not drinking from the spring of life, we easily burn out. God knows we need rest, and that rest is provided in Jesus. To experience rest, the real rest that He promises, we need to focus on Him and spend time with Him.
Jesus is our rest
3. Rest is about humility and trust
Think again about the Israelite people and their need to humbly trust God for their provision while they observed the sabbath. How often must they have worried about their crop and said “If I don’t do this, we’ll lose it all.” Yet, God was telling them work was off limits for that day. For our context, missing a day of work won’t likely result in us losing our livelihood, but how often do we view our time that way? We approach everything as if we can’t really stop – we just need to squeeze one more thing in, and by that mentality we say that our trust is in our own ability rather than in God. We’re just not that important that we can’t create some margin, especially margin that will allow us to find rest in our Lord.
4. Rest is required to live like Jesus
I realize that time is a precious commodity for us. And I know that my tendency is to eek out every last minute of productivity that I can. I go over my calendar time and again looking to see how I can squeeze out another hour here or a half hour here in order to be more productive, or to accomplish one of many good things. And in that light, I read Deuteronomy 24:19-21:
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner the fatherless and the widow so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees do not go over the branches a second time Leave what remains for the foreigner the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner the fatherless and the widow.
I’m not harvesting crops, but I am combing over my calendar looking for any leftovers that I can grab and use. But how can I live like Jesus in my neighborhood, or to my extended family, or in any context when I’m not leaving time to be present? Rest isn’t just for me. It’s for those around me too. And I’m convicted today about “harvesting” my calendar for the leftovers rather than leaving them be so I can hang out in my front yard and casually chat with my neighbors, or spontaneously have time to hang out with family members. Rest and margin are required if I want to live like Jesus in the context where He’s placed me.
So my takeaways on rest are this:
1. God modeled rest for us – knows how we’re wired and what we need
2. God is rest for us – He’s our strength, our peace, and our renewal
3. Rest is about humility and trust – do we rely on ourselves or on God’s provision
4. Rest is required to live like Jesus: we need margin in order to live out our faith
Rest is going to look different to each of us. Please don’t confuse it with a calendar or vacation time. It isn’t always about a set time, but it is a rhythm that can’t be neglected. Rest can actually be experienced at really busy times, if we’re willing to carve out moments to shift our focus intentionally away from all that’s before us and onto Christ. But don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that it can be another appointment on your calendar. Intentionally seeking rest in Christ is important. Rest comes by shifting our focus fully toward him, breathing Him in fully and not making time with Him another task on a long list.
Rest is important, so make it a priority. You’ll find that rest in Jesus.