Archives For Rest

In the midst of busy seasons of life, the weight of everything I’ve committed to and everything that has been placed in my lap often becomes overwhelming. I run out of hours in the day, I’ve done without sleep a few (or a thousand) times too many, and my emotional stability deteriorates. I begin making mistakes in the projects I’ve taken on, and I sometimes have to wrap up projects before I feel they’re truly done.

In these times, I feel like I’m letting everyone down. I’m not living up to my full potential in my work, I’m not giving anyone the attention and care they deserve, and my “time with God” is lacking. I feel like I’m not being faithful in anything.

My guess is that you can relate, even if you wouldn’t state it quite so dramatically.

The best advice I’ve received for these times in life came from our (Eternity’s) president, Joshua Walker. I’ll recount my version of his advice in the following paragraphs.

Only you and God know everything that’s on your plate. When you’re in a busy season like this, you will legitimately be letting people down. They’ve asked you to complete certain projects and you’re not getting them done on the timeline or with the quality that’s expected of you. But the people you’re letting down don’t know everything you’re dealing with at the moment.

For example, my students may be submitting papers that don’t reflect their full potential. I may be disappointed with my students, and their grade will reflect this. But only God knows the full extent of what each person is handling.

Here’s something we know but struggle to believe: It doesn’t matter what other people think of you.

My students don’t need to please me. They need to please God. And if being faithful to God in the totality of their life means that they won’t have time to complete an assignment, my displeasure does not necessarily reflect God’s displeasure. My students are letting me down, but they may not be letting God down. (This line of thinking can be applied to every area of life: Letting down your boss, spouse, friends, kids, or students may not always mean letting God down.)

In the Christian worldview, success is not defined by productivity, profitability, or positive feedback. From a worldly perspective, Jonah was phenomenally successful. He went to Nineveh kicking and screaming, and pouted through the end of the story. But he preached a simple message and a wicked civilization turned to God in an epic revival. From a worldly perspective, Jeremiah was a terrible failure. Though he preached faithfully and did everything God asked of him, his life’s work failed to produce a single convert.

In modern terms, you want to be successful like Jonah, not insignificant like Jeremiah. But we know that biblically speaking, Jonah is the cautionary tale and Jeremiah is the success story.

Biblical success is all about faithfulness to God. Jeremiah was a huge success because he remained faithful to God, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

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Success in God’s eyes may look like failure in the world’s eyes. You may be letting everyone down. Your life may be an obvious failure by virtually every definition of that term. You may even feel like a failure yourself.

But there is only one person you need to please: God. And he is already pleased with you. If you are doing your best with your time and resources at the moment, it doesn’t matter what praise or promotions or grades you get. If you are wearing yourself out as you seek to glorify God by doing your best in the midst of an impossible situation, then you are succeeding. You may not be getting “the job” done, but God knows everything that’s on your plate. It doesn’t matter if everyone you know and love thinks you’re lazy, or incompetent, or scatterbrained. God knows. And he couldn’t possibly love you more.

God knows you better than you do. He knows what you’re capable of, even though you constantly mis-assess your abilities. He knows how much (or how little) you can get done, even when your own timelines are unrealistic. And he is pleased with you.

God wants you to be faithful, not superhuman. So if faithfulness is your goal, and if you’re pursing faithfulness with every resource God has given you, then you are a huge success—even if you’re failing.

Now, it could be that your stress and your overwhelming schedule are symptoms of your idolatrous pursuit of something other than God. Don’t waste your exhaustion; search your heart to see what needs to change. You may well be taking on more than you should in an effort to reach some unbiblical standard of success. You may be letting people down because you are prideful or lazy.

But as you examine your heart, carefully redirect your pursuits back to God. Make every effort to be faithful to him in the commitments you’ve made in your family life, in your church, in your job, in your schoolwork. And if you are striving to be faithful to him, know that he is pleased, know that he knows that you can only do what you can do, and know that that’s enough.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve pretty much had only one answer to the question, “How are you doing?” It’s always: “Tired.” Or maybe, “Busy, tired. But good!” As far as I can tell, this is the standard answer to the question.

How are Americans doing? They’re tired.

When I started college in 2000, I became acquainted with “busy.” It was a lot of work. And I was always tired. Then I started seminary and realized I previously had no idea what “busy” was. For much of seminary, sleep was like a hometown friend that you gradually lose contact with. And then I graduated and entered the real world and discovered, yet again, that “busy” always has added dimensions and “tired” is essentially a lifelong companion. Then we started having kids, and well, I’m looking forward to sleeping in again when I retire.

Life is good, but it’s hard. Life is rewarding, but I’m exhausted. I know I’m not the only one.

So why are we so tired? Sure, we’re tired because we work too hard, we go to bed too late, we book our schedules too tightly. But those are just the practical reasons. I’m interested in the theology of it. The theology or rest, and also the theology of tiredness. In this short post, I’ll just offer two biblical reasons for our constant tiredness.

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The primary reason we get tired is that God designed us that way. He actually built it into the fabric of his world. God created everything in six days, then rested on the seventh. And that becomes the pattern in Scripture. Just as God rested, we human beings are called to rest as well.

This implies that even before sin entered the world, human beings needed rest. We needed sleep. This only makes sense: Could something as obviously divine as sleep be a mere side effect of sin?

So our need for rest is actually good. It was modeled by God himself. We were designed to put in a good day’s work and then to need rest, to finish off a solid work week and then to need to relax. Rest is good, and so is tiredness.

Next time someone answers your “how are you” with “I’m tired,” maybe your response should be: “Good!”

But another major reason for our tiredness is the fall of humanity into sin. This world is broken. Every aspect of this world has been tainted by the reality of sin. This makes the world dysfunctional, disorderly, and actually: tired.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes declares all things “vanity,” which is his way of calling life a huge enigma, a stubborn puzzle that frustrates humanity at every turn. And in that context, he says,

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it” (1:8).

It’s a tired world. Worn out. Full of weariness to an unutterable extent. Sin bogs us down, trips us up, and quite literally pulls us toward the grave.

We are tired from living in a sin-stained world. The exhaustion of this world will eventually overcome us all. In the final chapter of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher reminds us to pursue God while we’re young, before this weary world exhausts our bodies so fully that they come to a grinding halt (12:1–8).

Our own sin contributes to this exhaustion as well. As Paul makes clear in Romans 1, human beings are worshipers by nature, and while we are designed to worship God, we often turn our ultimate pursuit to idolatrous ends.

For many Americans, our idols are our careers, our reputation, our financial stability, and our carefully purchased world of comfort. This means that we often work harder and longer hours than God intends because we are pursuing much more than we need. Our greed forces us into cycles of achievement that wear our bodies down. We believe in the myth of the self-made man or woman, so we expend more energy than we have to create our own kingdoms.

But God created us to be dependent. You’re tired because you need rest. That feeling of exhaustion is God’s reminder that you need him, that you can’t do everything yourself, that there are not enough hours in the day to build his kingdom and yours at the same time.

So go ahead and be tired. Don’t be ashamed of it. Enjoy that satisfied exhaustion that comes at the end of (and all throughout) a job well done. But if you find yourself feeling exhausted and realize that you’re wearing out your body in idolatrous pursuits, then take God’s gift of fatigue seriously and rest. He made you human for a reason; he designed human beings to need rest for a reason.

Our goal should not be tired-free living, as though we were professional vacationers. Our goal is to be tired for the right reasons, to enjoy a godly exhaustion our whole lives, and then to finally enter that blessed rest of God for all eternity (see Hebrews 4).

If you have read the Bible much, you know there is a lot of talk about this day called ‘Sabbath.’ Jesus talks about it, and even used the Sabbath to antagonize the Pharisees and expose their hypocrisy. Israel was supposed to keep a Sabbath day, and even a Sabbath year. One of the reasons they went into captivity was because they grossly neglected the Sabbath.

Ten CommandmentsWhat should be most unsettling for those of us who claim to obey the Bible is the fact that the Sabbath shows up in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Yes, one of the Big Ten is that we are to take one day a week to rest and not do work. It is right there in the same list with not committing murder or adultery. Now that is unnerving, or at least it should be.

Are you telling me that taking a day off every week carries the same moral weight as sexual purity in marriage? And the same moral weight as plotting and carrying out a murder? It would appear that yes, it does. In fact, if amount of ink is any indication, then this Sabbath command might be more important (if that is possible) since it gets more ink than any of the others. Take another look at Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God doesn’t just say, “Remember the Sabbath” and let it go at that. He goes into a great deal of detail. Seems this is a pretty important command, a pretty important moral issue.

So why is Sabbath so important? How can a day off work even begin to compare to the other commandments? Let me throw out a few thoughts. Remember that the Decalogue was given to an agricultural society, a work cycle not many of us live any more. In the spring, the fields needed to be plowed. Seed needed to be sown. Weeds needed to be killed. In the fall, when the crop was ripe, the harvest needed to come in fast before rain or wind or hail destroyed an entire year’s income. There was a lot of pressure to get each season’s work done as fast as possible. The idea of taking off one full day each week was completely counterintuitive.

Taking a Sabbath day, in obedience to God’s command, was really an act of trust. It was a living statement that God was actually in control of my crops and my income. It was an acknowledgement that God is sovereign over the winds and rain and He is the one who makes things grow, not me. Sabbath is only partly about a day of rest; it is also a deterrent against idolatry, against self-sufficiency, against thinking I am in control of my destiny. It is even a means of socio-economic balance, not allowing a workaholic to get further ahead financially because he or she works 7 days a week.

We live today in a mostly post-agricultural society. Oh, there are still a lot of farmers out there, and I have the highest respect and appreciation for what they do. It is a lifestyle I would have loved to live had my life gone differently. But how does the Sabbath apply to the office worker? the construction worker? the housewife? the firefighter? the doctor or nurse? and so on? It is still an act of trust and a deterrent against idolatry. Taking a day off each week is still a strong statement that God is in control, not me.

Few would disagree that we as a 21st century people are way too busy. Many would even agree that this busyness is a sin. What better way to counter-act that busyness than by taking one day each week, and resting. No shopping, no errands, no work, no busyness. But simply resting. Being still. Worshipping. Lingering long over the Word, over dinner, over a sunset.

I suggest to you that our busyness is idolatry. It is an act of thinking we are so important that we can’t stop or our world will collapse. The kids will miss soccer practice. The profitable stock deal will get away. I will miss a text message. The car won’t get washed. Do we really think we are such a big deal that the world will fall apart if I shut down for a day? Sabbath is acknowledging the fact that God is God, and I am not; He is in control, and has it all covered.

Of course for most of us, taking a Sabbath day each week means something in our lives needs to go. So what are you going to eliminate from your life so you can obey the Fourth Commandment? Or will you continue to flaunt your self-sufficient, I-can-do-it-all lifestyle in the face of God? Let me suggest, quite strongly, that refusing to obey the 4th commandment, refusing to take a Sabbath day each week, is idolatry. And that is a violation of the First Commandment! Wow, double whammy. Take stock, reflect, slow down, eliminate something. Be still, and know that He is God, and you are not.

Labor Day is an annual tribute to the hard working American people. It’s very much appreciated. Most of us do work very hard, so being forced to take a day off of work is a welcome concept.

But I think we can find more in Labor Day than Uncle Sam intended. In forcing us to take a break from our work, Labor Day can serve as a much-needed reminder that work is not everything, that we are more than what we produce, that neither our souls nor our bodies find their entire significance in the workplace.

Many of us have a tendency toward workaholism. We feel the pressure to produce more and more, our priorities are out of place and we find ourselves climbing a ladder purely for the sake of getting higher, or the drive to get more comfortable and accumulate more stuff forces us to work unhealthy hours. Whatever the specific situation, workaholism is nothing more than idolatry. Whether we’re worshipping status, wealth, or productivity, we’re being pulled away from the true purpose of work and the proper object of worship.

When I wrote about the need to find God in the midst of a busy schedule awhile back, I talked about the painting “Office Deity” by John Feodorov. Painted in the style of an icon, “Office Deity” places the C.E.O. on the throne that would typically hold the Christ figure. The angels along the sides bear the accessories of the C.E.O.’s greatness. I love this painting because it is a potent symbol for our corporate idolatry.

So here’s the point. Most of us have the day off. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Be reminded that you are more than your job description says you are. Be thankful for the work you have and the ability God has given you to fulfill your duties. Be ready to re-enter your workplace with a passion to do your best for God’s glory and the blessing of the people you work for and with.

And in the meantime, celebrate your Labor Day with a heart that accepts the wonderful reality that God worked six days in creating the world and rested on the seventh. Embrace that embedded principle of rest and enjoy the time that God has given you to relax and enjoy the life He has blessed you with.

 

I’ll be honest. I’m not going to answer that question. I’ll leave that to Preston. But here is what I will say: We don’t always think things through the way we ought. On the one hand, we can start “celebrating” holidays merely because they give us a day off and never consider the implications of the holiday. On the other hand, we can celebrate a holiday like July 4 a bit too fervently, in a way that actually dishonors God.

Here are three brief thoughts that may help you think through your Fourth of July celebration:

1. Enjoy the rest that holidays offer. As I have said before, God designed human beings to need rest. God himself rested, and in doing so, he became our model for resting. It glorifies God when we rest. Inherent in our resting is an admission that we can’t do everything ourselves, and that the world continues to turn without us. God wants us to labor diligently, but we are not the Savior, and God does not intend for us to do it all. Taking a day of thankful rest is appropriate and important. Just don’t be like the sluggard:

As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. (Proverbs 26:14-15)

2. Enjoy the unique freedoms you have been given. Christians have always been persecuted, and our modern age is no exception. As our brothers and sisters around the world suffer for their faith, we need to be thankful for the freedom that we have been given. Such freedom also carries a temptation toward apathy, so push yourself to be thankful for your freedom and to use that freedom for God’s glory, rather than your own comfort.

3. Take some time to pray for the people in America, and for the people around the world. Our Fourth of July celebrations will dishonor God if we simply declare our superiority and our desire to be blessed for our own sake. God loves Americans, and He loves the people in every nation of the world. Remember that we don’t deserve God’s blessing. Any blessings that God gives are meant to be used to bless the world around us. This is the example of Abraham, who was blessed by God so that he could be a blessing to the world. So pray for the people in America. But also pray for the people around the world. Don’t let your Fourth of July celebration be a declaration of supremacy. Use it as an opportunity to be thankful for what God has given you and to recommit to blessing the world around you.