In light of my recent posts on busyness, it seems fitting to share a few thoughts on rest. Rest can be awful:
“How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11)
The lazy kind of rest destroys lives, resists God’s kingdom, and gives the finger to God’s plan of redemption. But contrary to the testimony of our calendars, there is actually a healthy place for rest in the life of the Christian.
Rest in the Bible
God labored for six days to create the universe—I have to think that took some serious effort—then rested on the seventh day. God created man to be a worker as well. Contrary to popular belief, work itself is not punishment for sin. The frustration and pain that we experience in work is part of the curse (Gen. 3:17-19), but even before the fall “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
Yet man is more than a workhorse. Therefore God commanded his people to observe a Sabbath, a day on which they would rest from their labor and worship the Lord (Ex. 20:8-11). This command is explicitly tied to the rhythm that God set by working six days and resting on the seventh. The rhythm of labor and rest was to be carried over to the earth as well: God commanded Israel to give their land a Sabbath year every seventh year (Lev. 25:4). Israel was rebellious in many ways, and their land never got the rest it deserved. In fact, when God took his people into exile, he made a point of saying that now that Israel was away from their land, it would finally get the Sabbath rest it required (Lev. 26:43; 2 Chron. 36:21).
In the Old Testament, God’s people are challenged to learn from the mistakes of the generation that died in the wilderness after the exodus (Psalm 95). Why? Because that generation was explicitly told that they would not enter God’s rest. Hebrews 4 picks up on this theme and tells us that the promise of entering God’s rest still stands. In other words, rest is a good thing. We should pursue it. It’s a healthy thing. While we are no longer bound by the strict Sabbath law that Israel had to observe (see Rom. 14:5, Col. 2:16), rest is still important to God. It is still an important human pursuit. Jesus calls the weary to exchange their heavy burdens for his light yoke and thereby to experience his rest (Matt. 11:28-30).
Rest in the Christian Life
Our restlessness shows a lack of faith in God. Rest is a sign of trust. It is an acknowledgement of our finiteness. God is infinite. He does not need to rest (which makes his example of resting in Genesis 1 all the more intriguing). But God made us to be finite creatures. We have definite limits—and that’s a good thing. We need rest.
Rest is a healthy reminder that we can’t do it all. Our inherent limitations force us to acknowledge that the world keeps moving without us, that we are not solely responsible for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Tied in closely with a theology of rest is a theology of enjoyment. Enjoying God’s creation is an important form of rest. Paul gives an important warning about riches that actually gives us some helpful insight into the goodness of rest and enjoyment:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17)
Leland Ryken’s comments on this verse are helpful:
“This key verse establishes three important principles: (1) God is the giver of all good things, (2) He gives people these things so they can enjoy them, (3) the misuse of them consists not in enjoyment of them but in trusting in them or making idols of them.” (The Liberated Imagination, 86-87)
In sum, we need to find a way to enjoy God’s creation without worshipping it. We need to learn to rest without becoming sluggards. But based on what I see in the Christian community, most of us need to swing the pendulum farther away from the busy side and much closer to the rest side. Here’s to finding a way to rest to the glory of God!