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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.

Tired 1

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.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

Last week I did a series of posts on Jesus and his church as the Light of the World. Today I want to add one final related thought.

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor was a brilliant fiction writer. She was also Catholic and deeply committed to Scripture. Though her fiction is often dark and disturbing, she insisted that it flowed out of her belief in Christian truth. How did she explain this? By appealing to Jesus as the light of the world. As a fiction writer, she said,

“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”

This line of thinking is so profound for thinking through the kind of art we make as Christians. But I also believe that it extends much farther than that. If Jesus is the light of the world, then he illuminates everything we see. We simply cannot see anything without him. The objects around you are not the light, but you cannot see them apart from the light.

Sometimes as Christians we get that idea that we must only be looking at Jesus, as though our books must be Christian, our music and movies must be Christian, our clothing must be Christian, our jobs and our cars and our friends must be Christian. But the reality that Jesus is the light of the world gives us another way to view the world. It’s not that everything we view will have the face of Jesus painted onto it, but everything we see will be seen in the light of Jesus.

Light Bulb 3If you’re a Christian plumber, for example, your job is not necessarily to install Christian pipeworks, adding as many cross-shaped pipe junctions as you can, thinking that this is what it means to be a Christian plumber. If you’re a Christian police officer, your Christianity does not mean that you will sneak in the Apostles’ Creed every time you read a criminal his rights. If you’re a Christian salesman, your Christianity will not mean swapping out the items your customers order with a New Testament, saying “They don’t really know what they want, this will do them eternal good.”

This is not what it means to bear witness to the light of the world. Jesus is the light of the world, so everything we see will be painted in his light. Jesus doesn’t want us engaged in “religious” activities every moment of every day.

He wants the plumbers among us to see their plumbing in light of who he is. So they will be hardworking, fair, gracious, and they will honor God with their work. Our Christian policeman will see God’s image stamped on every victim and every criminal they encounter. They will uphold God’s justice, and also love his mercy. Our Christian salespeople will see their wares and their customers in light of Jesus. They will temper their healthy desire for profit with the best interests of their customers, considering the ways that grace, truth, and the biblical definition of the good life affects their product, their approach to sales, and the way they treat their customers.

Jesus is the light of the world. He’s more than a message we proclaim. He also provides the illumination through which we view every aspect of our existence. As Christians, we should encounter nothing that we do not view in light of Jesus. As the light of the world, he is our interpretive grid for everything.

 

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.

 

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