Biblically, our lives aren’t divided between work and life, but between work and rest. If we want to find balance, then we must learn to work well and rest well. Now, I’m going to say something that is clearly true, but doesn’t feel like it should be true.
Rest is hard. It doesn’t feel like it should be true, because in our core we long for rest. We love our happy hours, weekends, and vacations, and wish we had more of them. Plus, rest should be easy, right? Isn’t it easy to simply not do anything? And yet it seems that even during our “down time” so many of us struggle to truly stop.
On those weekends and vacations, we often end up running around getting stuff done or filling the time with activities that leave us almost as exhausted as our work days. If we do slow down externally, many of us struggle even more with stopping internally. Our minds and hearts remain restless as we worry about problems, consume media and information through our devices, and try to distract ourselves from anything uncomfortable or unpleasant with entertainment.
Why is it so hard for us to rest? To answer this question, we need to understand that both work and rest are ultimately spiritual. In my last blog, I argued that our work is a direct reflection of what we worship. The same is true of our rest. To worship God doesn’t mean going to church and singing songs on Sunday. It means falling in love with Him and allowing His heart, His ways, and His wisdom to define our lives.
God established a pattern of rest for us from the beginning of creation. “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2 NKJV).
Why did God do this? Unlike us, God doesn’t get tired or need a good night’s sleep. He doesn’t stop and rest from His work because He has been depleted and needs to be refreshed and restored. But God did this because He wants us to understand that there is a spiritual rhythm of doing work, finishing work, and resting from the work before doing the next round of work. The idea is that He completed something, and then instead of going immediately on to the next thing, He took time to celebrate its completion, to stop and take in what He had accomplished and enjoy it. This rhythm is part of His nature and part of the universe He created. When we sync up with that rhythm, we begin to experience blessing.
In Deuteronomy, Moses explained that the reason Israel was to keep the sabbath was to remember that God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. For a slave, their work is never finished, and they never get to enjoy it. But God’s chosen people were no longer slaves, so they got to rest.
So let’s go back to the original question––why is it so hard for us to rest? The answer is that if we can’t rest, it’s because spiritually, we still have the mindset of a slave. We’re still not living fully in our identity as a son or daughter of the Father who created us to be free, to work creatively, to enjoy completing our work, and more important, to enjoy the completion of His work. This is what the sabbath means. When Jesus showed up on the scene, He criticized the Pharisees for turning the sabbath into something it was never intended to be––a day where you had to navigate a thousand laws about what you could and couldn’t do. Jesus healed and performed miracles on the sabbath because the sabbath is about God finishing His work. He created the world, He redeemed the world through Jesus, and now He is at work restoring the world.
When we look at the world around us, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of restoration left to do. In fact, it’s easy for us to believe that that’s all there is––endless problems to be fixed, evils to be faced, storms to calm, and battles to fight.
But there is also so much restoration that has been completed. We simply need to take the time to look for it. This is what keeping the sabbath is all about––it’s taking time every week to pay attention to how God has been at work throughout human history, how He is at work in the world around us, and how He is at work in our lives. He is completing His work, and He will complete His work.
When we take time to meditate, thank, and worship God for what He has done in our lives, it recharges us with awareness of His grace. If there is any place in our lives where we have come to believe that we are laboring alone at the tasks of our job or relationships or personal growth, we are reminded that this is a lie. We are not working alone. We are working with Him, and most importantly, He is working on the things we can’t carry.
This is why Jesus told us to come to Him and take His yoke upon us, and He would give us rest. A yoke is what allows two farm animals to work together in sync. Jesus’ yoke is His way of life, and when we submit to it, we come into partnership with Him. He promised us that this partnership would not be heavy or wearisome, but would be easy and light, and restore our souls.
I like how The Message puts it: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).
So what does your attitude toward rest say about your spiritual perspective? What does Jesus want to teach you about rest today?