How Rest Is Essential In the Christian Life
Written May 30, 2014
It is interesting to notice that in the same place where God speaks about the necessity of work within the life of His people, He also tells about the necessity of rest from that work. One thing we can gather from this is that rest is vital for both a healthy physical life but also a healthy spiritual life.
Let’s face it, we live in a fast world that pushes us to run 100 miles per hour all the time. We’re constantly connected with one another through social media, text messages, social events, and chance meetings. If we are parents we are constantly shuttling our kids to soccer matches, wrestling practices, and countless other events that our children are part of. Our work, whether it be work at home or things we do in the office, is something we push ourselves to excel at and be the best at. Now none of these things are bad, in fact we should work hard at our job and we should be sociable and well connected to our friends and family. However, let me ask, how good are we at resting?
What is our skill level when it comes to kicking back and resting ourselves as the Lord commands us to in Exodus 20? Are we at an amatuer status, a novice, or if we were honest would we be just a beginner. Now let me be clear I’m not talking about being lazy or slothful, that deals with inaction when there is work that needs to be done and an overall attitude of apathy when it comes to the time and act of labor.
What I’m talking about is the intentional act of resting. A planned or spontaneous act of departing from daily work for the express purpose of allowing your body, soul, and spirit to rest and regain lost strength and vitality.
I ask about this because I think if we’re honest with ourselves we would have to say that we aren’t that great when it comes to resting. I know for a fact that all those at Mars Hill are hard workers. I’ve seen the way we come together in times of need and provide food for funerals. I’ve seen how we come together to put together tremendous Fall Festivals and Vacation Bible schools and all manner of worship services not to mention all the work I have seen you do at home. Hard work is something we are quite familiar with and not afraid of, however rest is often a different story.
For me it is difficult to stop my brain from wondering about all the things that I need to do or have yet to do. That, or I find myself thinking about sermon illustrations, ways in which something could be used for church, or something based in ministry. Even in my times of rest I think about work and tax my mind with to do lists and planning about when it is time to work again which really isn’t rest at all. My body may regain strength but my mind that controls my body has just been worn down a little bit more along with my spirit..
Here’s the truth of the matter, we need rest. True rest that renews all of whom we are. Don’t believe me? Well don’t forget that Jesus Himself needed rest. The very Son of God took time away and retreated into the wilderness and often took time away by Himself to rest and commune with God. Look at John 6:15-17 (ESV).
“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”
Jesus, after feeding the 5,000+ stole away into the wilderness for a chance to rest all by Himself. Now while there we know He prayed. We know this because in Luke 5:15-16 (ESV) the Scriptures reveal as much.
“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
Now if Jesus, who was in the prime of His life, needed to rest then what makes us think that we should require anything less than what He did. Also, seeing God prescribed it in the ten commandments what makes us think that rest is some bad thing to be avoided at all costs? We need to rest. We need that blessing of a time to recuperate our strength and refocus our minds and spirit.
Think about it this way if you will. I love woodworking (Not to be confused with being a good woodworker). In particular I love turning things on my little wood lathe in the basement. Right now I have a passion for making ceiling fan pulls and given a little bit more time I might be able to make some pretty pieces. Now woodturning is not a very labor intensive activity but it does work your hands quite a bit. In fact I’ve pushed myself a little too far a couple of times and my hands paid the price the next day. With that work I need two things to happen in order that I might come back and do a good job on my next project.
First, I have to rest physically. My hands and eyes need to rest up and regain their strength and focus. Holding a gouge and shaping spinning wood puts a strain on your hands as they hold tools and sandpaper. My eyes focus in on one particular spot while turning the wood so they need a little while to rest before putting on the safety glasses again.
Second, I have to clean my work area, and get things back in order. You would be amazed how much sawdust and shavings are made when you turn a piece of wood on a wood lathe. You’d also be amazed how many tools get scattered about when working on a project. I have to clean up and organize everything so the next time I begin working, things are where they need to be so that when they are needed they can be accessed quickly.
Now if I chose just to get a good night’s rest and come back to a cluttered work area my work would not be up to par, not would it be as enjoyable. I would get frustrated because I couldn’t find a particular drill bit. I would get mad at having to clear away wood shavings looking for a tool. I would have to look around for my sandpaper because it wasn’t in the right spot. All of this would affect my work and my overall demeanor in the shop.
May I propose that is how many of us live our lives. In the cluttered workshops of our minds and souls. We have bodies that are fully capable of doing the work at hand but we have never really rested and had time to clean up that clutter that comes with doing a full days work. The truth is that when we don’t rest we lose out on the blessings that our body soul and spirit really need. We lose that chance to clear our cluttered mind and gain proper perspective on all that is around us. We skip good rest for many reasons, let me give you a few.
- WORRY – We think that something bad will happen if we take some time off and therefore we never truly rest. I’ve heard tell of a preacher who never took a Sunday off because he worried what would happen if he wasn’t there! Worry is like an acid that eats away at our ability to enjoy the life God has planned for us.
- PRIDE – We think that someone will think less of us if we rest or we think too much of ourselves as if what we do is too valuable to the world to take a much needed break. I know no greater work than that of the work Jesus did while here on earth and He took time to rest and commune with His Heavenly Father. I doubt there is anything we can list that will trump the work of the Savior in importance and use it as an excuse to not rest.
- FEAR – We have a preconceived notice that something terrible is going to happen if we don’t push ourselves to the limit everyday. I remember one holiday season while I was bag boy at Harris Teeter. I’m not sure what holiday it was but it was cold and raining and the store was very busy. I had finished my shift and was going home and I remember that as I laid down to sleep that night I was anxious and fearful that something was going to go wrong at the store. Either the shopping carts wouldn’t be brought in or someone wouldn’t get to a customer in a timely manner. I just knew in my heart that something was going to go wrong and it made me scared. Silly huh? How often, though, do we do the same thing when it comes our work and refusing to step away because we fear something horrible will happen if we leave. Don’t forget the sovereign God of the universe is in control of all things great and small, even a grocery store’s need for individuals to put groceries into bags.
- GLUTTONY – I know this one might have you scratching your head but just listen to the definition of gluttony – it is “greedy or excessive indulgence.” Now this is most often directed at overindulging in food but it can be used in a variety of ways such as being a glutton for punishment. It is overindulging in something just for the selfish pleasure of it. I love the work of the ministry but if I am overworking/overindulging myself in working and neglect rest and time I need to spend with my family, then I am not doing right in the sight of God.
- GREED – This goes hand in hand with gluttony. The thought is if I work longer hours I’ll make more money and have a better life, as if money was the magic elixir that made life better. Rather than taking time to rest we begin to worship money rather than the One that told us to rest and enjoy Him.
So the big question is what do we do? What do we do if we are guilty of using one of these excuses to justify a lifestyle of overworking and under resting. What do we do if we have come to the realization that God wants us to rest and yet we have starved ourselves of the rest we truly need.
Let me give a two fold answer to that question. First let me give an explanation of what rest truly is and then explain some things we can do to actually enter into rest. I’m going to do my best to base this on Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV).
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
First what I think rest truly is…
- It is an INTENTIONAL act – when God said “Remember the Sabbath” He was saying that to keep the Sabbath or the day of rest was something that had to be intentionally done. When we rest, and I mean truly rest it very rarely comes spontaneously. Usually there is intentional planning involved like getting a sitter for the kids, turning off a cell phone, getting away to the beach, or simply choosing to go for a walk, rest is something that is entered into intentionally.
- It is a DEPARTURE from work – God goes on to say that about the Sabbath or day of rest – “On it you shall not do any work.” Now work can take on many forms. In Moses’ day it was simple to define work, it was the things you did to survive. That was everything from sewing to gardening to blacksmithing. This was a departure from that and I think the principle is the same today. We should be able to depart from the work that is our livelihood and enter into doing something or nothing that gives us rest and relaxation. Now to be sure this is more difficult for some. I will admit it is difficult to get my brain switched from pastor mode to beach bum or off work husband/father but that is where intent and departure come into play. Sometimes we have to work at being at rest.
- It is a CELEBRATION of our God who rests – Finally God said this – “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” When we rest we celebrate and honor our God who rested. This is another reason why I think we might shy away from resting. If we rest we are being obedient to God and many times when we do this we can be drawn close to God. If we are not walking with Him we will shy away from Him because we fear that presence in our life. By the way, if we fear the presence of God in our life we need to examine our heart because that means there is a sin there that should not be.
So how do we rest? That almost sounds like a silly question. As much as the pastor relations committee has bugged me about making sure I take time off one might wonder if I’m even qualified to answer this question. I promise I am going to give it my best shot. First, let me say this, it is not a silly question. As worn down and tired as I know many of us feel and how busy we are in our lives learning how to rest is a very relevant and important question.
- BRAINSTORM Restful Activities – Every person is different, what is restful for one person is not restful for another, because of that it is important to know what gives you rest. For some it will be sleeping in and laying around the house all day reading a book while listening to music. For others it will be mowing the lawn and breathing the fresh air. One of the most restful things I did while on Sabbatical before coming to Mars Hill was paint the floor of the beach house. I know that doesn’t sound all that restful but believe me it was just what I needed at that place in my life. Jesus stole away into the wilderness and got away from all the people He was ministering to and took time to pray. My wife loves to cross stitch and gains great enjoyment from just sitting and working on a project. My best advice is to take some time and just think about what is restful for you and what renews your spirit. From that list you will have a variety of things that will help you enter into rest.
- SCHEDULE Your Rest – Life is full of unexpected and unforeseen events. These past two weeks are a testament to that as we’ve had many go to the hospital and have major surgery and one of our own go home to be with the Lord. Life is filled with unscheduled events but that doesn’t mean we should not plan our rest and work to make those appointments happen. Again, very seldom does rest happen in a spontaneous manner, it is entered into with intent.
- WORSHIP God in Your Rest – In every aspect of our life we should always remember God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 admonishes us to give glory to God in everything we do, even the mundane things of life. Our rest should be no different. If your rest includes a stroll in the park because you are in a cubicle all week use the time to commune with God and talk with Him. Give Him thanks for all His wonderful creation around you. If you are having a family activity have a time of prayer at some point and give God thanks for that time you share together. In your time of rest ask God to help you to renew your strength and gain back that clarity of thought and renew your spirit.
Let us rejoice in the fact that this life we have been given in Christ is one that is filled not only work for God but rest for God as well. It is a life where God has prescribed both work and rest for we need both to be healthy and holy for Him. My hope is we will all take these truths to heart and enter into rest that we might worship Him there and our strength might be renewed that we might again work diligently for Him.