Rest, like many good gifts from God, is something we are good at misusing. We tend to extremes, it seems to me, either erring on the side of disdaining rest and thus being a workaholic, or, on the other extreme, being lazy and not following through on the responsibilities God has given us. Of course either extreme does not glorify God, specifically in that it puts something else in His place. For those who dedicate their life to work, even praiseworthy work, if they find their identity and worth in their career rather than God’s love for them, they are idolaters. Likewise, those who are lazy fall into living for their own pleasure rather than realizing that their lives are not their own.
The biblical model of rest is one of rest in its right season. In the creation account we see God exemplifying a routine of work and rest. As with other things, like pain and joy, despair and hope, fasting and feasting, not only is there a time for both, but each is only fully appreciated in light of the other.
In connection with this balanced concept of rest then is a biblical understanding of work. God gave Adam work before the Fall and thus we know that is not essentially a curse, but a blessing. Indeed work gives our lives significance and we can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. But all the while, we ought to remember that the wages we earn from our work are not something we can take with us into the next life. As the author of Ecclesiastes warns, if we are living only for this life, it is all “meaningless, a chasing after the sun”.
The way the Bible describes rest, there is also a spiritual significance as we see that God’s command for us to rest is a reminder of our ultimate rest in Christ and His perfect work when He comes again. I think it is so powerful that with Christ’s resurrection we now rest on the first day of the week as an act of faith in God’s provision for us throughout the week.
So, what does God-ordained rest look like? Most explicitly it is observing the Sabbath. This is not a work, or something for us to do in order to feel more righteous, but rather something to enjoy. This is the Lord’s Day, a day that gives us a glimpse of the joy to come. It is thus a day for feasting, worship and rest. It takes effort to rest on Sunday, we have to plan ahead in order to make it happen, but God blesses us when we do. And if something comes up that needs to be done on Sunday, we have the freedom to do it, but as my RUF pastor warned, if our ox is in the ditch every Sunday, we need to get a new ox.
Aside from Sundays, I think it’s God honoring to find balance on a day to day basis. We have other responsibilities in addition to our formal occupation. These include responsibilities to our spouses, children, friends, churches and communities. And when it comes to relationships, we often need to slow down enough to really listen and care for each other. We can look at Jesus’ model of ministry and see that boundaries are God-honoring. That is, although people relentlessly followed Jesus in hopes of healing and hearing His teaching, He still made a point to go off on His own to rest or to eat a quiet meal with His closest friends. Something I heard a pastor say once, that I think is applicable to many of us, is that we are not other people’s savior, only Jesus is. That is, there will always be people with needs and work to be done, but ultimately, we aren’t the ones who will set everything right. You see, we are finite and the need is so great that only Christ can meet them. This should free us to set boundaries and enjoy appropriate times of rest without guilt.
Also, throughout the day, it is wise to get up and take a breather from your work every couple of hours, especially if one’s job involves sitting in front of a computer for any duration of time. Even a short walk will get your circulation up and increase oxygen to your brain, enabling you to be more efficient when you return to your task. This is also a great time to step back from the problem you were working on and lift it up in prayer. A moment to gain perspective can make the difference between dreading your job and seeing it as a blessing.