As a green youth pastor, I thought hosting a lock-in for students was a great idea: 8:00pm-8:00am non-stop activities with no sleeping allowed. Whenever energy would drop, candy and Mt. Dew would get served, fueling a greater crash later! By the event’s end, students were moody and difficult to control. Leaders were over it, and I was questioning my calling to ministry. After cleaning up, I would go home and barely make it to the couch emotionally, physically, and relationally drained. One year I got the reckless idea to wrap up the lock-in and drive two hours to my parent’s house, dozing at the wheel and putting myself and those around me in mortal danger.
It doesn’t take a lock-in experience to understand a very important truth: a lack of rest debilitates nearly every area of our life from empathy to problem solving to resisting temptation. We also know the converse truth: rest restores!
With the pace of family life today, it’s legitimate to ask, “What does rest look like for the busy Christ follower today? Are there any guidelines in scripture to inform our understanding of rest? How do we navigate the calendar commitments of life, work, school, and church with such limited time in the day? Does the sabbath principle still apply?"
Scripture actually speaks quite clearly to this. The Old Testament gives clear instructions for human flourishing and how man and God are to relate to each other. The priests, sacrifices, and temple are all examples of this. Thankfully, in the New Testament, we see the arrival of Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, who is the better and ultimate priest, sacrifice, and temple. He does not abolish the Old Testament commands but fulfills them (Matthew 5:17)! This beautiful fulfillment also applies to rest. We see in the fourth commandment a command to remember the sabbath by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). Then, we see Jesus fulfilling the sabbath command by calling all people to rest in him (Matthew 11:28) and declaring that He is the Lord of the sabbath (Matthew 12:8). The author of Hebrews explains in chapter 4 that when you trust in Christ alone for salvation, Jesus fulfills the fourth command and becomes your sabbath rest, offering a full and complete spiritual rest that informs believers on how to live their lives under the freedom of the New Covenant.
Let’s get practical: how does this play out for busy Christians today? Just like Jesus provided himself as the ultimate sacrifice, negating any further need for believers to offer the blood of goats and bulls (Hebrews 10:1-18), believers are still called to live sacrificially. We don’t pick our best lamb anymore; rather we are to consider our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), giving generously (1 John 3:16-17), loving the least of these (Matthew 25:35-40), and bearing each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2). “Sacrifice” is to be a descriptor of the believer’s life because Jesus sacrificed all for us. In the same way, “rest” is to characterize the believer’s life because Jesus is the ultimate rest for us. Let’s look at five principles outlined in scripture that should characterize the life of a Christian who is resting in Christ.
Rest Is Rhythmic
God instituted the gift of rhythmic rest within the very fabric of creation (Genesis 2). God rested in Genesis 2 and established a rhythm for creation by saying that on the seventh day, He finished his work, and then he rested. Genesis 2:2 does not say He finished His work on the sixth day; rather, He finished on the seventh day. Rest is the element that finishes work. Work is unfinished until there is rest from it. Also, believing that God is still working throughout His creation and He very much works to sustain all things (Colossians 1:15-17), we understand that this rest points us to a rhythm of rest established on a rotation of time, not just on finishing a job. We see this truth displayed throughout the created order. A farmer's work is never done, but his week's work can be. Or, consider a commercial developer. He may say he’ll rest when the job is done. That often takes years! Even secular research has told us that work without rest will diminish returns. The developer’s project may not be done, but the work for that week can be finished. We see rhythmic rest in our created sleep patterns, in the Biblical command to rest fields for a better harvest (Leviticus 25:2-7), and on and on. When practiced with a set rhythm, rest is best.
Rest Is Spiritual
Rest is presented as spiritual throughout scripture. Rest and worship are tied together in the 4th commandment. Psalm 46 calls us to “be still and know that I am God.” The repeated calls to meditate and contemplate (Philippians 4:8, Ps. 1:2, etc) and consider the things of the Lord, require rest: stopping, stillness, and a removal of other tasks. Have you ever tried to have a meaningful quiet time with the Lord while answering emails? Can you multitask confession while crunching numbers for a new budget proposal? Conversely, to not rest is idolatrous. British theologian David T. Williams says that we should never be so bound to any activity that we cannot rest from it regularly. If anything totally consumes us to the point that we cannot set it down, it is an idol. More than just a physical action, rest is spiritual and it helps reveal the true condition of our hearts.
Rest Leads Us to Remembrance
A significant part of the sabbath command was to rest in order to remember the promises and provisions of your great God! Deuteronomy 5:15 commands the people of God to use the sabbath as a day to remember their former condition of slavery and that it was the mighty hand of God who brought them their freedom! Similarly, Jesus himself in Luke 22 establishes the Lord’s supper as a rhythmic remembrance. He commands believers to gather and to remember the spilled blood and the broken body of Christ, given for you! Rest, in this sense, is a guarding of time so that you can stop and focus on remembering the most important truths that can easily be forgotten in the busyness and speed of the week.
Rest Requires Us to Trust God to Provide
The American work ethic tells us that if you want it, you can work hard enough to achieve all your dreams. You are the master of your success. But scripture says differently, telling us that God is the one who provides. He is the one who makes the crops grow, and any good thing we have is a direct result of God giving it to us. In Exodus 16:22-30, God miraculously provided manna when there was no other food available in the wilderness. The command was to only collect enough for the day, don’t overwork or it will stink and rot. God was teaching his people to trust His provision. The only exception was to collect two portions on the day before the sabbath because no manna would be provided on the sevent day. This was also a lesson in trust, showing that a God ordained pause from work supernaturally leads to provision.
Rest Is a Gift from God
Mark 2:27-28 tells the story of Pharisees questioning Jesus about why his disciples are picking grain and breaking the sabbath command. Jesus responds by proclaiming that the sabbath is a funnel for grace that God gives as a kind gift for His people to guide them to a right relationship with God. A right relationship with God is the fastest path to experiencing His profound blessings! Rest is a gift. It is a designed mechanism to bring us to a place of flourishing in God’s plan.
Rest, as presented in scripture, happens in a rhythm, is sacred, draws us to remember His promises and reliance on His provision, and is ultimately a gift that leads to our joy and God’s glory.
In an American culture that is force feeding us busyness, may we, the people of God, schedule our lives around God’s principles first and then joyfully trust His provision as we live differently than the world around us.