“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”—Exodus 20:8-11
“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.”—Exodus 34:21
Last week I wrote about being life-givers, about the incredible privilege mothers have (physically) and we all have (spiritually) to be sources of life to the people around us. God did not intend us to live for ourselves, but to give life away, as He does. Jesus said that when we lose our lives, we find life. He said he came to give abundant life, but this is not an invitation to be spiritual consumers. If we are truly His followers, we won’t just receive life from Him, we’ll imitate Him in giving it away.
And all of that sounds fine and good, but there is one major problem: what about the times (maybe most of the time?) when we don’t feel like we have much to give away? What about the fact that I am tired? Life is draining, and for many of us it’s rare to feel that we are so overflowing with energy and life that we have more than enough for ourselves and for those around us. The demands of adulthood reduce us to survival mode, and we’re lucky if we can just get through the day and fulfill our responsibilities to work and family and avoid losing our temper with someone.
God has an answer. It’s not a gimmicky answer, like you’d find in a self-help book. It’s not a secret answer, available only to those who have achieved a certain level of spirituality. It is for everyone. It is simple, obvious, and it has been around from the beginning of time. It is woven into the very fabric of creation. And this is the answer: God designed people, along with everything else on earth, to function in a natural rhythm of work and rest. When we work hard and rest well, our strength is naturally, continually renewed, so we are able to bring glory to God, be a blessing to others, and take good care of ourselves.
The fourth of the Ten Commandments is about observing the Sabbath, taking one day out of seven to rest and worship. When God gave this command through Moses, he said it was because He himself created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. Now, of course, God is not like us. He doesn’t have a body that gets weary or a heart that runs out of patience and love. But He still thinks rest is a good thing. God did not rest because He needed to rest; He rested because He didn’t need to work all the time. And He told us that we don’t need to work all the time. We need to work much of the time, but then we need to rest so we can be restored and work again. While we are working, we are partnering with God in the good things He created us to do. While we are resting, we are trusting that He doesn’t need us to keep the universe running.
If you think about it, it’s a funny thing that we have to be told to rest. Most of the other ten commandments are about things we shouldn’t do: don’t murder, steal, etc. But this one is a command ordering us to do something we should want to do. It’s like your boss telling you that vacations are mandatory. Which is exactly what happens in our office, by the way. Rick Floyd, our Executive Pastor, is constantly reminding the staff to take their days off, take vacations, miss a Sunday every couple of months, so that we’ll stay healthy and refreshed and excited to serve in our ministries with excellence. And he’s right. When we are disciplined about resting (a funny phrase), we work better in the long haul.
And yet we resist it. It’s a strange thing about people. We complain about our work, but we have a hard time detaching from it, truly leaving things in God’s hands. Look at what God said to Israel when they were scrambling to come up with solutions to problems that were bigger than them:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.”—Isaiah 30:15
The truth is that we don’t want to stop working on our problems and duties because it feels like control. We say we’re just being responsible, but it might be that we’re unwilling to trust. We tell ourselves we’re such hard workers, when in reality never stopping to rest is a form of laziness, because it takes work to carve out time for intentional refreshment, and it takes discipline to truly let go of something. In some jobs (I’m thinking of stay-at-home moms and pastors at the moment) life will never hand us time to refresh our bodies and souls. We will have to be intentional. We will have to plan. We may have to ask for help. So we find it easier just to keep plugging away, stealing a few moments here and there on our phones and calling it “me time.” But screens don’t refresh our souls, they just distract our minds. To get the rest we really need, we may have to do a little work first. And then entrust our responsibilities to God and others so our souls can be filled up before we pour them out again.
Again, the goal is to give our lives away. But we must have life to give away. When we run out of life and feel like we have nothing more to give, God says there is a way to get it back. We rest. As we rest, He refreshes. If you don’t feel like much of a life-giver lately, ask yourself what it would take for you to set aside some time for intentional rest and refreshment. And then do it!
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.—Isaiah 40:30,31