In our culture, we wear busyness like a badge on our chest, when in reality it’s not good for our souls; in fact, in today’s culture it’s a much bigger problem for most of us than slothfulness or laziness on the other end of the spectrum.
When we are not rested we loose the sparkle in our eye and our zest for living. We do not find our work to be light, pleasant or healing.* We think of life as one big obligation. We get cranky. We become grim and loose our playfulness. Fatigue is one of the greatest enemies of living the replenished life!
Staying busy without taking time to rest is like letting an engine run at high RPM’s for an excessively long time, not giving it time to cool down, and expecting it to work fine. We don’t even realize this, but a lot of the trouble we run into is a result of not taking time to rest.
There’s a reason God made the Sabbath. It’s a change to catch your breath- to re-gain your energy. You need rest like you need food and water, or air.
Exodus 20:8 says “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” Then in verse 11 it says “For in six days, the Lord made the heaven’s and the earth, and the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath, and made it holy.” This first passage roots our need for (and the gift of) rest in our having been lovingly created.
Then, in Deuteronomy 5:12 we read “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” But, then down in verse 15, there is a new rationale for keeping the Sabbath: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” The second reason for rest, then, is that it is an act of defiance- since we are no longer slaves, we should no longer live like slaves. The first reason says we are children of God, the second says we are no one’s chattel and so we can take time off!**
I find it quite fascinating that God, who didn’t need a rest after speaking the world into existence, still put his feet up and took a breather. Why did He do that? He did it because he knew our tendencies, which are to run too hard without acknowledging our limits and ignore the fact that we need time off. God, knowing our need and folly, took the lead. We have to remember that Sabbath isn’t a reward for completing work, it’s not a bonus; it’s simply a gift. You rest without apology and without guilt. You put up your feet because God said you could! To truly rest, we need to align our thinking about time, eternity and governance with what God says.
But you might say, “If you knew my life, you’d know there’s no way I can rest.” Just recognize God as sovereign in your life- if he could create the universe, he can help you survive a day or two off. You need to receive the gifts that Sabbath brings: shutting your eyes to the long to-do list and relaxing, and then opening them with vigour and looking at all the blessings and wonders and favours He has given us.
Tolkien has a beautiful picture of Sabbath in “The Lord of the Rings”. The Hobbits and Strider have just come out of a dangerous, near-fatal journey and come to the home of the elves in Rivendell. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but the point is that “all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds… health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal and in every word and song”. That’s Sabbath- the power that stress holds over you begins to vanish when you find rest in God.
*Wayne Muller in “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives” (Bantam Books, 1999).
** Mark Buchanen brings this out eloquently in his excellent book entitled “The Rest of God” (Thomas Nelson, 2007)- a book that was a huge inspiration for this post.