Have you ever begun your work on Monday and felt so worn-out that it couldn’t possibly be the beginning of the work week? Then you thought about your Saturday and Sunday and couldn’t remember what would have made you so tired this Monday morning? On the flip side, has there ever been a Monday in your life that, though you were busy all weekend, you were still able to face with energy? I know I have experienced both kinds of Mondays, and I’m sure you have too. Rest is something most people do not think they need to be taught about. Many would say, “It’s not getting into bed that I struggle with, it’s the getting out.” Although over-work is a common problem, I believe that many of our struggles with exhaustion are due to the wrong kind of rest. You can do nothing all day and still not feel rested. For this reason, I believe we as Christians need a better understanding of rest that we might live more energetically to the glory of God. My goal in writing this is to persuade you that rest is not so much the absence of activity, but the freedom from our daily duties to work and toil, that we might actively pursue that which satisfies us most in Christ. In order to do this, I will look at two key biblical passages concerning rest, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 & Hebrews 4:9-13, then finish with some applications that will aid us in ending our restless rest.
A Theology of Rest
In the retelling of the Ten Commandments, Moses exhorts the Israelites:
“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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 or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
In this text, we learn three unique reasons why we are to rest (Keller). First, we take a Sabbath rest as a Celebration of our Design. We learn in the Creation account in Genesis that God worked for six days, then rested on the seventh. In the passage above we learn that we are to have a day of rest that models exactly what God did in the beginning. We are to reflect God’s image by resting every seventh day as He rested. Our rest, then, is a celebration of our likeness to God as His image bearers. We learn here that rest is not rooted in the Law but in the Creation account. Secondly, we take a Sabbath rest as a Declaration of our Freedom. The flow of the argument in verse 15 is that Israel is to remember their slavery in Egypt and the Lord’s deliverance. Then the Bible says, “Therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Here we see the command to rest is to reflect God’s mighty ability to deliver His people. Because God freed Israel, they were to rest in celebration of His mighty work. The principle for us here is that God is always the Deliverer of His people and rest is a celebration of His might, not ours. Therefore, we are not to seek refuge in working for money without rest, trying to save ourselves. Rather, we rest as a declaration of our freedom from all worldly bondage. God has delivered us and we do not have to prove ourselves or think we are our ultimate provider. God freed us from this bondage which is so common to man. This leads us to the third underpinning of our rest. We rest as an Act of Trust. To rest means we are not working (an obvious deduction), and not working means no money. Tim Keller says it well, “To practice the Sabbath is a disciplined way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.” Therefore, rest is yet another way God’s people show the world they trust God and revere Him.
Now turning to the New Testament, the author of Hebrews writes:
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:9-13).
Here is the incredible teaching that for God’s people there is a greater Sabbath rest than what Moses spoke of in the Ten Commandments. This is the rest believers have in Christ. The flow of the argument reveals that there has been no lasting Sabbath rest for God’s people. Joshua did not provide it (verse 8) when they entered the promised land; therefore a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people to enter into. That rest is nothing other than Christ and His atonement for the sins of His people. The greater Sabbath rest is Christ’s righteousness that fulfilled the Law and is imputed to those who believe in Him. We strive to enter that rest which Christ provides because the word of God, (the Law), is sharp and revealing. It is so sharp that is cuts us up (because of our unrighteousness) and so revealing of our thoughts and intentions that we are naked and ashamed before the One to whom we must give account. Rest, then, is pictured as life lived in union with Christ. Resting in Christ’s finished work on the cross, rather than in our own works, is the Sabbath rest that is reserved for God’s people.
So How Do We Rest Restfully?
Now that we have walked through two key texts on rest, what do we do with that knowledge? First, we must meditate on the three underpinnings of the Commandment to observe the Sabbath. Do we see rest as a celebration of our design? Seeing rest as a celebration makes us delight in our Creator for making us in His image. Do we regularly take days off from our work as a declaration of our freedom from being bound to the ways of the world? Seeing rest as freedom allows us to stop feeling guilty for not working on our to-do lists, because we know we are free to serve God above all! Do we rest from work, knowing that rest may mean less money, as an act of trust in God as our Provider? Seeing rest as an act of trust is a regular reminder that we walk by faith and not by sight. These three questions are a helpful place to start when looking at why we all need to rest regularly and enjoy that rest, too.
Secondly, we need to let the implications of the greater Sabbath rest become present in our lives. Because Christ has proven us before the Father (made us righteous), we no longer need to prove ourselves through over-work. Because we’ve been given an identity in Christ, we no longer need to make an identity for ourselves in our work. Because we’ve been given fulfillment in Christ, we no longer need to chase satisfaction in climbing the ladder in corporations. Because every selfish motive for work (self-worth, fulfillment, prominence, and glory) is revealed as void and unsatisfying, we can rest satisfied that we are complete in Christ. Rest, as we learn in Hebrews, is ultimately found in Christ. Therefore, our focus in rest is to be Christ, our Sabbath Rest. To rest without a focus on Christ and what He has done for us, is to rob ourselves of the benefits of greater (more fulfilling) rest. This is why I argue that rest is not so much the absence of activity, but the freedom from our daily duties to work and toil, that we might actively pursue that which satisfies us most in Christ. If we know that Christ is the greatest rest anyone of us can experience, then we must pursue satisfaction in Christ as we rest. We are all likely familiar with John Piper’s famous declaration that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” What I am contending is that this principle from Piper is just as important when we are resting as it is when we are talking about the Christian life in general. So when we practice regular rest, our guiding principle needs to be, “What can I do that will make me more satisfied in Christ?” This is the key to enduring and genuine rest, that allows us to enter our work week ready and wanting to leverage every moment for the glory of God by serving people and working with excellence. And isn’t that what we want most as Christians, to leverage every moment for the glory of God?
As a last word of advice, I encourage you to PLAN YOUR REST. If we do not actively plan things that satisfy us in Christ, we will passively waste our rest either being busy-bodies that are tired on Monday or as lazy-bodies not ready for Monday. So plan to spend time in the word of God, growing in the knowledge of your incredible Savior. Plan to spend time in prayer, growing in your zealousness to see God answer the prayers of His saint. Plan to spend some time sharing your faith with friends or a stranger, increasing in your desire to see God worshipped by all and all delighting in Him. Plan to spend time with your family, soaking up those precious moments God has given you, letting gratitude wash over you because God has given you infinitely more than you deserve. Plan to spend time in nature, marveling at God’s creation that cries out in praise and beauty to its Creator. Whatever it is that satisfies you in Christ, plan it in advance so that your to-do lists and other things do not rob you of satisfaction in Christ. May God bless you with restful rest as you seek satisfaction in your Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Endnote: Concerning Deuteronomy 5:12-15, I rely heavily on Tim Keller’s treatment of it in his book, Every Good Endeavor, chapter twelve.