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The Gift of Rest

Image: Jan Padilla

We all need a break: a moment to catch our breath, gather our thoughts, have a few moments of self-care, to escape, relax, unwind, or decompress. Whatever you call it, we need it from time to time. Whether it be a long day, week, month, season, or year, we know when the work is done (and sometimes before), we need some time to recuperate and recover.

If our intuition that we need a break isn’t enough, there’s plenty of support for the idea from a wide variety of sources. Simply Google, “do we need rest” and see the millions of results. Everything from medical sites to counseling sites, TedTalks to personal blogs, business advice to psychology all insist on its importance. There’s encouragement on the need for rest, exploration of the different kinds of rest, and plenty of advice on how and when to have a rest. You can read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video, enjoy an infographic, or even chuckle at a meme. 

Rest, like nearly every other topic, can, ironically, be researched until you’re exhausted.

But there’s also plenty of support in the Bible for rest.  

Rest as Recuperation

After a particularly strenuous time of ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples to come away and rest. It was too busy, people constantly coming and going, requesting this, needing that; the disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. You can read the story in Mark 6:6-44, the invitation to come away and rest is in verse 31. 

You’ve probably had a time or two like that in your life. Dinner, if you’re lucky enough to be home for it, is eaten quickly over the sink before rushing out the door to the next event, game, appointment, or just flipping open your computer, clicking on the project that’s due soon, and diving back in. It’s good to hear Jesus’s words during these times: “Come away and rest.” Rest for our bodies, hearts, and minds. 

Image: Elisa Ventur

In the Ten Commandments, we’re instructed to rest: “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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns” (Exodus 20:9-10). The command to the Israelites was that the 7th day was to be different than the other 6, an explicit instruction to break from regular routines of work. And, in verse 11, we’re told why: 

“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.”

In the work of creation, we see God laboring for six days. In a long work week, God envisioned and fashioned everything in the cosmos. It was when the work was done, when creation had been completed and was “very good,” that God took his rest from working, and blessed a rest day. 

All of this leads us to the type of rest that comes after work. When the work is done (and maybe sometimes even in the middle of it) we need to rest to recuperate. We take time to allow our depleted bodies, tired minds, and spent emotions to refill, re-energize, and rejuvenate. But also, to celebrate and enjoy the work that has been done. To step back and admire what God has strengthened us to accomplish.

But resting can be difficult. There’s always work to be done. All too often it feels like the day, or the week just doesn’t give us enough time, so we keep going. How do we rest when the work never feels finished? We trust that our creator knows what is best for us and we follow His design.

The truth is that there will always be work to do. Always some other task waiting in the wings, always a project to tackle. So, we have to rest when work isn’t done. We rest in the evening and at the end of the week. But rest can only come when we trust God. We trust that God made us, with all our limitations and need for rest. And we trust that in the rest he has offered, he will sustain us and in his mercy, renew our energies for the next morning. 

Rest can be extraordinarily rewarding. Yet, if we only ever make rest a goal, we’ll always be drained, unenthusiastic, waiting for the work to be over. 

Which leads us to another aspect of rest we can’t overlook.

Rest as Preparation

Let’s go back to the work of creation. God spent days forming and fine-tuning our universe so he could look at his work and say, “Very good.” From the terrains to the depths to the skies, and all the life that inhabits them, God worked to create our universe and our world. At the very end of his creative endeavor, he created humans. We were the final creative effort on day six. Gen. 1:31 tells us, just before “there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day,” God placed humanity in his creation. Humans were the last of His work before resting. The next day, the seventh day, was rest day.

Humanity began life with rest. Before there was work, before there was planting and harvesting, before there was naming, there was resting. Before there was ruling, filling, and subduing, there was resting. God’s very first gift to humanity was a day of rest. This makes rest something more than just recuperation. Rest is preparation, a time of ensuring we’re ready, body, mind, and spirit, for the tasks to come. 

As dawn broke on the first full day of human existence, Adam and Eve joined God in celebrating the goodness of everything he created. For God, it was the rest of completion. For the humans, it was a rest of anticipation and preparation. 

Their new muscles would’ve stretched and become accustomed to walking the ground as they perhaps took time to walk through their garden home. Their lungs breathing in the oxygen, their skin absorbing the sunshine, their eyes and ears nearly on sensory overload at the sheer volume of sights and sounds. And as evening drew on and darkness began to settle, their first restful sleep. Their bodies replenishing and rejuvenating in their still and quiet slumber. They were ready to wake to a new day that held work with no toil, sweat with deep satisfaction, and exertion with gratification. 

Yet perhaps the greatest preparation that first day of rest was to humanity’s new spirit. Waking that first morning, God’s image-bearers would’ve been confronted with the presence and provision of God. They would’ve learned of God’s goodness as they took in creation and all that God had done. It’s difficult to imagine a greater filling for our spirits than connecting with the one who breathed life into us. This experience of God, learning of and from him, was the ultimate preparation for the next day, when the new humans would embark on their journey of “filling, subduing, and ruling over.” 

Before Adam and Eve clocked in for their God-given work, they spent time with the one who gave them the work. We can do the same. Rest in and with God as we get to know him and anticipate the place and work he has given us to accomplish.

How Do We Rest?

We rest our bodies to have the strength and stamina for the physical demands that come our way. We sleep, exercise, get fresh air, and eat well so our bodies can equal the task(s) ahead. 

We can rest our minds in preparation not by vegging out on our favorite shows (although there’s a time for that) but by reading, broadly and widely. Use your mind in ways that you don’t during work: crossword puzzles and sudoku, creative writing, and playing music.  Allow your imagination to be stirred so that your creativity is renewed. Rest your mind so that you can think clearly, cleverly, and quickly.

We rest our souls to renew our spirits and emotions. Engage in your favorite hobbies: trying new recipes, knitting, camping, fishing, travel, site-seeing, adventure sports, backyard barbeques, reading, puzzles. Whatever refreshes you with joy and appreciation for all of God’s good gifts. Allow your emotions to heal from what happened in the past and to rejuvenate you so your well is deep, and you can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. 

Remember: even though our work isn’t done, rest isn’t simply the culmination of or recovery from a job completed. We also rest in preparation for the work to come, and by learning to trust that the God who has placed us where we are will renew and sustain us to continue the tasks ahead.

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