How Do I Rest?
Text: Genesis 2:1-3 | Listen to Message
When I was a kid, the Sabbath Day was an existential threat to my happiness. A lot of the stuff I enjoyed was taboo on “The Lord’s Day” – especially if it involved mud, sports, or sweat. I was pretty sure my parents were one impulsive decision away from turning Sundays into no fun days. I figured “Sabbath” was the Hebrew word for death by boredom.
Most of our culture today lives at the opposite end of the spectrum. There is no such thing as a “Sabbath” to the vast majority of people. Rest – deep, meaningful rest for body, mind, and soul – is nowhere on the radar. And the consequences, by all accounts, have been disastrous. Our culture is stressed out, overcommitted, stretched thin, exhausted, anxious, and irritable. We’re choosing to live life at an unsustainable pace and we don’t know how to stop – or even press pause.
Though these two perspectives in the preceding paragraphs are polar opposites, I hope it’s obvious to you that neither of them is how things were meant to be. You don’t actually have to live like this!
Here’s what true, biblical rest actually is:
1. Rest is an opportunity to reflect on and delight in God and His good gifts.
In my late 20s and early 30s, I would sprint up 14ers (mountains in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet tall) as fast I could, snap a few photos at the top, and fly back down to get on to the next thing. When I look back at those photos, I feel an odd mixture of joy and grief. There are some stunningly beautiful panoramas captured in many of those old photographs. But I didn’t stop to enjoy any of them. That moment of awe, wonder, and delight passed like a bolt of lightning.
In Genesis 2:1-3 (when God first shares the pattern of Sabbath rest), and again in Exodus 20:8-11 (when He gives the Sabbath observance as part of The Ten Commandments), I believe God is saying something like this: “Be still and know that I am God. Take in the fact that I created all of this, and I rule over all of this, and I’m for you! Don’t rush off to the next thing you’ve got to do. Just enjoy this moment here with me.”
2. Rest is meant to signify that it’s God’s work in us, not our work for God, that’s the basis of our relationship.
In Exodus 31:13 (and again in Ezekiel 20:12), God says the Sabbath is a sign that our God sanctifies us. In other words, we don’t make ourselves holy; He makes us holy.
Think about this: In every 24-hour period, you need physical rest. While you sleep, God literally repairs your cells and renews your strength for a new day. If He can do that for your physical body while you’re at rest, how much more do you think He wants to do that for soul?
See, every time you consciously choose to cease from your labors to rest in Christ, you’re signifying something. You’re declaring, “It’s not my performance that makes me acceptable to God; it’s His grace that makes me acceptable. So I will not live on this performance treadmill of ceaseless doing. I will choose to pause frequently to hear Jesus say, ‘Done.’”
3. Rest is a decisive act that celebrates our freedom in Christ from every form of slavery.
In Deuteronomy 5:12-16, this is exactly what God told His covenant people. See, Pharaoh had demanded ceaseless labor. The Jews had to work to justify their existence . . . or be killed. But then God rescued them and said, “I’m not that kind of Master. And I don’t need or want your ceaseless labor. I want you to rest in the freedom you have in me.”
Today, we’re not brick-making slaves in Egypt. We’re slaves to things like productivity, success, reputation, prosperity, pleasure, and people pleasing. Be honest with yourself. Isn’t a lot of your busyness tied to these things because you find your sense of identity and self-worth in them? Isn’t a lot of your weariness the result of trying to prove yourself – trying to justify your existence?
So what are you saying when you stop to observe a Sabbath rest? You’re saying, “Productivity, prosperity, and pleasure are nice, but I will not be a slave to these things. I want people to like me, but I will not be controlled by the opinions of others.” By deliberately refusing to maximize these things, you are breaking their power over you – and celebrating your freedom in Christ instead.
I call it a rebellion of grace. Sabbath rest is a rebellion of grace. Busyness is great if you live in a meritocracy where life is all about your performance. But if the Gospel is true, then you are loved by sheer grace – and you are called into a deeper and more satisfying rest than you can possibly imagine. So reject the burnout culture and join the resistance.