Rest in the Bible: 5 Things to Know
Rest is the thing everyone knows they need. It is rare for someone to think they don’t need rest. The issue is not the felt need for rest, it is that we don’t think rest is the proper use of time. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us have come to believe that rest is laziness and busyness is godliness. While we can connect this to several realities in our culture, I am convinced that it’s ultimately connected to one primary desire: to be more than human.
Adam and Eve, when tempted by the serpent in Genesis 3, were tempted by the power of trying to be like God. This was attractive to them. When Satan tempted Jesus, he did so in a similar way. Why? Because he knows that humans trying to be more than human is the upending of who we are.
To be human is to live under the rule and reign of God and to love other humans as fellow image-bearers. We have seen humanity mar this picture throughout world history through wars, murder, slavery, and inequity. In each situation, people have sought to be more than human by putting themselves over others as superior to them. They elevate themselves to a status that only God has been given.
I am convinced that one of the primary ways Satan tempts us to seek to be more than human today is through our lack of rest and desire for busyness. Yet, we see the truth clearly in the Bible: God has designed us to rest. God rested on the seventh day after he finished his creation. God established the Sabbath as the Israelite people were journeying through the wilderness.
Even Jesus rested. Have you ever considered that? Jesus stopped healing people as they were in line, he slept on a boat, he went away with his disciples, and he retreated into solitude. Jesus rested.
But why? Well, he was entirely God, but he was also fully human. In his humanity, he needed to rest. He needed breaks. He needed to get away from people. Think about this for a minute: the Savior of the world took breaks. What’s more, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t raise everyone from the dead. This isn’t because he didn’t care. It’s because, in his divine plan, he chose to embrace humanity. Jesus, the son of God, embraced his humanity more than anybody that has ever lived.
We Should Rest
If Jesus rested, we probably should too. And yet, our culture frowns upon the act of rest. If you don’t believe me, consider the following scenario: During morning chit-chat at your workplace, someone asks you—“How did you sleep last night?” You answer, “Oh man, I got nine hours of sleep! It was great.” Now, what would the typical reaction be? Similarly, how would others respond if you shared that you spent the weekend relaxing, reading, playing with your kids, and watching movies?
Clearly, the act of rest is seen as lazy or less accomplished. And that should be a warning to us. It is said that culture is anti-Christian when things of Satan are celebrated and the things of God aren’t celebrated. We have diagnosed other anti-Christian aspects of our culture in different areas, but isn’t it also true of rest? Doesn’t culture celebrate business and mock rest? Instead, we ought to celebrate rest and call out busyness.
Rest Teaches Us Faith
God has created us to rest because, in rest, God reminds us that we are not him. Yes, it is right to work. God is glorified in your efforts as an engineer, a mother, an electrician, an Uber driver, or a waitress. These are noble vocations and they reflect what it means to be made in the image of God.
Yet, rest is equally indicative of our nature as image-bearers. When we rest, we teach ourselves that we are not what we do—that our value and dignity are only defined by our creator. Rest is a spiritual discipline that teaches us faith in God by cultivating trust that God will take care of us. We see this in Exodus 16, when Jesus provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. They were told to gather only as much food as they needed for the day, but to gather two portions on the sixth day because there would not be any food on the seventh—the Sabbath. Why would God do that? To test their faith and teach the gospel. The people needed to learn to trust God in exile.
Friends, we are in exile. We are in a world that is trying to define our worth by what we do, how much time we spend doing it, and how successful we are. But God invites us into joy through rest. When we rest, we are exercising our muscles of faith.
Just like exercise, we need rhythms and disciplines that help stretch these rest muscles. There are a few particular habits that might help you with this:
Have a time of a day that you put down work and don’t pick it back up. There needs to be a moment in your day when you say, “I’m done. I’ll get back to that tomorrow!” That is your stake in the ground in which you are exercising faith.
Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Find a way to get to bed at a decent time so you can get ample rest. You were not meant to live off little sleep. If you don’t adopt a rhythm of daily sleep, your body will let you know down the road.
Set aside a twenty-four hour period to rest. This will look different depending on your season of life, but the point is that you find time to not do anything related to work. This Sabbath routine was established in the Old Testament and should be practiced today. God designed a day of rest in which we can focus on him, read the Bible, spend time with people, and trust God will take care of all that we aren’t “doing.”
If your body tenses at the mere thought of this, then that is precisely why you should do it! Rest should hurt! In fact, if rest doesn’t hurt, then we ought to be more diligent in our work. Weekly Sabbath rest should be a weekly leap of faith.
What should you do?
- Renew: Bible reading and prayer
- Play: Do something you enjoy (Ex. golf, video games, books, movies)
- Feast: Eat good food unto the Lord as a gift from him
- Relax: Sit down and prop your feet up; teach your body to not be in motion.
Take time each year to get away from normal life. Whether it’s two days or a full week, do what you can to prioritize this getaway. It will reorient your body and soul to do what you do on a weekly Sabbath in a different location for an extended time. Of course, there are seasons when this extremely hard or seemingly impossible. But I urge you to carve out time for it. Rest is as vital as any discipline you practice.
The Reason We Can Rest
Right now, Jesus is resting. The Bible describes Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father at this moment (Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:21) Why is he seated there? Because on the cross, he cried out the words, “It is finished.” Jesus came and did the work of his Father. In doing so, he sealed the fate of those who put their faith in Him. Jesus is the hope of our rest. Because of his work, our future isn’t determined by our work. One day we will work joyfully on the New Earth with Jesus, and we will rest for eternity.
As someone who struggles with finding my identity in how much I do for God, I look to the cross and resurrection and I see the love that was predetermined before I spoke a word. This is the freedom of the gospel and the reason we can rest. God does not love us based upon our accomplishments—in society, in our family, in our church, or for him. So we can rest in him; we can know that our jobs, our families, and our communities are in good hands.
What if your lost neighbor came to know Jesus not because of how much you do but how well you rest? What if we embraced our humanity by admitting our finiteness and our fragility? What if we boasted in our weakness? I am convinced that our neighborhoods and workplaces will see God’s glory if they notice Christians embracing our humanity and recognizing our need for a Savior. I am convinced the world will see God’s glory as Christians humbly admit our weaknesses, saying no to work at times and saying yes to a nap.
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I believe there is an underlying narrative surrounding the value of women that threatens the influencing and flourishing of women in the local church. Beginning to grasp that reality was a painful and confusing process for me. Sometimes this narrative shows up in the most heartbreaking of ways in the local church—like in stories of the devaluing and abuse of women in the church. Sometimes the narrative is less extremely represented through the absence of women in ministry. And sometimes, like in my case, I didn’t think this narrative applied to me at all because of the good ministry situation I was in.
Growing up in the church, I thought of my pastors as Supermen. I saw them as having an unachievable level of skill and godliness. I remember the folks in our church context thought the pastor was perfect. He didn’t take days off. He visited the sick at the hospital every day, and he never seemed to sin, at least not publicly. So, when I felt the call to ministry, I was overwhelmed by this bar of perfection. I knew myself, and I knew my sin. I thought, “I can never be like that!” or at least, “The people I serve in ministry can never know I sin so much.”
My all-time favorite movie is Forrest Gump. I am convinced it is the GOAT of movies. It teaches history and was on the cutting edge of cinema with a great plot line and amazing actors. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Forrest and Bubba were in Vietnam and they were packing through a downpour of rain for several days. They stopped one night to rest, and it was extremely muddy. Bubba says to Forrest, “I’m gonna lean up against you and you lean right back up against me. That way we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud.”
Imagine what Adam and Eve felt when they found out about Abel’s death. Can you imagine the shame? They knew their son had died, in part, because they had eaten the fruit of the tree. Their son was dead when in fact they should have been dead instead.