We have forgotten how to rest. In a time where many in Melbourne are exhausted by the broken routines and anxieties caused by pandemic restrictions, work places and churches are gearing up to work harder still. We are forming plans to steer into our uncertain future while most of our people are struggling with weariness. At this time we need something different; to learn how to seek God in rest again. [Article]
The values of our times are against what the Bible means by rest. I suspect this is because there is little money in it. Our vacations, entertainment, amusements and hobbies are often costly and as tied to issues of status as our work life.
The Bible teaches that the goal of work is rest.
The readings, Genesis 2 and Hebrews 4 above, give us a different vision. In contrast to our culture, where ‘the point of me’ is defined by work—and where the point of rest is to help us work better—the Bible teaches that the goal of work is rest; the point of life—of creation—is rest; the point of me is to rest in the company of God and others. To keep the Sabbath is an act of faith that God will provide for us at every level of our life and that I do not need to justify my existence by my work.
Genesis 1-2 teach us that the end point of creation is to rest in the presence of God.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.Genesis 2:2-3
Hebrews 4 tells us that the original day of rest is still open for us to enter by the sacrifice and mediation of Jesus Christ; that the meaning, point, purpose of our work and lives is to enter this rest.
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.Hebrews 4:9-11
There is much discussion amongst Christians today about a theology of work. This makes sense given that work is where so much of our lives are lived, but we would understand our work better if we first saw that its purpose was rest and that our work, with all of creation, has been subjected to frustration in hope.
Grace not Work
Genuine rest is a gift of grace
We struggle to learn how to rest because rest is not our priority. It cannot be a measure of our worth (as our work is), because genuine rest is a gift of grace. This is subtly communicated in the Hebrew Scriptures, which measure a day from sunset to sunset. There is a similar message in Genesis 1 where humans first wake to a world of light we did not create so all our work is working within a gift— All of life and all of our work is based in grace.
When we make the mistake of asking our work to provide us with final meaning and significance, we suffer. We find work a grind and become cynical about it. Workplace language turns into euphemisms and we realise that…
- ‘productivity gain’ = more work with less hours and less care or satisfaction.
- ‘mission statement’, ‘vision statement’, ‘strategic plans’ = the board and its consultants clarifying their agenda but not helping us to get our jobs done.
- ‘re-structuring’ = cycling through a limited number of corporate structures over a decade.
- ‘improved user experience’ = one more learning curve that might bring opportunity, but will certainly bring unexpected costs.
Our workplaces become relentless and subject us to boredom, exhaustion and frustration: and we should not be surprised—according to Genesis 3 our work is cursed. In the wider perspectives of Scripture, it is cursed precisely so it would not become our final satisfaction:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope.Romans 8:20
Do not love the world or the things in the world … the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15,17
Marva Dawn in her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly describes four kinds of rest:
- Spiritual Rest, which is not only about ceasing, but about resting in the presence of God. To be at peace with our creator is basic to all other forms of rest. It is also the heart of worship. A question we should ask ourselves is:
What draws us deeper into worship?
- Physical Rest, or simply, stopping work. Research confirms that physical rest not only makes us more productive, but rebuilds our bodies and minds at many levels. A question we should ask ourselves is:
How can we build ceasing into our lives?
- Emotional Rest. Our leisure activities can be emotionally demanding. My wife and I often find films and theatre tense or cathartic. Family relationships can be emotionally demanding so the question we should ask here is:
Where is quiet reflection in our lives?
- Intellectual Rest. Our culture suffers from an idolatry of knowledge and the illusion we can know much or all is compounded by the internet. In reality we know snippets of many things but often have no overarching understanding of what anything means or where it is going. Biblical rest makes us realise again our contact with God through Christ who is the one who understands. The question for us here is:
How do we rest our minds?
In the Bible, rest is a command. It is part of the creation pattern, it a way of talking about the hope of redemption, it is in the ten commandments as a moral imperative. Though there are numerous examples of the command to rest being abused (see Isaiah 58, John 5 or Colossians 2 for example), according to Hebrews 4, rest is our future that has broken into our present experience. So the final question is: What are we doing to obey God’s command to rest in the way he means us to?