We all need to find the best form of rest for ourselves and then to protect that time in our schedules with all our might. The degree to which we fail to protect this time is the degree to which we will fail to be effective in everything else we do. And that is because we all need rest.
Because of the way I am wired I have always viewed rest as weakness and a colossal waste of my time. Why should I have to spend such a large chunk of every day doing nothing when there are books and articles to write, things to do, and people to see? From my skewed perspective, rest has always seemed like an impediment to keep me from accomplishing all the things that I have really wanted to do.
I remember once reading about the Puritan John Owen with great appreciation for the way that he disciplined himself to get by on 3-4 hours of sleep a night in order to accomplish more for the kingdom of God. I even began patterning my life after his despite the fact that I knew he may well have ruined his health and hastened his own death by not resting for long enough periods of time. This tendency in me to minimize the importance of rest and overplay the significance of work is part and parcel of the western world in which we live. I once heard a friend of mine from Russia complain about how unfriendly the US is to families. When I expressed surprise at her statement, she justified her complaint by pointing out that Americans work too hard: “You guys don’t understand the concept of rest.”
Whether or not we agree completely with my friend’s comments, we can still acknowledge that there is some degree of merit in what she says. Many of us at least don’t understand the concept of rest. We see it as a necessary evil, something to be tolerated only as much as we absolutely have to. And so we scale back on our rest when and where we can, or we work when we are supposed to be resting. I know that I am certainly guilty on both counts. If you are anything like me, you will acknowledge your own need to be reminded over and over again of the importance of rest.
The Bible has a lot to say about this topic probably as a response to the ongoing temptation we all face to be “like God.” Ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been tempting people with this grand delusion (Gen. 3:5). It has led us to believe that, among other things, we are infinite and indestructible and that we don’t need to take time to rest. Because of this temptation, we need to be continually reminded that we are not God. We are finite and frail, although we may not like to admit it. Our bodies break down. We get sick. We run out of energy, and we even burn out. We are not “Energizer Bunnies;” we cannot keep going and going forever. Our need for rest is a gracious reminder from the Lord that we are wholly dependent upon Him at all times and for everything we do, even when it may not seem like it.
There are three main things I would like us to see in the Bible’s teaching on rest: (1) everyone needs to rest; (2) rest is always unto work; and (3) rest prepares us for heaven. In what remains of this article, I hope to unpack the first of these ideas in more detail. I would then like to devote the next couple of articles to examining the second and third points in turn.
No matter how strong we are, how much energy we think we have, or how necessary we perceive ourselves to be, we all need to rest from time to time. Surely this is what God intended to communicate by resting on the seventh day after working for six in creating “the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and establishing that as a weekly pattern for us to follow (Ex. 20:8-11).