Choosing Rest

Few things feel better than a good night’s sleep. To wake in the morning feeling energized and refreshed is one of the best ways to face whatever circumstances waiting for me that day. But why do I seem to do almost everything there is to sabotage ideal nighttime rest?

I stay up too late and then get up too early to allow myself the seven to eight hours needed. I stare at electronic screens up until crawling between the sheets. I end my day thinking and worrying about work or ministry problems, relationship issues, family concerns, politics, and how I would like to drop 15 pounds. Any of these things have the potential of setting my mind and stress into motion so that rest eludes me. Why is quality rest something I so strongly desire yet so often fail to experience?

A simple internet search leads me to a multitude of reasons rest and sleep should be made a priority. Here’s a few:

  • It boosts the immune system—our bodies produce infection-fighting antibodies during our sleep.
  • It improves memory—while we sleep, our memories and skills are shifted to more permanent parts of our brains.
  • It restores and invigorates—the cells of our bodies are repaired and re-energized while we sleep.
  • It stimulates creativity.
  • It helps manage weight—yes, you read that right!
  • It improves concentration and productivity.
  • It slows the aging process—WOW!

God Values Rest

In Genesis 2, God is described as resting after He made the world. The completion of creation was so significant to Him that He declared the seventh day to be holy and a day of rest. It has always seemed odd to me that the Almighty God who I was taught never grows tired or weary needed some down-time to recover from His work. Huh?

Awhile back, it dawned on me that God’s decision to rest wasn’t due to exhaustion. He chose to stop and take in all that had come into being. God ceased from His labor to evaluate His work and pronounce it GOOD! This declaration of the original goodness of creation is so important with unlimited theological significance. It’s the baseline from which we evaluate and understand the opposite—sin and evil—as well as the framework for future hope and what God desires to return us to and even beyond. Goodness was the starting point for everything made, and God chose to stop and reflect on it!

And then to emphasize its importance, He placed it in the center of the 10 Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). It went from being one of God’s post-creation ruminations to a law written in stone for His covenant people. Rest is good, as modern science is showing. But why make it a part of a legal system? Surely, God was overdoing it.

An Odd Command?

To better understand the significance of this commandment, we have to remember something about the recipients. The Israelites were part of, like all the surrounding ancient nations, an agrarian society. Farming, down through the ages, has always been a 24/7 job. Even today, when it comes to harvest time, farmers and their laborers work until everything is completed, often even through the night. Their livelihood is dependent on persistence, diligence and the weather. No time for laziness. If a farmer takes a day off at the wrong time, it could spell disaster for his crops, as well as his and his family’s very lives. The Sabbath commandment was a counter-cultural expectation. I’m sure many saw it as an unreasonable and stupid demand. Everyone, after all, knew that the fields needed to be tended everyday.

But on top of a weekly Sabbath, God instructed the Israelites to also institute an every-seventh-year Sabbath for the land (Leviticus 25:2-4; 26:33-35). They were to let their farmland “rest” with no planting or harvesting for a full year. Talk about crazy and impractical for a population dependent on agriculture!

Radical Reliance

So, what might be behind God’s call for a weekly Sabbath rest for His people and a septennial rest for their fields? Was it merely for personal health and smart land management? Perhaps partly. There could be many. But I have come to see God’s main purpose for the Sabbath summed up in one word: trust. For the Israelites to obey these commandments, they had to exercise a level of confidence in God’s goodness and practical care that defied contemporary ancient logic.

As their fields lay unattended one day each week and every seventh year, the Israelites declared with their lifestyle that God was their Provider. Obedience to these commandments aligned themselves with their God and affirmed the goodness of His intentions for creation and for them as individuals.

It’s not surprising then that one of the reasons given for their exile to Babylon was because they didn’t keep the Sabbath, particularly for their land (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). Their accumulated disobedience of this commandment communicated to God and the world, “I don’t believe the Almighty is good enough or able to take care of my needs. I have to manage (and worry about) the necessities of life by myself.”

A lack of trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness is always at the root of every sin.

Why is Sabbath Still Needed?

Physical rest is necessary. Yet so many of us marginalize the stillness required to actualize true rest so that we rarely, if ever, get what we need. I believe that even today, the lack of Sabbath rest for Jesus followers is rooted in trust issues. Letting go of any of the things we must get done in a week is unimaginable to many of us. Time to be still for 24 hours every seven days sounds ludicrous.

A day off would be nice, but . . .

Yet, rest can only happen as we lay the full weight of our bodies onto something stable enough to support us. I can sleep at night because I trust my bed to hold me up. In the same way, I can let go of some of the busy and even unnecessary stuff (extra work hours, late nights online) as I trust that my Heavenly Father will meet my needs— financial needs, life-purpose needs, ministry needs, social needs, entertainment needs, etc. God’s goodness and faithfulness are the bed He is inviting His children to lie upon. They’re really the only platform on which rest for our weary souls can be found.

From where are you seeking your rest? There are many modern substitutes: sleeping medications, better mattresses, white-noise machines, longer vacations, early retirement. While some of these might help provide a better night’s sleep and some reduced stress, none on their own can provide the deep rest for the soul that God intends for his children.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls’” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT).

Jesus is the New Testament answer for the Sabbath. He is the one we are called to look to and trust for all our needs. He is the physical manifestation of God’s goodness and faithfulness. If a good night’s sleep can bring so much health into my body, I imagine my reliance on Jesus can bring spiritual wholeness to an even greater depth into my life.

Embrace your Sabbath! Stop relying on your own resources (material wealth, education, network of friends, entertainment) to provide for your internal lack and inadequacy. What do you need to release in order to demonstrate that your rest is in Jesus? At least one day off from work and more attention to getting a good night’s sleep may be a starting point. But ultimately the kind of rest that extends and refreshes our lives forever is found in only one place—TRUSTING GOD!

Respond:

  • What is keeping me from getting the rest I need? What stops me from making the necessary changes to access that rest?
  • What do I imagine to be the perfect physical setting for getting the best rest? Why is that often still not enough to provide what I need?
  • What gets in the way of exercising complete trust in God’s promises to provide EVERYTHING that I need?
  • “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”            —Psalm4:8ESV
  • Jesus, how do you want me to trust you so that I can experience your rest and refreshment for my soul?

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