Working at Rest
by Chris Seiple
We are a nation of rugged individuals who are self-made-boot-straps-quarterly- report-people-on-the-go. It should be no surprise that since 1995, 60% of the world's economic growth has come from America. We are a product-consumed and production-defined people. Labor statistics show that Americans work more hours than their competitors in other industrialized countries, and the gap is growing.
But is this healthy? The Good Book reports that we must prepare the horse for battle, but victory rests with the Lord (Proverbs 21:31). Preparing the horse for battle is easy; it's quantifiable and we can see it. But is there room for rest? Do all these tangible products mean anything at all if we don't find time to restore tired bodies and tired spirits? Are these products sustainable if we can't rest in the Lord and let Him define "success"? Do we, can we, find the time to rest, taking comfort in His will, not ours?
"And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done" (Genesis 2:3). From the beginning, rest was established as an example. God made rest official when He told Moses to set aside the seventh day as a "holy Sabbath to the Lord" (Exodus 16:23). Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this first holiday was its practicality as the Jews journeyed to the Promised Land. Worshipping God provided spiritual renewal. Waiting on God provided physical renewal. On Friday, God provided two days of manna, giving the people enough food, and no excuse not to rest, as they focused on Him.
But it is at Mt. Sinai, when the Ten Commandments are given to Moses, that this seventh day of rest becomes a "sign" and "lasting covenant" for "generations to come" (Exodus 31:12-17). In other words, the Sabbath is a commandment to cease all activity (restoring physical health); it is dedicated to His worship (restoring spiritual health); and it represents God's promise to provide for those whom He has created in His image.
It is really very simple and straightforward; rest is holy, a time to return honor to God, as it heals, physically and spiritually. Yet we humans are too often just that: human. We seek to control things and quantify our success, perpetually postponing rest and losing sight of Him. Tired people make mistakes and forget the admonitions of history.
Nehemiah rebukes those who had desecrated the Sabbath with work (Nehemiah 13). Isaiah reminds the self-righteous of Israel that the Sabbath is a day of "delight" and "joy" for those who honor God by not going their own way (Isaiah 58). Jeremiah restores past wisdom through God's words: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).
Jesus echoes this need for both physical and spiritual rest. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). And in Hebrews 4:11, we are told again to "make every effort to enter" the rest that Jesus provides.
Do you believe that if you rest, your Creator will provide for you? Do you acknowledge that He understands you better than you understand yourself, that you need to be physically and spiritually renewed through rest? Although the New Testament never commands us to set aside the seventh day, how do you spend your "Sabbath"? Do you make time for Sunday every day? And when you do, are you truly resting in Him and anxious for nothing?
Work at rest. Make time to focus on your relationship with God, resting in His gentle but mighty hand, knowing that He will provide for all those things that seem so important, so needing of your time. And commit to extending this habit into the fall and next year. If you can find time to rest in Him, you will, strangely enough, be more productive. For He will return the honor that you have given Him.
Chris Seiple is president of the Institute for Global Engagement (www.globalengage.org), "a think tank with legs" created to develop sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide, and to inspire and equip emerging leaders with faith-based methodologies of engagement.