Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Rest is necessary and important physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We know that’s true. We know we need rest.
Yet, we continue to resist it. Why?
The fourth commandment directs us to observe the Sabbath, to rest one day a week. The nation of Israel regularly got themselves into trouble because they refused to honor the Sabbath. It was an issue.
Missing the Point
The Sabbath, like so much of God’s law, had been reduced to behavioral restrictions against working and missed the deeper purpose. That can still be the case today. For example, when my husband and I were in Israel and went to our room via the hotel elevator on a Saturday, each floor was automatically selected so that no one would have to do the “work” of pushing a button. We had to stop at every floor.
Jesus healed, fed, and delivered people specifically on the Sabbath; in fact there are numerous references to events happening on the Sabbath in the Gospels. Jesus was clarifying the meaning of Sabbath and proclaiming that he was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28).
What is it about the Sabbath, about rest, that we have missed for millennia? And why do we resist the gift God offers us?
Israel’s Refusal to Rest
The first use of the term Sabbath in the Old Testament is in Exodus when God was instructing the Israelites about rules for gathering manna. Six days they were to collect manna, but the day before Sabbath they were told to gather twice as much. When they took in too much manna on other days it rotted, but the day before Sabbath it remained perfectly edible. Did they follow instructions?
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:27-30, emphasis mine)
Some of the people didn’t believe God. They didn’t believe he had given them Sabbath, that he would provide for them, or that he would allow them to truly rest.
I wonder if that’s our biggest problem with rest to this day: We simply don’t believe God.
Two Reasons We Refuse to Rest
Sabbath was a gift to God’s people. It wasn’t intended to be a restriction or a tedious duty; it was to be a wonderful delight. When the commandments were given, the Sabbath was described as a time when everyone – sons, daughters, servants, aliens and animals – would set aside work, enjoy God and each other, and rest.
1. We naturally operate with upside-down values.
The gift of Sabbath was intended to give the Israelites a weekly taste of living in the kingdom of God. They would’ve enjoyed and learned to depend on God alone, to delight in God, to validate everyone on the earth equally, to rest their bodies physically and their spirits emotionally. But it was difficult for Israel to take advantage of such a gift while they were physically living in the upside-down values of the kingdoms of this earth.
Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, so believers have access to it today. However, it takes purposeful determination to experience it since we live in conflicting kingdoms. If we’re busy running around in the kingdom of the world, we will never slow down enough to enjoy the delight of the kingdom of God.
Dan Allender says in his book, Sabbath, that the day is “an invitation to delight”:
Our war is not with flesh and blood; our reluctance to Sabbath is not a fight with busyness, drivenness, or time. We are caught in and fight battles against delight. Delight unnerves us; God’s call to delight terrifies us. To surrender to delight is to hear God’s passionate extravagance spoken in a manner that is uniquely crafted for our joy. (192)
2. We don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
Rest is an opportunity for believers to exercise trust in God for their daily lives, as it was for the Israelites in the desert. The Israelites risked being hungry for a day if God didn’t come through, but they put themselves in a situation in which they would see God’s faithfulness, provision, and the truth of his Word at work.
Christians differ in the ways in which we rest, and few follow the Sabbath rigidly like the Jews did years ago. However, the same root principle applies: Do I trust God to meet my needs, or do I feel like I had better work a little more to make sure my needs are met? Sometimes I claim the former; too often I confess to the latter.
My most desperate need is for forgiveness and reconciliation with my Holy God. No matter how frantically I work, I will never achieve that by my own effort. Mercifully, I don’t have to, for Jesus took care of that for me by his death and resurrection. In faith, I can rest in the truth that I am forgiven and reconciled. If Jesus Christ willingly died for me, why would he not also meet my daily needs?
Yes, it’s a risk to position ourselves to experience the provision of God, but as we decide to follow his ways we learn he is faithful beyond our imagination and wildly generous, and our faith and delight in him will grow.
So rest well. Put your focus on God’s kingdom, and rest in Jesus’ completed work at the cross. That is the beginning of delight.