A Theology of Rest

Dear Christ Church,

In our fast paced, performance based culture of Northeast America “rest” can be a dirty word.  Despite widespread consensus amongst psychologist is that our brains need rest in order to function at peak capacity, in our pride we continue to push on.  We think that rest is for the weak.  We think that we can just keep going.  We think that the answer to everything is just working harder.  Or at least this is what I can think.  I am guilty of taking work with me on vacation, not wanting to take any vacations and even trying to cut my sleep time down, so that I can get more done.  Fortunately, God knows my need to be humbled and so he Had two different groups of people invite us to go on vacation in back to back weeks.  So this Saturday, I am leaving and won’t be back until September 3rd.  I have never been off for this length of time since I first started working at 15 years old.  To be honest, it is a bit unnerving. Not because I think I’m indispensable, but because I am so aware of all the things that need to be done.  However, trusting God with those things is part of growing in faith and so I am eager to see how I (and you) will experience the Lord during my time off.

I will be taking a break from posting for the next two weeks.  I have assigned our Summer Intern a few topics that he will be guest posting about while I’m away.   Below is his first assignment:  A Theology of Rest

See you in a few!

Pastor Jeff

A Theology of Rest

By Jimmy Beevers

What place should resting or even going on vacation have in the Christian life? There is a spectrum of Christians from the lazy to the average hard working to the workaholic.  As with most things in life, if we do not consider carefully what place rest out to have, it will default to an imbalanced position.  Here then are a few balancing biblical truths to help us make sense of an issue that so practically touches on all our lives.

Work is not Part of the Curse.  

The backdrop of every discussion about rest must be the truth that work is fundamentally good. From the very beginning of the bible, the sinless and perfect created man Adam is told to work the garden before sin enters the world. The examples of the Bible that go before us in this include the apostle Paul who said of himself “his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though not I but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10) Paul's understanding of work is that it is the grace of God. A few verses later he calls on all of us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58) So we are ultimately to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

Then Why Rest?

Why then do we rest? We are not just called to work hard for the glory of God, but to do all things for his glory including seemingly random menial things such as eating or drinking. (1 Cor 10:31) Though certainly other reasons could be named, let's think through these 4 central ways the Bible teaches us to rest to the glory of God. 

When We Rest, We Express Trust in God

We express our trust in God to remain in control when we rest and let go of the reigns. Why did the Lord institute a mandated Sabbath rest for Israel, a people that lived off of agriculture in a constant race against time? He was teaching them to trust, and indeed, He always provided a double portion of Manna every 6th day so that the people could rest on the Sabbath.

Psalm 127:2 gives us further insight by the example of sleep: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Sleep and rest are a gift from God, a break from “the bread of anxious toil.” a gift given to God's “beloved”. When we rest we express our confidence in Him who never sleeps. “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4). Sometimes it is necessary for us to learn by releasing the reigns of control that God is not dependent on us to build his kingdom or to provide for his children.

When We Rest, We Look Forward

Another key function of rest is to look forward to our final rest. Hebrews 4:9 tells us that there remains a future and final Sabbath rest for the people of God in the age to come. In the same way, Jesus said that he would give rest to all who come to him (Matthew 11:28), just as he would give living water to all who thirst (John 7:37). All earthly blessings are a shadow of more glorious things to come. Resting in preparation for more fruitful earthly labor should remind us of the final and perfect rest that we will one day enter into.

When We Rest, We Recover

Resting simply for the sake of recovery is of course also a purpose of rest. In Mark 6 we read that the disciples went to Herod and collected the body of John the Baptist to be buried. In the midst of this dangerous and stressful time (we read that they didn't even have the time to eat) they return to Jesus worn out. His answer is "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." (Mark 6:31). We don't need to pretend we have no need for a time of rest in order to be effective again. Jesus knows our weakness and he himself has felt it all, including tiredness (John 4:6).

When We Rest, We Focus Spiritually

This is especially important for those involved in ministry. When your job is to study the bible, write sermons, interpret passages and a host of other “spiritual” things, it is easy to get so caught up that you forget your intimate time with God. Jesus, a man who was constantly ministering in some way knew this to be true. We read “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16 NASB). Taking a step back from the responsibilities of daily life and especially from the pastorate at times is vital for the health of our spiritual lives. Pastors know well that there is a world of difference between studying a text for a sermon and meditating on and internalizing a passage for yourself. There is a world of difference between praying for the church service with the prayer team and spending an hour in intimate prayer. There is a world of difference between providing marriage counseling and working on your own marriage.

We shouldn't see this as “take a break” from our spiritual lives. We should rather use the break to focus with greater clarity on God, our marriage, our family and thinking through our ministry.  If we rightly rest the result will be even greater effectiveness.

What Can We Do?

What can Christ Church do as our Lead Pastor takes this time of rest? First, we should wholeheartedly support Pastor Jeff in taking a break.  We should labor to take every burden away in this time from Jeff in order to make it truly restful.  This includes continuing to attend church even when he is gone.  Nothing will more burden a pastor than the knowledge that the congregation stops attending church when he isn't around.  This gives the impression that all stands and falls with him which makes stepping back for a break more and more burdensome. We should also pray for him during this time that the Lord may spiritually regenerate him and Angie and bring them closer together, teach them the lessons he wishes to teach them, and prepare them both for greater even effectiveness in the months to come.