The culture we live in is becoming more undisciplined by the day. We are being taught to respond to the impulse of the moment and go with what we feel. Were told this is real freedom, and that the old disciplines of the past were based on foolish superstition. But I think all of us when we look around, and even to some degree when we look at our own lives, arent seeing people basking in their new-found freedoms, but tired and increasingly addicted to something. We dont see happy people, we see angry people.
You and I have been born into a place and a culture which is in decline, and if we follow the crowd well end up in the same condition as the crowd. No, we dont want to go to the polar opposite of rigid, unforgiving rules, but if were going to experience Gods blessings we must rethink the way were living. We must unhitch from the culture and march to the beat of a different drum. We must allow our lives to become ordered and disciplined around the patterns God has set for us in His Word. And one such pattern well look at today, this Labor Day weekend, is rest.
The seventh day (Ex 16:4, 5, 22-30)
Please notice that God made a special provision so that the people could rest one day per week. Please also notice that human nature is such that some people ignored Gods command to rest and went out to gather on the seventh day anyway. God has established a pattern: six days of work, one day of rest. This pattern cannot be consistently ignored without damage. This is the way we humans have been designed by our Creator. As Christians we are not bound by the Law to have to keep the Sabbath, but when we understand it as part of Gods created order and a gift to us, we want to. (Ge 2:1-3; Ex 20:9-11).
Four ingredients of life
Like a good recipe each of these must be in proper proportion and be mixed in thoroughly:
There must be a regular pattern of these four elements in our lives if we are to successfully run the race to the end.
work is Gods gift to sinful man, but work alone will destroy us.
play pulls our minds off the worries of life.
rest heals our weary bodies and minds.
worship restores our perspective and sense of purpose by drawing us into close fellowship with God.
A balanced life
Building a life in which each of these has its proper place is very difficult. Not only will unanticipated events arise to prevent it, but our own human nature rebels against it. It takes:
Understanding (I see why this is important)
An overall decision (I want to do this)
A willingness to plan a weekly, monthly, seasonal schedule
A willingness to look at a calendar
Daily, even moment-by-moment decisions to refuse to be pulled off course, unless I determine I must
A flexibility when the plan is unavoidably disrupted
A commitment to return to the plan over and over again without becoming angry and quitting
In other words, we have to have a plan and work that plan, otherwise the urgent demands of life will set our agenda for us and drag us along. We cant be passive, we have to take control of our schedule. But learning to schedule is not enough, we must learn to set our schedule with understanding. It must include these four elements, or they simply wont happen. Without planning, good intentions are quickly overwhelmed by urgent demands and the impulses of our flesh.
Learning to rest
Today lets focus on one of these four elements: rest. For many of us resting is the hardest one on this list. When we rest we feel useless, guilty, bored. Were haunted by all the things that need to be done. For some of us being idle actually makes us miserable. Being busy validates us, keeps us from thinking about painful memories, or gives us a sense of progress as we check one more item off our to-do list.
Yes, there are people for whom over-work isnt their problem! Getting them to go to work is the problem. But oddly enough even those who dont work usually dont rest either, not real rest.
Why we rest
Real rest isnt wasting time. It is a deliberate investment of time in order to heal our bodies and minds, to rebuild, to renew so we can keep functioning for a long time without damaging our essential health. Uninterrupted work will kill us. A man who was a spiritual father to me once said:
Break the rhythm, or the rhythm will break you.
The issue at stake is really life or death. No one can keep going forever. God didnt create us that way. He commanded us to rest one day a week, and then set boundaries on what we could do on that day, so that we would be forced to really rest, not just do other chores.
As Christians we are not afraid of death, in fact we look forward to whats waiting for us, but we also understand how important our lives are to Gods plan here on earth. So we arent careless about our health. We choose life (Dt 30:19) over and over again. We want to live as long as possible and stay as healthy as possible so we can be as fruitful for God as possible. We see life as a marathon, not a sprint. So building an ordered life that includes a proper balance of work, play, rest, and worship isnt a matter of self-indulgence, its a deep decision to run our race clear to the end. Its a decision based on our love for our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus, its based on our desire to accomplish everything He has for us. Were determined to stay healthy and strong, because its faithfulness over many years that brings abundant fruit.
What is rest?
What its not: chores at home, recreation, entertainment (high adrenaline), exercise (strenuous, leaves you exhausted)
What it is:
- Unhitching from duties and worries
- Sitting, sleeping, eating
- Fellowshipping with God (read, pray, sit quietly
Embracing the rhythm
Theres a natural pattern of expending energy and replenishing energy. When we dont allow for proper replenishing we become ill and discouraged: too much to do, no energy to do it. Rest should be seen as a strategic ingredient in success. I cant perform at the level I need to perform if I dont rest at regular intervals. I understand my biological and spiritual need for this. Rest isnt a luxury, its a necessity. And if Im going to rest at regular intervals, I must plan for it. Such planning is even more necessary for those with two or three jobs, irregular schedules, or small children. Planning for you is at least a weekly process.
Alternatives to rest
Those who dont rest properly find alternative ways to cope. Many use caffeine to stay awake and sleeping pills when theyre too tired to sleep. Caffeine isnt evil but its very destructive when its used to mask our symptoms, to provide artificial energy (our bodies produce adrenaline to flush out the poison of caffeine). We use it to hide the signals our body is giving that tell us to rest. At a given moment we may have to use caffeine to get through the day, but a pattern of coping this way means we desperately need to schedule more carefully. We need to take control of our lives.
The gift of the Sabbath (Isa 58:13, 14)
Now heres the secret that only those who actually take a true day of rest discover: by not working, we get more done. Its the same principle as those who tithe (10%) and find that the 90% goes farther than the 100%. There is a deep connection between our bodies and our spirits. When we rest our bodies, our spiritual health increases. We find we can hear from God again. He speaks to us about our needs and guides us concerning the problems and decisions before us. So we come away from a day of rest feeling stronger and more positive about life, confident about how to handle challenges in front of us, and remembering our purpose, why were doing what were doing.
So is rest a luxury, a waste of valuable time that could have been spent doing something much more productive? Or is rest a strategic necessity for success, a gift of God which requires faith to be put into practice? Does rest empower me to stay the course and allow God to work miracles in me, my family and His church? Those whove stepped out in faith and tried it know the answer.
1) How do you remember the events in your life? Do you have a great memory or do you use a calendar? 2) Which of the four elements (work, play, rest, worship) is least consistent in your life? Which is most? 3) What does a rest day look like for you? What are the typical interruptions that make rest difficult? How have you tried to solve these?