For many of you who know me, you may be wondering why I of all people would be writing on the topic of Sabbath rest. I feel like most days of the year, rest is more of a luxury than a necessity, and a whole 24 hours of it certainly is an impossible request.
Recently, though, I’ve felt so burnt out from being in a constant state of busyness and stress from all of my responsibilities (most of which are self-imposed), that I had a series of mini melt-downs with the Lord, crying out and asking, “What’s it all worth?” All of the accolades at work from the hours I put in only caused my employer to reward me with…wait for it…more work. All of the ministries and side-hustles I’m involved with seem to have a never-ending list of projects, and who else is more qualified to do them than I? The famous words from the book of Ecclesiastes rang through my mind, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8)
To my rescue, in response to this exhausted cry for help, God graciously reminded me of a verse that I clearly had not been applying in my life up until this point:
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 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. – Psalm 127:1-2
Sleep. What a crazy notion. For those of you busy professionals, ministry leaders, and moms – that blissful state of no responsibility and complete peace seems more like a happy thought than an actual reality that you could claim for yourself as a working adult. But you know what’s even crazier? The Bible says otherwise.
In that verse, “sleep” or “rest” is a promise made to those who trust God with the fruit of their labor instead of worrying themselves to death over their responsibilities. In fact, that’s more than a promise; it’s a unique indicator of a mature disciple of Christ. Pastor J.D. Greear of The Summit Church once said that,
“Those most mature in Jesus are not those working hardest for Him, but those resting best in Him.” Wow. What a counter-cultural statement.
Perhaps this is why so much of Scripture talks about entering into God’s rest and why God commands us to, not suggests that we “remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy…on it you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20.8) In fact, this was how the Lord intended to set Israel apart from all other nations. While the other nations were busy laboring seven days a week and placing their identities in their work and productivity (sounds an awful like America, doesn’t it?), Israel was to work for six days and set apart one day to rest and commune with God, just as God rested on the seventh day when He created the world.
To clarify what this “day of rest” means for us, in the book Rhythms of Rest, author Shelly Miller says that, “Sabbath isn’t an allowance for rest when the dishes are done, projects are complete, or when your volunteerism is on hiatus.” Choosing rest over work is the ultimate act of brave trust in God’s sovereign hand upon creation. He is in charge of our minutes.” So the Sabbath is less about resting when the to-do list has all been checked off (which, side-note, the to-do list will never be done this side of heaven), and more about trusting God with your time, just like we trust Him with our money when we tithe. Therefore, when we don’t obey God’s fourth commandment, we’re actually demonstrating that we don’t trust God as our Provider. Instead, we rely on ourselves and the things of this world for our provision, which is a form of pride and idolatry. Ouch.
But how good is our God that He satisfies one of our heart’s deepest longings by commanding that we make room for rest in our lives through communion with Him? In Isaiah, He says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) He didn’t say in working really hard for the Lord you shall be saved and in pushing your limits of productivity every day shall be your strength. He knows how we operate and what we need because He created us. The Lord God says that we are saved by resting in Him, and we are strengthened by trusting in Him. What a beautiful promise.
So here’s my challenge to you. Join me in observing a full 24 hour Sabbath day once a week for the next month. That doesn’t mean sitting around the living room singing Kumbaya and eating Bon Bons all day with the kids. It means plan ahead for a day of whatever you and your family needs to reorient your hearts towards the Lord and cast aside every distracting thought trying to draw you back to a list of to-dos. The ultimate goal is real, authentic communion with Him, which may take the form of a walk in the park, a day hike to observe the beauty of creation, reading a good book, exercising for the first time in a month, or whatever it is that draws your heart back to worship God and feel His peace.
As the Advent season is upon us, take time to celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus as a man to save us, but also the expectation of His coming again to bring us into our final rest. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath rest, according to Scripture; He is our Sabbath rest. So why don’t we use this time to reorient our hearts towards Him in hopeful expectancy of the Peace of God to come, even amidst the hardships of life, and to trust Him with the fruit of our labor, which He promises to bless and multiply when we faithfully surrender it to Him?
So friends, get some rest this Advent season, and let these words from Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, wash over you like a wave on the sandy shores of Heaven.
"Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". – Matthew 11:28-30