An Article by Jessie Marquis - April 8th, 2015
What is God’s heart behind ‘rest’? Much of the time we equate ‘rest’ as the opposite of ‘work’. And we know that God loves hard work. He has much to say in the proverbs about diligent hands in work as wisdom for provision. Sometimes we think that the opposite of ‘work’ is ‘laziness’ which God also has much to say on equating it with foolishness. However, laziness is not the opposite of work. Laziness is an attitude that crosses both spectrums. One can be working and in his lack of heart and diligence be lazy in his work. He also can be lazy in his not working. So I’m detaching this word “lazy” from both words. I’m also challenging preconceived ideas of what our culture has said about ‘rest’ and any previous connotation attached to it. Our American values are portrayed in our language, and values are also taught and caught through the language we use. When we are raised with phrases such as “Work before play”, “You can sleep when you’re dead” or “You’ll only make it in life through hard work”, we are both speaking from and with the American mindset that work is the most important thing in life. You won’t make it in life without it, that rest is for the weak and rest is subsidiary to work or unimportant. Go ahead and check your value system. If you are an American reading this, this is probably your attitude. It’s part of the American dream, part of the American history. This is the place where shiploads of immigrants have come for new chances, where individuals had an equal opportunity to education and moving up in life independent of class. Our country has been a dream come true and an opportunity to dream. I love my country and many of the values. Generations have a new start because of the toil of someone’s hands and their hard work.
So what is God’s heart behind rest? Is it bad? Does it keep you from your destination? From your destiny? It’s often said, “If I go a day without work, that’s a day without pay and I need the money.” We have a wrong attitude about rest because we have a wrong attitude about work. We are to work hard with all our might as if working for the Lord (Col 3:23) and be excellent in our work that unbelievers could find no flaw in us (1 Pt 2:12, Dan 6:3-4). But do we really provide for ourselves? Am I my own provider and sustainer or does God provide for me through my work? Do I work only because I need money or do I work because it was something I was created to do and to enjoy? If you never needed money in your life would you never work a day in your life? It’s not a means to an end or a necessary evil. I propose we were created to work and not just work, but to love it. And its only by the curse that a distaste for it formed (Adam had to work “by the sweat of his brow”). But we’ve been redeemed! The attitudes that we carry in our hearts about work and rest show more than what we do or not do with our hands, they show our core attitudes about what we believe about God.
He’s Provider. I would say in scripture that Jesus spent a lot less time concerned about people not kicking it into gear and working than he did trying to get them to stop. “Don’t you know the flowers neither reap nor spin and the birds of the air don’t sow or reap or store in barns and see how the Father cares for them”, “Martha, Martha, why are you working....Mary has chosen the better”. “Do Not be anxious about anything” Mankind had a harder time resting than they did working and Jesus knew that it was in only in rest that one could “be still....and know that He is God.” I’m equating ‘rest’ with “being still and knowing”. Knowing what? Knowing that He is God, that He is Provider, that He is All-knowing, that He is All-powerful, that He is all we need, and apart from Him we can do nothing. “Unless the Lord builds the house the laborers labor in vain”. There’s a ‘knowing’ and stillness associated to rest. ‘Rest’ without ‘being still’ and ‘knowing’, is just ‘sleep’ or ‘doing nothing’.
I often wondered why God created the Sabbath and made such a big deal about it. Ha, I wonder as well on the human end why it was so hard to rest. If you don’t have a value for something then you won’t live it out. On God’s end, it wasn’t about protecting a day of the week or your and my need from being tired, but at the very core of the Sabbath was ‘rest’ and God’s reasoning....”I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” God described it as well as as a celebration to be kept as a perpetual covenant. And this lack of celebrating....is what caused Israel into Exile for 70 years. It was a big deal, and I have read more on God’s concern for the Sabbath than any other law (as it was often linked to the worship of idols and foreign gods).
Rest was the core of the sabbath and the sabbath itself was a sign and a covenant. A sign of what? A sign (like circumcision) that these were a people who were set a part. They were set apart by their rest. Because these were a people who worshipped a God who blessed them so much in the 6th year harvest that they didn’t have to plough and plant at all the 7th year...Whether by hailstones or divine set ambushes, Israel worshipped a God who destroyed their enemies for them and enjoyed fighting their battles for them. “Just be still and see the salvation He will work for you”. This was God’s habit. Israel was known as the people whose god fought for them. Victory came when the people walked in the knowing that God was doing the doing. While the rest of the world has devised their rules and pillars striving to make their way closer to their gods, The God of Israel says, let ME work for you. Let ME work your salvation. Let ME be the one who sanctifies you. And Jesus sits at the right hand of God with His enemies (and all of yours) under His feet. It is finished.
And it’s in the very act of intentionally setting ourselves apart by our rest, that we consciously and consistently remind ourselves of our relationship with our God and we as His people. What does it look like to value rest and not just value it in itself but what it even communicates about our relationship with God. How often after receiving the grace of Christ do we try to work our own salvation, work our way into our dreams and destinies, provide for ourselves. “It’s a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever.”
If we’re going to strive for anything, let us strive to enter His rest and then just be still...and know.
1. What are my core beliefs about rest? Is it ‘productive’? Is it associated with ‘laziness’ or ‘being tired? From where do I get these ideas?
Do you find it hard to be still? Why?
2. What are my core beliefs on work? Is it a necessary evil?
What things have shaped what I believe about work?
3. How closely tied are my American beliefs about work and rest with the kingdom mindsets reflected in the Bible? What needs to change?