As we enter the workweek following the Labor Day Weekend, I wanted to follow up with a few things from my sermon on Sunday. While the title of the sermon was Work & Rest, I focused much of the sermon on the Sabbath. So, I wanted to say a few things that I didn’t have time to expound on about our work. I also promised that I’d post some ways to help us Sabbath better.
First, we believe that our work, our vocation is a good gift from God. Work is a part of the good creation. God works and it was very good. He gives man and woman work to do, together, and it was good (Gen. 1:26-31, 2:15-24). While work is affected by sin (Gen. 3:17-19), just like everything else in the world, it still is good. Not as good at it could be, but it is still good.
As author Steven Garber says, our work is “integral not incidental” to our discipleship. Meaning, our work is one of the ways in which we live out following Jesus, and it’s used by God to grow us in the grace and truth of the Gospel.
Our work is also used by God to serve and care for others, what theologians call Common Grace. As Martin Luther said, “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” We serve God and our neighbor in and through our work.
There is more that could be said about the biblical view of our work, but hopefully this gives you some encouragement and a renewed mission and appreciation for your work.
But, as good as work is, as God honoring as work is, as much as it provides not only for our needs, but the needs of others – the common good, we need rest as well. In fact, God desires that we rest. He created work, but He also created rest into the very fabric of creation. While many of us work hard, if you’re like me, we don’t rest very well.
We have so many good things that allow us to do our work from anywhere, check-in at any time, do this quick task… while I’m thinking about it. But, what we find is that these good things that allow us ‘freedom’ also can make us slaves to our work. God in his goodness knew that we would work and work and work until we would kill ourselves, and so he instituted a day of rest, what the Bible calls Sabbath.
We need Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man,” (Mark 2:27) as a day of rest and refreshment for the body and of blessing to the soul. The Sabbath offers us rest from work and from business. God’s command of Sabbath was a declaration of freedom from slavery, from the tyranny of work (Deut. 5:12-15). God had freed his people from slavery in Egypt, from a place where they found no rest from their work, now to freedom to rest. It also frees us from busyness because it ‘limits’ productivity. We are commanded by God to trust Him with our time – to allow Him to care for body and soul. It’s counter cultural, it may even seem counter intuitive, and yet God says this is what’s best for you.
Sabbath is not just rest from our work and busyness, but it’s also rest for the enjoyment of God, the freedom we have in the gospel, life in general, and what we have accomplished in the world through God’s help. It’s a day for Worship and enjoyment, finding refreshment in God’s good gifts. It’s also rest for showing mercy. Jesus explains what God means in Hosea 6:6 when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” True faith produces mercy. Of course, mercy or compassion does not make one a Christian. Nevertheless, true faith produces a merciful heart. True Christians are compassionate to the needy—the poor, the immigrants, the cultural outcasts, unstable people, alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, etc. Dynamic mercy in all its dimensions is nothing less than the life of Christ in us.
Sabbath is finally most experienced and understood as our rest in Jesus. Jesus declares himself as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and as the Lord of the Sabbath he supplies in his person everything the Sabbath was meant to give—peace, rest, restoration, and communion. Jesus came, not to destroy the Law, but to keep it and fulfill it in everyway. Jesus has come to mercifully meet the needs of his people. As “Lord of the Sabbath” he shows mercy and meets our deepest spiritual needs—regeneration, renewal, peace, restoration, and rest.
Finally, as I promised, here are “Five Ways to Rest” that I have taken from an article by Tim Keller posted on the Q Ideas website. I hope these are helpful as you think and ‘work’ to rest well.
- Sheer inactivity – There must be some cessation from activity or exertion. This pause in the work cycle is analogous to Israel’s practice of letting a field lie fallow every seventh year to produce whatever happened to grow (Leviticus 25:1–7). The soil rested so over-farming would not deplete its nutrients and destroy its ability to keep producing. Whatever came up in the soil came up. You need some unscheduled time like that every week to let come up—out of the heart and mind—whatever will.
- Time for avocational activity – An avocation is something that is sheer pleasure to you, but that does require some intentionality and gives some structure to your Sabbath rest. In many cases an avocation is something that others do for ”work,” which is analogous to occasionally planting a different crop in a field to replenish the nutrients and make the soil more fertile for its normal crop. Include these elements:
- You need some contemplative rest. Prayer and worship are a critical part of Sabbath rest, from any perspective. Regular time for devotion, reading the Scripture, and listening to God forms the basis for inner rest and provides time away from the more exhausting exertions of life.
- You need some recreational rest. The Puritans and others were rightly skeptical of recreations that required spending a great deal of money and time and exertion, because those types of recreations exhaust people. Be careful that recreation really refreshes.
- You need to include aesthetic rest. Expose yourself to works of God’s creation that refresh and energize you, and that you find beautiful. This may mean outdoor things. It may mean art—music, drama, and visual art. God looked around at the world he made and said it was good, so aesthetic rest is necessary for participating in God’s Sabbath fully.
- Consider your Sabbath activities in light of being an extrovert or an introvert – When planning your Sabbath rest, ask yourself what really “recharges” you. This self-assessment can help you determine how relational your Sabbath time should be. Introverts tend to spend their energy when out with people and recharge their batteries by being alone. Extroverts tend to spend energy in personal work and recharge their batteries by getting out with people. If you are a real introvert, be careful about trying to maintain all of your community-building relationships during your Sabbath time. That would be too draining. On the other hand, relationship building could be one of the greatest things a true extrovert could possibly do. Don’t try to imitate an introvert’s Sabbath rhythms if you are an extrovert or vice versa! Recognize that some avocational activities take you into solitude, while some take you out into society.
- Don’t necessarily count family time as Sabbath – Do a realistic self-assessment of “family time” and how it affects you. Family time is important, but parents need to be very careful that they don’t let all of their regular Sabbath time be taken up with parental responsibilities.
- Honor both micro and macro-rythems in your seasons of rest – Israel’s Sabbath cycles of rest-and-work included not only Sabbath days but also Sabbath years and even a Year of Jubilee every forty-nine years (Leviticus 25:8–11). This is a crucial insight for workers in today’s world. It is possible to voluntarily take on a season of work that requires high energy, long hours, and insufficient weekly- Sabbath time. If you must enter a season like this, it should not last longer than two or three years at the most. Be accountable to someone for this, or you will get locked into an “under-Sabbathed” life-style, and you will burn out. And during this “under-Sabbathed” time, do not let the rhythms of prayer, Bible study, and worship die. Be creative, but get it in.
The Sabbath is a sign of the hope that we have in the world to come. Let’s Sabbath well together, and in so doing, proclaim this hope until He comes again!