…and you will find rest for your souls.
Do you remember being a kid and throwing a temper tantrum when told it was time to take an afternoon nap? Now I am a parent myself, not only do I wish someone would order to me to take an afternoon nap still; but I now understand why my parents had us take naps. When you don’t rest it brings physical exhaustion, grumpy attitude, and a general inability to be focused on spiritual things. When my kids were born, I used to say sleep deprivation also removes all hope for social pleasantries. In short, rest is a gift given by parents to their kids to prevent them from running themselves ragged.
The Daily Exchange
Parents: “Nap time!”
Kids: “Nooooooooo! I’m NOT tired!” <emotional meltdown ensues>
Parents: “Thanks for proving my point. Nap time now, or you’ll never make it through the afternoon because clearly you’re exhausted.”
Kids: “I hate you, you never let me do what I want!”
Parents: “Yea yea. You’ll get over it.”
Kids: <shaking fist> “Neverrrrrr! You will pay for this! I am not tired…I’m- I’m not tired…. <zzzzzzzzzzz>
When they wake up one hour later, voila! they’re new people! By the way, I actually do respond as per above when my children tell me they hate me; which is at least a weekly occurrence.
We All Need to Rest
Rest is a gift. Without it, adults would run themselves ragged, too. God has given us so many gifts; our creativity, ability to love and be loved, our ingenuity to solve problems; the list goes on. But He also knows we have so little sense of our own self-preservation. Without permission and mandate to rest we would work ourselves into the dirt and then grind ourselves to the bone to get out again.
It is such a big deal God baked rest into His creation.
“Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1-3, ESV).
The message from Him here is 1) Work is good, and 2) Rest is also good, and is holy because God is setting the example for His creation.
The Fall and Sleep Deprivation
If things had continued on without the Fall (Genesis 3) and the subsequent penalty of cursed ground and reduced fruits for labor (Genesis 3:17); I am sure following this example would have been enough. However, with the reduced return on investment for your work, what’s your natural inclination? Work harder! Get ahead!
There used to be a program at my job where you could exchange your accrued vacation hours for cash instead of actually taking your vacation. Workaholics loved this option, but in the late 1990s the program was cancelled. It was discontinued because employees were burning themselves out and attrition rates were through the roof. We could not hire fast enough through the front door to compensate the people walking out the rear exit of the campus buildings. Nowadays, vacation where I work is mandatory to ensure we all maintain a healthy work/life balance which ultimately increases productivity and reduces attrition rates.
Israel Had a Vacation Clause Too
In order to protect Israel from itself from burning themselves out. From the time Israel was founded as a nation until now the concept of rest was molded into every facet of life.
- The 5th of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), so it’s probably a big deal.
- Animals used for labor get a break, too (Exodus 23:12)
- Whether it’s harvest or sowing time doesn’t matter (Exodus 34:21)
- The land needs to rest (Leviticus 25:3-5)
- Sabbath, rest, and festival cycles were tied together (Passover, Leviticus 23:7), (Pentecost, Leviticus 23:21), (Feast of Trumpets, Leviticus 23:24), (Day of Atonement, Leviticus 23:28), (Feast of Booths, Leviticus 23:35).
- Made for our good, and benefit (Mark 2:27-28)
Rest is crucial. We need the time to reflect, to focus on God, to ease our stress, to prioritize. Bad things happen to us physically, emotionally, and spiritually when we ignore it. This is especially during this season of our lives here in the dreaded 2020. I chuckle a little bit as I ask this question: of all the mandates in Scripture, of all the exhortations about how we ought to behave, one would think resting would be the easiest of these to comply with. So why do we not do it? Israel recognized at least how important it was given its holy connections and in order to enforce compliance came up with 39 regulations around what actually constitutes work to be avoided to be in alignment with the law. They overdid it though and wound up making work out of not working. But what stops us?
The last few years of my job have been challenging. The work is interesting enough, but I have been working under a cloud. Working within a team which has no problem waiting for you to do the work and then attempting to either take it from you, when you go on a vacation, or take the credit. It sounds like paranoia until it really happens. On the first occasion I went on a 5-week vacation to Peru in 2018, and the second occasion was in August of this year. On both occasions, God said “You need to rest, James.” My response to him was the same for both: “I don’t feel like I can. If I leave now, when I return all of my work will be given to someone else and credit taken by others.”
His response on both occasions had two parts. 1) 1 Samuel 19:9-10, and 2) Matthew 11:28-30. The first part all shown in imagery went something like this: If I can spare David from Saul’s spear, managing your job is not a big deal for Me. The second part: trust Me, come to Me, and I will give you rest. Basically, “do you trust Me or not?” So, I took vacations, which in both of those seasons were desperately needed and resigned myself to whatever outcomes waiting for me when I returned. This meant accepting an unfavorable outcome at work in exchange for my trust and obedience in God. I chose believing He knew what He was doing and would work it out somehow.
The vacations were amazing. I got to see Machu Picchu for the first time on my first vacation to Peru, and for the second vacation I got reminded God is still in control as I gazed at calm waves lazily made their way up the beach. A calmness starkly opposite of what was going on and is still going on in the world. I returned to work on both occasions refreshed, ready to take on new challenges with priorities aligned on the things which truly matter in my life. The Gospel. My relationship with God. My wife and kids. Not my relationship with a particular job, nor the outcome of a promotion I had been chasing. My focus was not the tenuous relationships with some of my co-workers.
Hmm…God was Right
As it turned out God had my back the whole time, and in fact protected me from things going on behind closed doors at my job which I did not even know about until they were all over. If I hadn’t taken the vacations He told me to take right at the time I was told to take them, I’m certain I would’ve burned out and would either be out of work or employed somewhere else by now. For reasons He has not explained He has kept me right where I am which I can only presume is right where He wants me for now.
God knows we need to rest. He also knows entering that rest means we also need to trust Him. We rest in Him. We are to trust even though circumstance makes it difficult. Perhaps if God is the parent and we’re the kids, it might look something like this:
God: “You need to rest, daughter.”
Us: “I don’t think I can! There’s too much going on, too much on my plate!”
God: “I will be with you.”
God: “I will be with you. Trust me, daughter. It’s not good for you to carry on this way without resting in Me.”
Us: “OK. I’m scared, but I’ll do it because I trust You.”
Have you ever heard a clear message from God to take a break?
How often do your vacations really involve rest? Or are they just a new kind of busy?
Think of a time when you had to let God take the reigns while you rested. How did you feel when you got back?