A new year always feels like a fresh start. If you think about it, there’s really no big difference between December 31 and January 1. But it does feel different. Turning the calendar feels like receiving a blank slate. All of the sudden it doesn’t matter what goals, habits, and resolutions I failed to accomplish last year, because this year is new!
As a result, January tends to be one of my more productive months. I typically work faster and complete more tasks than any other time. But then the honeymoon phase of the new year wears off, and the old sluggish, easily distracted, tired version of me reappears. Sometimes that version of me is just lazy and needs a kick in the pants to get going. But, sometimes, that version of me is just human.
God made humans to work. He made humans to serve him and to serve others with our time, talents, and opportunities. But he also made us finite, limited, and often in need of break. And rest, like work, is one of his good gifts. It’s just not something to do so we can get back to what really matters, it’s something to enjoy. Rest is not merely a means to an end, it’s an end in itself.
I often need to remind myself that rest matters, that it deserves my attention and my protection, and here are three reasons why:
1. God commands us to rest
Consider Exodus 31:13: You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.’
Isn’t it striking that God not only commands Israel to keep specific times of rest and worship (his Sabbaths), but he commands this above all? It’s as if God says, “I’ve given you many commands, many rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, tasks and opportunities to serve me. But most of all, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to rest.”
Why command rest? Well, God says, “rest that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. “ Here’s John Calvin’s explanation of that statement. He writes, “Under the repose of the seventh day the heavenly Lawgiver meant to represent to the people Israel spiritual rest, in which believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them.”1
In his kindness, God has given each of us opportunities to work for him and for his glory in our homes, our churches, our jobs, and so on. But in his kindness, God is also doing work for us. By the power of his Holy Spirit he is making us more and more like Jesus. And times of rest often open opportunities for worship, for lingering on the Word, and spending time in prayer. This serves us greatly in the journey of sanctification.
When we rest we say, “Father, I want to do great things for you, but I can’t do any of it if you are not at work in me. So please, strengthen me and nourish me today.” This honors him and helps us.
2. Other people need us to rest
We’re not the only ones who need the benefits of our resting, the people we love need us to rest as well. Parents, take your kids for example. Deuteronomy 6:5–7 is a great summary of the parenting task. It says, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
It’s hard to raise kids in the Lord by diligently teaching them his ways if we’re too busy for time at home, too distracted to have a conversation in the car, and too tired to read the Bible and pray with our kids early in morning or late at night.
As a dad, I feel a special warning here. I recently read Paul Tripp’s excellent book Parenting. This sentence haunted me: “How many children rarely see their fathers because Dad is off to work before the kids are up and around and home from work after they go to bed?”2 I never want that for my daughter. So I must rest.
And we could apply the same principle to relationships with our spouses, our friends, our fellow church members, and our extended family. Relationships require time and presence, and that happens best when we are resting from our work.
3. You need a break
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14)
Last year I read Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work. It made me want to work harder. It made me want to fight laziness and distraction. And it also made me want to rest. Newport argues that the average person can only handle about three hours of intense, focused, deep work each day.
So, those of us in professions which require creative mental faculties (e.g. preachers & writers) should consider whether or not burning the midnight oil or loading our “deep work” into one or two days a week is really effective. If Newport is right, we’d all do better to spread the mentally-taxing work throughout our weeks, and engage in mentally-filling work more often (e.g. reading for pleasure).
But whatever your profession is, you only have a certain amount of gas in the tank. You’re not God. You are a finite human being. You are dust. And so limiting work, and enjoying rest, is the only thing that actually makes sense in light of that reality.
Made to rest
We were made to rest. And one day, when Christ returns and eternal rest begins, we’ll know what that really means. But until then, take heed to God’s word, take care of your relationships, and take a break. It’ll do you good.