19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Rest is built into the fabric of creation.1 In Genesis 1-2 we see the poetic account of God’s creative work in ordering and forming the world we live in within 6 days, but on the 7th day He rested. In fact, as we see from Hebrews 4:3-4, God rests to this day from His creative work of ordering and forming the world. This doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been active since creation – quite the contrary, in fact, if we understand that God has been sustaining everything that happens in the universe, not to mention His activity with Israel and in Jesus Christ. That’s because ‘rest’ as a term means:
relief, release, and satisfaction that comes from ceasing some form of work.
So, God rested from creating, ceasing to do that form of work, but it wasn’t the same thing as being inactive.
Humans are called to rest. In the Old Testament law, God commanded His people the sabbath which was to be a day of rest (Exodus 31:15). This was to be a day where strenuous activity wasn’t to happen and the people were to remember to rest, just as God rested. There is a huge difference between God’s resting from creating and humans resting – we (humans) need rest in order to survive. God didn’t ‘need’ to rest in order to recover His strength. But the importance of rest for humanity is that we cannot survive without rest. We need relief, release, and satisfaction that comes from ceasing from some form of work.
Resting can take various forms. It can refer to some form of ‘inactivity’, like sleeping or watching television. But it can also refer to activities like exercising, spending time with friends, and eating food. What makes something ‘rest’ is that it is a way in which a person relieves themselves from some form of work. So, I can choose to rest from my 9am-5pm job by going to the gym to exercise, even though the gym may have greater physical activity than my job! It’s still a form of rest because it is a way to release and relieve myself after stopping the work that comes with my job. However, some people may not find going to the gym as relieving, so they may not find it restful. What one person finds as restful is not applicable for all other people (except for some obvious exceptions like sleep).
Regardless of how we choose to rest, it is important that we do. Here are three reasons why rest is so important for us:
- Rest allows us to take care of our bodies, honouring God and ensuring that we can continue to work. – Sleeping, taking time off from our busy-ness, and relaxing from the stresses and anxieties of day-to-day life are important if we want to take care of our physical and mental health. Lack of sleep can reduce our productivity, meaning that we won’t be able to work as effectively or efficiently. This dishonours God when we consider that we are to work as if we were working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). Stress can cause us to become sick – so we must rest in order to let our bodies recover. Some types of work can be quite taxing on the body, so we must be careful to give it time to recuperate. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, our bodies belong to God as the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we must honour God with our bodies.
- Rest allows us to be faithfully diligent in our work. – Being faithfully diligent is a matter of character and conduct. Lack of rest can cause people to become stressed, anxious, tired, angry, and more prone to envy, greed, lust, and malice. It can result in delayed reaction times and poor judgement. It can also make people less able to concentrate on the task at hand. All this contributes to a lack of faithful diligence in service. A failure to rest is a failure to recognise our human limitations. Jesus slept; why do you think you are better than Him (Mark 4:38)? Setting aside time to rest is not a waste of time. Setting aside time to rest is vitally important because it means that you will be able to work with greater alertness, energy, and godliness afterwards. It is truly remarkable how much of our spiritual health can be determined by our lack of rest – it shouldn’t be surprising, since God has designed us as bodily creatures. But a lack of rest can make people more prone to sin, in character and conduct, and present us as unfaithful workers.
- Rest is a symbol of our trust in the sovereignty of God. – When we pull back from our activity and acknowledge our need for rest, we are recognising our creature-liness. We must rest, but God doesn’t. Rest demonstrates our need to trust God, and enjoying rest is possible because we know that, even though we are inactive, God is always sovereignly ruling His creation. Our rest cannot undo God’s plans and purposes. To think otherwise is to forget who is the creature and who is the Creator.
You’ll notice that with points 1 and 2, there is a key relationship between rest and work. That is not unusual – the world links rest and work, but not in the same way. The world believes in working to rest; work hard so that later on in life you can work less, relax more, and enjoy the fruit of your labours. But in the kingdom of God, we rest to work. We have been saved for the purpose of working (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, we rest in order to continue the work that we have been entrusted with, committed to, and called to fulfill. Certainly, the eternal rest of God that will only come when Jesus returns is what we ultimately look forward to (and we are not discussing this explicitly in this post) but in the present, we understand that rest is what allows us to keep working. And we do not work hard now so that we can earn the rest of being with God – we trust and know that we have already achieved this rest because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. We don’t have to work for it, but we can work because of it.
In a Western liberal democratic culture, your livelihood and identity is found in activity and autonomy. This is why euthanasia as a legal category is only actively prevalent in Western liberal democracies – when an individual is no longer able to care for themselves, or work, the cultural assumption is that they have become a burden, a waste of space, and a sub-human living a neutered and emptied existence. This is the same line of thinking that can see rest as a waste of time, unproductive, or as a sign of weakness in the midst of an active work schedule. Certainly, there is a desire to work so that eventually rest can be fully enjoyed, but along the way rest is antithetical to being a hard worker. However, this is not the Christian understanding. Livelihood and identity for the Christian is not found in activity and autonomy, but in a treasured and flourishing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. So, we can rest, we can emphasise its importance, and we can enjoy it knowing that God is sovereign and always active in ways that we cannot be.
- My purpose with this post is to generally sketch out what ‘rest’ is as a Christian, and then focus on the importance in humans resting as a priority. I will not be covering the ultimate meaning of ‘rest’ that we look forward to in much depth at all. ↩