We live in a culture, in America especially, in which we often forget that rest is something commanded by God. We pride ourselves on individualism and hard work, and these can be good things, but God also established a pattern of rest for His people in His Word. Here are four reasons that we should regularly observe a Sabbath time of rest.
Rest reminds us to worship God
In Exodus 20, God commanded Israel to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The day of rest was established so that we might worship God freely. In Deuteronomy, God connected the Sabbath with the rescue of His people: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” During the Sabbath, Israel was to reflect on God’s mighty work in redeeming them from Egypt and caring for them. Today, we should use our Sabbath rest to reflect on all God has done for us. Just as He was Israel’s savior in the desert, He is our savior who redeems us from the curse of sin and death. In addition, the rest we have in Christ calls forward to the eternal rest that awaits us in Him. Let us rest in order to worship Him for the work He has done to redeem us and let us rest in eager expectation of the eternal hope we have in Him.
Rest reminds us to rely on God
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:9).
“The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the Lord. You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It is to be a year of complete rest for the land” (Leviticus 25:1-5).
On Israel’s Sabbath, no one was to work. Beyond that, every seventh year in Israel, the whole land was to be unworked and left to rest. No crops grown. No vines tended. Doubtless, when they heard this, they wondered what they would eat during that year of rest, but God provided the answer.
“If you wonder: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we don’t sow or gather our produce?’ I will appoint my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the previous harvest. You will be eating this until the ninth year when its harvest comes in” (Leviticus 25:20-22).
In that seventh year, Israel was to rely on God for its provision. The Sabbath year, in addition to letting the ground rest, was designed to remind the people of Israel that they were to trust not in their sweat and labor, but in God’s promise of provision. We must also remember that our first and ultimate source of security and supply must be God, not ourselves. Sabbath rest reminds us to rely on God for our needs.
Rest allows us to bear more fruit
In Genesis 1:28-30, Adam and Eve are given a commission from God to care for the earth and everything in it. Talk about a tall order! Note, though, that the next day, before they begin their mission from God, is a day of rest. If we believe that this was intentional, then it appears that God knew Adam and Eve would need to work from a place of rest. A Sabbath rest can be a reward for a week of hard work, but it can also be a time of refreshing that prepares us for the work ahead. If we work and work and work with no rest, we will inevitably burn out.
Last week, I overlooked any time of rest. I typically stay up until sometime between midnight and 1 AM on weeknights, writing, reading, or listening to lectures for class. My days are full of work and most evenings are busy in some way, as well. (Hello, baseball/softball season!) Being on church staff, Sundays are also work days, so I tend to use Friday or Saturday as a day to rest, spend time with my family, and prepare for the week ahead. Last week, however, I was really excited about something new I was working on for the church, so after staying up until 3 AM Friday morning to watch lectures, I spent most of Friday and Saturday reading books and making plans. On Sunday night, I sat down to do my usual schoolwork after my family went to bed, but as I started, I began to feel terrible. My head hurt. My muscles ached. I couldn’t focus. I read the same page three times and didn’t have a clue what was on it. That night, I got into bed before 11 PM for the first time in a very long time and immediately fell asleep. I had neglected to rest over the weekend, and because of that, I was bearing no fruit that night, even as I tried to do work that relates to my ministry.
We must remember to work out of the rest that God has provided for us so that we can bear much fruit in Him. In Building a Discipling Culture (ironically, the book I spent the weekend reading), Mike Breen writes “At the time of Jesus’ incarnation, a vine would be cultivated, planted, and left to grow for three years before being allowed to bear fruit. Every time it tried to bring forth a bunch of grapes, it would be cut back. After the third year, the grapes would be allowed to grow on their own. By then, the branches were strong enough to support the weight of the grapes without breaking. After the harvest, the branches were pruned back for a time of nourishment and rest before the fruit-bearing season began again.” God’s appointed Sabbath rest allows us to grow strong enough to bear the fruit he has in store for us from one week to the next.
Rest reminds us that we are not God
This ties closely to our second point. Rest reminds us that we aren’t responsible for everything. It reminds us that we aren’t even capable of being responsible for everything. In Psalm 127, we read, “unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain. In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food—yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves.” Often, we spend too much time trying to be the constant watchmen of our lives and too little time embracing the fact that God is God and we are not. J.D. Greear wrote once that he often sleeps badly because he’s worried about who is watching the cities of his life, like his church and family; however, he has learned that one of the benefits of rest each night is a reminder that, even as he sleeps, God is watching over the cities. This psalm tells us that God gives sleep to those he loves. It also tells us that He watches over our cities in ways that we cannot, so much so that all of our watching is in vain unless we trust God to keep the true watch over everything. Rest, whether sleeping at night, taking a weekly Sabbath day, or annually taking an extended vacation away from everything, reminds us that He is God and we are not. He is the great watchman who orders our lives and ordains rest for those He loves.
Clearly, rest for His people is important to God. He ordained the Sabbath. He commanded the people to rest from growing crops for a full year. Jesus often took his disciples away from the crowds so they could rest together. You and I must learn to embrace the rest God has given us. Can the idea of rest be abused? Absolutely, just like food, entertainment, or any other good thing. We should honor God with the work of our hands and do our work joyfully for Him. But in the midst of that work, we must make time to rest in Him, worship Him, rely on Him, and trust that He is God in our lives.