In my previous two articles, God's Prescription for Workaholics and Give God Your To-Do List, I discussed the damage that has been done by the frenetic busyness of our lives and suggested as an alternative model the simple idea of obeying the commandment to rest on the Sabbath. I discussed the importance of Sabbath rest and delight as something woven into the fabric of creation and then shared my own Sabbath rest story.
This is worth considering more deeply. The Sabbath day was not just an idea introduced for the first time in the Ten Commandments, but rather it is fundamental to the very order of Creation.
Rest Teaches Us About Holiness and Godliness
Every follower of God ought to be interested in holiness and godliness. We read about rest early in the creation account of Genesis. Consider again Genesis 2. "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done."
The first thing to note here is that the word "because" is not an accident of modern English translation, but a word corresponding closely to the original Hebrew. As one scholar of ancient Hebrew explained to me, the word "because" is not only present in the original, but it is of the essence. God made the day holy because it was a day of rest. In other words, holiness and the restfulness are inextricably linked!
We see this in the phrasing of the Ten Commandments as well. "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." The word "therefore" here is like the "because" of Genesis 2:3. God rested on the seventh day. Therefore the day was blessed and made holy.
Holiness Flows from Rest
In particular, holiness flows out of Sabbath rest when we delight in creation. We experience holiness when we put aside this world's concepts of productivity and self-reliance and choose instead to trust God's provision. If you want to pursue holiness, you must be willing also to pursue rest—or, rather, to accept rest.
God himself chooses to rest! God rested on the seventh day—the Sabbath day—of creation. If we are to be like God, to reflect his image, then we must be willing to stop constantly working for the Lord and enter into rest.
To enter rest is to be godly. To be godly is to enter rest. We can choose to put aside our constant busyness and labor, even just one day a week. We can place ourselves in God's hands, to delight in his creation, to cease striving and know that he is God. We can take a break from ceaseless consumption. We can acknowledge our dependence on God.
As a society, we fail to take the Sabbath seriously. More broadly, we refuse to accept rest. This is the accepted disobedience of our time. No wonder that our lives are so frantic.
But there it is, right there in the Ten Commandments at number four. It is the longest commandment, and it makes no concessions. No one works on the Sabbath, not the Israelites, not their servants, not even their animals. Is it harvest time? Doesn't matter. Exodus 34:21 points out that the command holds "even during plowing season and harvest."
If you think this is unrealistic in your busy life, just imagine how that commandment sounded to ancient farmers. Yet God promised he would provide for them. And he can provide for us too.
But the roots of this commandment are deeper than that. Rest is part of the very nature of God's creation. Rest is part of the rhythm God intends for our lives. Rest is something God himself does. We rest to reflect God's image.
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
- Reflect on this passage from The Paradise of God by Norman Wirzba:
"As we fail to appreciate and observe the Sabbath, we are prone to spoil the work of God's hands and exploit the work of each other. . . . The key to the truth of creation is to be found in the Sabbath, for in the Sabbath creation finds its fulfillment, goal, and purpose. To enter into the divine rest, as Sabbath observance calls us to do, is to enter into the happiness, delight, and stillness of God."
- Think about a deeply restful occasion in your life. What did you learn about holiness and godliness during that time?
- How does rest help you reflect the image of God?
- How busy is your life? Are you failing to honor God's commandment to rest from your work?