The topic rest of is expressed throughout the Bible, from the book of Genesis when God rested on the seventh day of creation and then commanded rest in the ten commandments, and continued in the New Testament when Jesus tells us to come to Him and find rest for our souls. Even though I was familiar with what God’s Word had to say on the topic, I never really understood the importance of rest. It seemed like luxury that would be nice, certainly, but only if I had time for it. And I didn’t. I had too much to do!
But God knew I needed to learn a lesson about rest. So he let me work, and work, and work, all the while holding out His gift of rest, which I proudly ignored. I could do it! I just had to get up earlier or go to bed later to get it done. But as the years wore on, I realized that the demands on my time were more than I could manage. There weren’t more hours in the day to pull from, and there certainly wasn’t any more energy to be had. I found myself stressed to the max in trying to juggle everything. I could see the writing on the wall that if I didn’t make some changes, I was headed for a crash.
One day the Lord ordained a particularly stressful situation in my life to get my attention. I couldn’t fix it, and I had no more reserves to deal with one more thing and the cracks began to show.
I knew I needed to get away with the Lord to process the situation. This was the pivotal moment where He met me and opened my eyes to see the gift of rest He had been extending to me all along, just waiting for me to accept.
On the way to a retreat in Missouri to spend five days alone with the Lord, He impressed Exodus 14:14 on my heart, which says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” I heard Him loud and clear. While I knew I wasn’t in control and couldn’t handle everything, I realized I was living and thinking as though I was and could.
That time away revealed some hard truths.
A heart of pride and self-sufficiency
From the very beginning, God gave us an example of work-life balance. He spent six days on creation, and then he rested. God didn’t NEED rest. But he set aside one day of rest to give us a pattern to follow, because he knew that we need it. When we refuse to rest, we reveal a heart of pride in thinking that we can or should do everything. God is the only one without limitations. When we set ourselves up to do everything, we are in essence setting ourselves up to sit in His place. But when we humble ourselves, acknowledging and accepting our limitations, and take time to rest, we realize what a gift He has given! We can rest knowing that ultimately God is the one who is in control of all things. He calls us to rest, and when we obey, he handles what we can’t, though not always in the way we would choose.
Kevin DeYoung, in his book Crazy Busy illustrates our desire to be God when he says, “The biggest deception of our age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance, and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.”
A Lack of Trust
In trying to do everything on my own, I was revealing that I wasn’t trusting God’s promises.
Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” All through the Bible God has repeatedly modeled and commanded a day of rest. When I refuse to rest, I am in essence “leaning on my own understanding”, and attempting to be God. Taking a day to cease from work seems very counter-intuitive, but so do many of God’s commands for his people.
An unhealthy pattern of trying to earn approval or favor
Unwillingness to rest can be motivated by many things. For me, I realized that as a child I only felt valued if I was productive. As an adult, this translated into making sure I was super efficient and productive at work, as well as at home. If I didn’t have a long list of things that I had “accomplished” each day, I felt like I had failed or was not valuable. This constant striving to accomplish more, or never feeling like what I did accomplish was good enough, was slowly stealing my joy. I recognized that I was trying to earn God’s (and others) love and approval. I needed to really soak in Hebrews 4:8-9, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” I don’t need to earn God’s approval by my works. Christ has perfectly done what I could not. All I need to do is rest in His completed work on the cross on my behalf and embrace the knowledge that I am fully loved and accepted by God with all my failings and limitations.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
When I try to take on more than God intended for me, or try to shoulder heavy burdens on my own, the weight becomes unbearable. But when we come to Jesus WITH our burdens, and allow our time with Him through the Word to inform our priorities, we can leave those things at His feet and rest in His sovereignty to handle what we cannot.
Questions for Reflection:
- Do I find myself frequently overwhelmed or stressed with all that is on my plate?
- Do my priorities align with what God asks of me?
- If I have too much on my plate, what can I remove?
- How am I intentionally setting aside time for rest (which includes prolonged periods of time with the Lord)?
- Are there ways that I am trying to control situations that are really God’s to manage?
- Am I ceasing from my everyday work but not releasing mental, spiritual or emotional burdens to the Lord?
As we work to align our priorities to what God has called us to (and not more), we find the blessing of peace and can rest in His finished work which brings rest for our souls.
My prayer is that you will take some time to evaluate your life and commitments, asking the Lord if there might be some adjustments He desires in your life to create space for rest.