The Gift of Rest

The Gift of Rest

In Spiritual Growth, Stress, Fear & Anxiety, Success, Time Management by J.R. Hudberg

How do you rest? What is the best way for you to unwind and replenish? It’s not a big assumption that we are all tired.

We all need a break. A moment to catch our breath, gather our thoughts, have a few moments of self-care, escape, relax, unwind, decompress. Whatever you call it, we all need it from time to time. After a long day, week, month, season, or year, we know that when the work is done (and sometimes before), we need some time to recuperate and recover.

Nothing new in that. If our intuition that we needed a break wasn’t enough for us, there’s plenty of support for the idea from various sources. Simply Google “Do we need rest” and see the results (4,230,000,000). Everything from medical sites to counseling sites, Ted Talks to personal blogs, business advice to psychology. There’s encouragement on the need for rest, exploration of the different kinds of rest (apparently, there are seven kinds of rest—more like seven areas that need rest—physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, spiritual), and plenty of advice on how and when to have a rest. You can read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video, enjoy an infographic, or even chuckle at a cartoon.

Like nearly every other topic, rest can, ironically, be researched until you are exhausted.

There’s also plenty of support in the Bible for rest.

Rest as Recouperation

After a particularly strenuous ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples to come away and rest. It was too busy, people constantly coming and going, requesting this, needing that; the disciples couldn’t even find time to eat (you can read the story in Mark 6:6-44 — the invitation to come away and rest is in verse 31).

You’ve probably had a time or two like that in your life. If you’re lucky enough to be home for it, dinner is eaten quickly over the sink before rushing out the door to the next event, game, or appointment, or just flipping open your computer, clicking on that project due soon, and diving back in. It’s good to hear Jesus’s words during these times: “Come away and rest.” Rest for our bodies, hearts, and minds.

In the 10 Commandments, we are instructed to rest. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns” (Exodus 20:9-10). This excerpt is an explicit instruction to have breaks in our work routines. The command to the Israelites was that the 7th day would be different from the other 6. And in verse 11, we are told why:

“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 7th day commemorated the work that God had done in creation (finished creating in 6 days and resting on the 7th), and it was to be honored by the Israelites as they did the same. Work for six days but on the seventh, resting, doing no work.

The Bible tells us that God labored for six days in the work of creation. The words evening and morning are repeated six times while God calls the land and the sea to bring forth their creatures while he hangs the great lights in the sky. In a long work week (I wonder if he clocked out after 8 hours or if this was what is often called “farmer time” working sunup to sundown—that’s the impression the text gives), God envisioned and fashioned everything in the cosmos. When the work was done, when creation had been completed and was “very good,” God took his rest from working and blessed that rest day.

All of this leads us to the rest that comes after work. When the work is done (and maybe sometimes even in the middle of it), we need to rest to recuperate. We take time to allow our depleted bodies, tired minds, and spent emotions to refill, re-energize, and rejuvenate. But also to celebrate and enjoy the work that has been completed. To step back and admire what God has strengthened us to accomplish.

If that’s our approach, we might as well be back in 1981 and “working for the weekend” If rest is the goal, we will constantly be drained, unenthusiastic, waiting for the work to end.

But there is another aspect of rest that we should pay attention to.

Rest as Preparation

Let’s go back to the work of creation. God spent days forming and fine-tuning our universe so that he could look at his work and say, “Very good.” From the terrains to the depths to the skies and all the life that inhabit them, God worked to create our universe and our world. At the very end of his creative endeavor, he created humans. We were the final creative effort on day six. Just before “there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day” (Gen. 1:31), God placed humanity in his creation. Humans were the last of his work before resting. The next day, the seventh day, was a rest day.

Humanity began with rest. Before there was work, before there was planting and harvest, before there was naming, there was rest. Before there was ruling, filling, and subduing, there was rest. God’s very first gift to humanity was a day of rest. This makes rest something more than recuperation. Rest is preparation. It is a time of planning, forecasting, envisioning, organizing, and training.

As dawn broke on the first full day of human existence, Adam and Eve joined God in celebrating the goodness of everything he had created. Perhaps the mandate to fill, subdue, and have dominion over, echoed in their ears as they took in the wonder of all that was now theirs. The anticipation of the work in front of them did not diminish the beauty of what surrounded them. The land, seas, and animals gave context and shape to the tasks of subduing and holding dominion.

Their minds were allowed to ponder the land and the animals. They could plan their approach to the work and formulate strategies for efficiency and effectiveness. Observing the connections between differing aspects of their created world and the astounding variety and uniqueness of everything, they could envision the special care each animal and plant may benefit from.

Their new muscles would have stretched and become accustomed to walking the ground as they perhaps took time to walk through their garden home. Their lungs breathing in the oxygen, their skin absorbing the sunshine, and their eyes and ears nearly on sensory overload at the sheer volume of sights and sounds. And as evening drew on and darkness began to settle, their first restful sleep. Their bodies were replenishing and rejuvenating in their still and quiet slumber. Ready to wake to a new day that held work with no toil, sweat with deep satisfaction, exertion with gratification.

Perhaps the greatest preparation that first day of rest would have brought was to humanity’s new spirit. Waking that first morning, God’s image-bearers would have been confronted with the presence and provision of God. They would have been reminded of God’s goodness as they took in the creation and all God had done. It isn’t easy to imagine a more incredible filling for a spirit than connecting with the one who breathed life into us.

How Do We Rest?

We rest our bodies to have the strength and stamina for the physical demands that come our way. We sleep, exercise, get fresh air, and eat healthily so our bodies can accomplish the task(s) ahead.

We can rest our minds in preparation not by vegging out on our favorite shows (although there is a time for that) but by reading broadly and widely. Use your mind in ways you do not (or don’t have the time to) during work, crossword puzzles and sudoku, for example, or creative writing. Playing music. Allow your imagination to be stirred so that your creativity is renewed. Rest your mind so that you can think clearly, cleverly, and quickly.

We rest our souls to renew our spirits and emotions. Engage in your favorite hobbies: camping, fishing, travel, site-seeing, adventure sports, backyard barbeques. Whatever refreshes you with joy and appreciation for all of God’s good gifts. Allow your emotions to heal from what has passed and to rejuvenate so that your well is deep, and you can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

I pray that our minds, bodies, and souls will be replenished and revived. But as we all know, the work is not done. Rest is not simply the culmination of a job completed; it is also rest in preparation for the work to come.

When we rest, we recover and remember that work is to come. So, we rest with purpose and anticipation.

J.R. Hudberg
J.R. Hudberg is a writer and executive editor for Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI, where he lives with his wife and their two sons. He has written Encounters with Jesus and Journey through Amos.
J.R. Hudberg
J.R. Hudberg is a writer and executive editor for Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI, where he lives with his wife and their two sons. He has written Encounters with Jesus and Journey through Amos.