“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…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” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, ESV)
Which of God’s commands do you find most difficult to obey?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s boil it down to just the Ten Commandments to identify an answer. There are some pretty strong candidates here, aren’t there?
I mean, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff? Especially in our consumeristic, media saturated culture, that’s a tough one. One trip to your Facebook or Instagram feed proves this.
And don’t lie– I mean, about anything? Maybe we can avoid the “big ones,” but to tell the whole truth all the time? That’s a high standard- and a costly one at times.
Even the seemingly easy commandments like “don’t murder” and “don’t commit adultery” aren’t- according to Jesus- all that easy at all. As Matthew 5 makes clear, harboring anger against someone equals “murder,” and entertaining lustful thoughts equals “adultery.” Yikes.
Today, though, I don’t want to talk about any of these seemingly more “scandalous” acts of rebellion, significant as they are. Instead, I want to zero in on perhaps the least carefully considered commandment in all of God’s law- the Fourth Commandment, God’s directive to “observe the Sabbath,” or put more simply, to rest regularly.
The command itself has an odd history, finding its origin in God’s work of creation in Genesis 1-2. As the account goes, God creates everything out of nothing in six days- heavens and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and ultimately humankind. And then, on the seventh day, the God “who never sleeps or slumbers” rests. Now why would a Deity of such unlimited capacity choose to take a day off?
To be clear, I don’t believe that God in any way had reached His end. He wasn’t tired from all that creating. He wasn’t stressed out. There was no internal tension in the Trinity. Instead, I believe God was establishing for us- as a model, which He would later make explicit in a command- the critical importance of taking time to “stop and be still.” He created this world to operate according to certain laws, principles, and rhythms- and one of the most significant of these rhythms is that of work and rest.
Work is a good thing, created by God for His glory and our good. We know this because work existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered God’s good world. Part of God’s curse on sin was that some aspects of work would become difficult and toilsome, but prior to the Fall, work was a God-given gift designed for flourishing. There are many of us who need to be reminded of this today, and approach our work with a renewed sense of gratitude and purpose.
That being the case, God never intended that our work would be unending or all-consuming. Just as work has an important role to play in our lives, so does rest– so much so that God not only suggests that we rest, but actually commands it. He even provides us with a “schedule”- once out of every seven days, take the day to “stop and be still,” to focus on unhurried time with Him and with those whom has placed in our lives.
So here’s the question that we must grapple with today- Why is this so important to God, so as to put it on the same level as commands such as “don’t worship other gods” and “don’t kill people”? What are the benefits of taking seriously God’s command to rest regularly? Let’s take a look at a few…
- Regular rest reminds us that God is God- and we are not. One of the foremost idols with which we wrestle in our culture is that of control. To put it bluntly, we all struggle with a “God complex” to some degree. We believe the Serpent’s lie that we can “be like God”- knowing it all, fixing it all, and being everywhere for everyone in our lives. Taking time to “stop and be still” reminds us that the world will keep turning even when we aren’t “on”- because we were never holding it in our hands anyway!
- Regular rest honors God’s creative design. God created human beings with amazing capacity physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. But let’s be clear- He did not create us to “live without limits” in any of these areas. And when we unwisely attempt to press against the outer edges of these limits by failing to rest, His design demands that we will pay dearly for it. For some, this will mean physical breakdown…for others, a mental or emotional crisis…for still others, a relational implosion. In any case, it is critical that we submit to the sovereign Designer on this. We will be far better off for it.
- Regular rest opens the door to rich, thriving relationships. Pastor and author John Ortberg says it well- “Hurry is always the enemy of love.” You and I know this to be true; we experience it on a near-everyday basis. The more hurried we live, the less time we have for people- or for God. We may fool ourselves into believing that we keep the pace we do “for others” (or even more dangerously and deceptively, “for God”!), but dig down deep enough, and you’ll find that there is some self-serving motive underlying all that unbridled busy-ness. When we live well rested, as God intends, we are able to give our best to God and to others- not our leftovers!
- Regular rest enables us to make wise, God honoring decisions. Let’s be real here- Exhausted people make pretty awful decisions. It is when we are tired that we are at our most vulnerable to the deceptions and temptations of our Enemy. Why? Because we possess little reserve left to “fight the good fight,” and even worse, we can begin to believe the lie that we “owe it to ourselves” to compromise. After all, look at all the great things we have done! But in this blinded state, we can throw away true “Kingdom greatness” simply because we cannot bear to “fall behind” in our pursuit of what we have deemed “great.”
We could go on, of course, but I think we’ve said enough here. Here’s the challenge I want to pose to you in light of all this- Take one day in the next week to really rest- to “observe God’s Sabbath”- and see how you respond to it. If you find it difficult to do this (and trust me when I say that some of us are going to find it agonizing), ask God and yourself why. Measure the benefits and the costs, and weight them against each other. Ask God with an open heart and mind to really teach you through this time. Give Him time and space to speak and work. I believe that if you’ll take this simple step to trust Him, that He will do a good work- though perhaps not a comfortable work- in your heart, mind, and body that will be to His glory and others’ good. Will you take one day this week and “just stop it already”?