WORK LIFE SERIES: rest from work
OWEN LEE | october 3, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
In our highly competitive, highly pressurized, and performance-based workplaces, people tend to over-work. We are exhausted because we’re always working and grinding.
This need to work harder is especially relevant for children of Asian immigrants, who saw their parents working without taking days off. For many years, both my dad and my wife’s dad ran liquor stores in Los Angeles that were open from early morning to late night for seven days a week. We saw our parents over-work and sacrifice as they struggled to provide for us.
Because of our deep desire to succeed and also because of our desperate desire to get our parents’ approval and to honor their sacrifices, we also work harder, even if it means we work too much.
But to the over-worker, the Gospel comes as refreshing, liberating good news. It tells us that it is okay to rest from our work. In fact, it is more than okay — it is good and blessed to rest from our work! Here are four reasons why we should rest from our work.
1. Resting from work is a matter of obedience
The Fourth Commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath day holy. The word “Sabbath” means “cessation.” So for six days we are to labor and do all our work, but on the seventh day, we are to stop working.
Resting from our work is something that God commands, just as he commands us to have no other gods before Him, to not worship Him in a false way, to not take His name in name, to honor our parents, to not murder, to not commit adultery, to not steal, to not lie, and to not covet. Resting from work is not optional for the Christian or just good advice that we can take or leave — it is a matter of obedience to God.
2. Resting from work is a celebration of our design
In the Exodus, God ties the reason for keeping the Sabbath to creation. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (20:11).”
By His example of working and resting from His work, God has set the rhythm of work and rest for us. As those created in the image of God, we function and flourish best when we imitate God.
Just as cars are designed to work best when they have their oil changed regularly, so humans are designed to work best when we rest one day a week from our work. Over-work (and under-work) violates that nature, and it leads to breakdown.
3. Resting from work is a declaration of our freedom
In Deuteronomy, the reason for keeping the Sabbath is linked to redemption. “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 (5:15).”
In Egypt, the Israelites worked seven days a week, 365 days a year. Their inability to rest from their labors proclaimed their slavery to Pharaoh. But after God delivered the people, he commanded them to declare their freedom by resting from their work on the Sabbath day.
In the same way, when we do not work on the Lord’s Day, we are remembering and proclaiming our freedom and our liberation from sin and Satan through the redemptive work of Jesus. It is a day for us to recognize and declare that we are no longer slaves to sin, and we are no longer slaves to our work either.
We are slaves only to Christ our Lord. If He commands us to rest from our work, then we will joyfully obey Him. We don’t just do our work for Jesus — we also rest for Jesus.
4. Resting from work is an act of trust
No other society in ancient times took regular days off because survival was often a day-to-day, season-to-season affair. But God commanded His people to take the Sabbath as a reminder that He bore the actual responsibility of providing for them.
God has indeed set up the world so that most of the provision we experience comes from the work that we do. But because of this, we can assume that we are the ones who bear the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. Therefore we don’t think we can take a day off because so many things depend on us and our work. No wonder we are so anxious, so afraid, and so exhausted.
That’s why the Sabbath is a counter-cultural declaration of trust. We don’t rest because everything is done. Instead, we rest because God has promised to provide for us. Practicing the Sabbath is the way for us to remember that we are not the ones who keep the world running, we are not the ones who provide for our families, and we are not the ones who keep things together at work. God bears that burden and responsibility, and He will do it better.
So how do we do it? How can we rest from our work?
God created us body and soul, and He wants to give us rest for both. And so, on the Sabbath, we can experience both spiritual rest and physical rest.
After finishing His work of creation, God “rested” on the seventh day. He didn’t rest because He was tired from His hard work. God rested because His work of creation was complete. His work was done. It was perfect, and there was nothing more to do.
Have you ever worked on something, and at the end of it, stopped working on it because it was done and perfect? For most of us, we never get to that place in our work. We do the best we can, and most of the time, we submit something that we know isn’t perfect because it was due.
But we know it is possible. I once watched a YouTube video of a woman who filmed a time-lapse video of her putting together a 5,000 piece puzzle. On day 15, when she put the final piece in its proper place, she was finally done. There was something so satisfying to see a work that finished to perfection. She was able to “rest.”
Even though God was able to rest after creation, we know what happened quickly after. We sinned, and the perfect world that God had created was tainted by sin. So God went back to work. In fact, the greatest work that God ever did was not creation itself, but the work of redeeming creation. The work of creation only required God to speak. But the work of redemption required God to become a man and for God to die on a cross for sinners.
And on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Do you see that? The work of redeeming and rescuing us is complete. It is perfect. There is nothing more left to do! And so, Jesus was able to ascend back into heaven and sit down and “rest” at the right hand of God the Father.
The only way that we will find and experience true spiritual rest for our souls is when we look to and worship the One who perfectly accomplished the work of redemption for us. It is not through the works of our hands or the labor of our jobs. Our souls can rest from that work when we remember that the work that needed to be done to prove that we matter has already been done — not by us, but by Jesus. He has done it completely and perfectly. It is finished.
This is why we have to gather together as a church every Sunday to worship. As we sing about what Jesus did for us, as we hear about Jesus did for us, as we see what Jesus did for us in the Lord’s Supper, as we worship Jesus our Savior, that is when we experience spiritual rest for our souls. We remember together that He has done it.
But God doesn’t just give us spiritual rest for our souls. In His goodness, He also gives us physical rest through those relaxing and recreational activities that refresh and recharge us. So on Sundays or our days off, we get to do those things that relax and rejuvenate us.
Maybe it’s taking a long nap. Perhaps it’s playing sports, reading books, going to a movie, or myriad other things. Whatever relaxes and refreshes you physically, mentally, emotionally — that is allowed and encouraged!
You have great freedom in Christ to engage in those leisurely activities that relax and refresh your body and your mind! It’s the day for you to stop working and to do something that gives you pleasure and joy.
Jesus our Lord wants us to work hard — to do our work with all our hearts and to do it for Him. But Jesus also wants us to rest from our work. He is not a harsh taskmaster. He loves us and cares for us, and He wants us to enjoy times of rest.
Being faithful to Jesus in the workplace means to not be in the workplace on a daily basis! Being faithful to Jesus means to rest from your work because resting from your work is an act of obedience, a celebration of your design, a declaration of your freedom, and an act of trust.
If you’ve been over-working and not resting from your work, if you’ve been feeling exhausted and burned out, let me invite you today to repent of over-working, and to joyfully resolve to rest from your work by remembering Jesus. It will change your life.
Owen Lee serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Central Presbyterian Church in Centreville, VA. He received his BA in Rhetoric at U.C. Berkeley and his M.Div at Westminster Seminary, CA. Before his call to serve as the Senior Pastor of Christ Central in 2012, he served as the English Ministry Pastor of New Life Mission Church in Fullerton, CA from 2000 to 2002, and then as the church-planting pastor of New Life Mission Church in Burbank, CA from 2002 to 2011. He is married to Margaret, and they have 3 children together- Abby, Caleb, and Lizzy.