This past Sunday, Will preached on God’s intention and design for Sabbath rest by looking at the creation account in Genesis 2. He sought to answer three questions: 1) What is the purpose of Sabbath rest? 2) Why do we struggle to do it? And … 3) How do we redeem a rhythm of rest in our lives?
As we look at the creation account in Genesis, we see that the Sabbath day is a blessing and a gift to humanity. And as with any gift from God, the point is not merely the gift itself. The point is to turn our attention to the Giver. So the first thing we see about the Sabbath in Genesis is that it is about God … the purpose of rest is to enjoy God and all that He has done. After creating the world, God looked around and saw that “it was very good” (1:31). He was satisfied with His work, so He stopped to enjoy it. This is something akin to what men do when they finish the lawn … we stand back and look at it. We savor the excellence of what we have done. The seventh day is about God stepping back and taking in the beauty and completeness of His creative work. By doing this, God set a pattern for us to follow. Once a week we need to put our doing down and delight in God and what He has done.
Verse 3 of Genesis 2 says that God blessed the Sabbath day, which means it is a day of abundance. When God blesses a man, the man becomes rich with blessings. When He blesses a land, the land becomes rich with blessings. So when He blesses a day, that day becomes rich with blessings. God is not restricting or oppressing Himself, He is enjoying Himself. Or to put it another way: Sabbath is not a fast, but a feast. It is a day when we gather with our church family to worship our God and feast on His presence with us. On our day of rest we should eat good food, listen to good music, read a good book, take a long walk, spend time with friends. We should do all of this and more unto God—that is the key to Sabbath rest. It’s not just doing things that refresh us, it is doing them unto God. That is what makes it distinctly Christian. It’s not just about refueling. It is about reconnecting with God—leisurely enjoying His grace and presence with us.
Sabbath rest is about God, and that raises a very important question for us: How does spending a day with God, leisurely and reflectively, sound to you? For many of us, that sounds like work, it sounds uncomfortable. The challenge of Sabbath rest is not really about our schedules, it is about our desire to be with God. Sabbath is an invitation to spend a day with God, to learn what it means to find your joy in Him. But through the fall in Genesis 3, sin brings upon us a world of insecurity and uncertainty:
- Who we are: what others think of us, what God thinks of us.
- What we know: what we believe as Christians is constantly being challenged by our culture (and people around us), and sometimes we are unsure that what we believe is really true.
- What we do: we are unsure if we are on the right track in our careers, in our relationships, even how we fit into the mission of our church.
- What will happen to us: we are unsure if we will be safe physically and secure financially.
All of this insecurity makes us restless. We can’t live with all of the uncertainty, so we start to build a sense of identity on things that we can control (or at least that we think we can control). We build our identity on our looks, our abilities, achievements, status, kids … these become the things that define us, that give us our sense of well-being and worth and security. We are constantly trying to prove our worth by what we do, secure ourselves by what we can attain, and get control of our lives.
And so most all our struggles to rest well and reconnect with God in this way center on our striving/worrying over various things: health, relationships, work, future, kids, etc. We think that a little more time or money or counseling or opportunity or insight will give us peace about it. Our tendency is to think about our identity in terms of what we do, and we are defined by that. Sabbath rest makes us think about who we are, and be redefined by that reality. Sabbath forces us to decide whether or not we will trust God to be our provider and sustainer, but more than that, to be our identity. When we put our worry and our doing down, we declare that God is our Creator. We are not defined by what we do, we are defined by who we are—made in the image of God. When we rest we declare that God is our Father and we are not in charge of meeting our needs. He knows what we need and is faithful to provide. Our identity and security and peace are in Him.
We must repent of our constant striving for identity and worth from things other than God. And we must constantly turn to Jesus and rest in Him. This is Jesus’ invitation to us: “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” (Matt. 11:28-29). You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just have to show up. Jesus can give us rest because He took our place. He took upon himself the unrest of our souls. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He entered into our anxiety and stress. On the cross, He entered into out insecurity and fear. When He had suffered for our sin, He could say, “it is finished.” He could say to you, “My work is finished … it is very good … come and enter into my rest.”
Step back from your constant striving and take in the beauty and the completeness of Christ’s work on the cross. The call to Sabbath rest is good news because it declares that the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for us.
*Here are two resources for further reading and reflection on Sabbath rest:
- Wisdom and Sabbath Rest – a PDF article from Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York
- Reforming Our Rest: Ten Principles for Sabbath – a blog post filled with great practical wisdom from our good friend Bob Thune at our sending church Coram Deo in Omaha.