Raise your hand if you need a vacation. I know I would love one! I was lucky to have a week off between Christmas and New Years last month– 10 whole days in a row where I didn’t have to go to work. But, to my dismay, I didn’t feel like I actually got to take a break until the last two days. That got me thinking about how I need to relax more often, and how much stress it causes when I don’t set time aside to rest. Even when I do set aside time to just “do nothing,” it doesn’t always end up being restful.
I’m sure I’m not the only one with these problems; we live in a society that makes us feel like we need to be constantly on the move. But I’m convinced that true rest is out there, and that it really is possible to feel refreshed and renewed even in the midst of a busy life. But how do we get there? To figure out how to find true rest, I looked at what God has to say about rest in His Word.
I recently read through the book of Exodus in the Bible, and it has some great lessons on rest. If you’re not familiar with the story, the ancient nation of Israel, God’s chosen nation, was stuck in slavery in Egypt for 400 years before God rescued them, parted the Red Sea, and led them out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. One of the first instructions God gave the newly freed Israelites was to take a Sabbath, or a full day of rest, once a week. They are commanded to not work on that day, and God provides extra food for them so they don’t even have to gather food on that day. To understand why this Sabbath command is so significant, we have to realize that just days earlier, the Israelites were slaves, working long hours, seven days a week. They couldn’t imagine going an entire day without working. God knew that, so He instituted the Sabbath to force them to learn to rest.
But why did God do that in the first place? Why is it so important to learn to rest? Because we were created for it! The book of Genesis tells us that before the Fall, humanity existed in a state of perfect rest, their needs perfectly provided for, in the Garden of Eden. In the above story about the Exodus from Egypt, God is trying to restore that rest to the Israelites. In fact, the “Promised Land” God is leading them toward is actually referred to as “God’s rest” (Hebrews 3-4), a place where they would no longer have to struggle just to survive. We were created to be in relationship with God and to worship God, and God knows we can’t do that if we are consumed with work 24/7. So He made a way for us to live as He intended by giving us the rest we need to enjoy life with Him.
One of the most important things we need to realize in order to enjoy true rest is that because God is the one that gives us rest, we can’t find it anywhere else– the world isn’t going to give us a break, and neither is the devil. The good news is that God PROMISES us that rest, so we can count on it. We often think that we need to work ourselves to the bone to provide for ourselves and our families, but ultimately, God is the one who does the providing. I heard a pastor say once that if you choose not to take a Sabbath rest, you are saying that you are a slave to something other than God. We may not be slaves in a foreign nation, but we are often slaves to things like money, success, and productivity. But when we are able to trust God to provide even when we take time off to be with Him and rest, we can stop being stressed out by the idea of ceasing to be productive. And I always find that I’m better able to get work done after I’ve spent time resting for a while.
So, now that we know where rest comes from and why it’s important, how do we get there? It starts by making time each day to rest in God’s presence, which we do by praying and reading the Bible. It also looks like keeping the Sabbath command by setting aside one day a week (it doesn’t have to be Sunday) to stop working. It can be a challenge to plan for at first, but it’s worth it. The key to truly resting once you set aside these times is to not only seek the kind of rest your body needs, but the kind of rest your soul needs– and your soul doesn’t need to binge Netflix or spend hours on Instagram. Your soul needs time with its Maker, to get to know Him better, to seek His will, to worship Him, and to remember that He is really all that matters.
So this year, make it a priority to slow down and truly rest. Set the to-do list aside and open your Bible instead. Try meditating on the verse below, and remember that God never intended you to work yourself to the bone; He intended you to live with a healthy rhythm of both meaningful work and resting in His presence. It’s time we take it seriously and start living fulfilled instead of depleted.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord for all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)