The num­ber one ene­my of Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion today is exhaus­tion,” writes Jim Smith in his impor­tant book The Good and Beau­ti­ful God. This is a bold procla­ma­tion, but I believe it is right. 

Sure­ly the need for rest is not a new devel­op­ment, nor is the instruc­tion from God to rest a new instruc­tion. God com­mand­ed His peo­ple: Remem­ber the sab­bath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the sev­enth day is a sab­bath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Exo­dus 20:9 – 10). 

But per­haps the need to take rest seri­ous­ly, to under­take it as a spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline, is more need­ful today than it has ever been. 

Through­out most of human his­to­ry, men and women have been aid­ed in their need for rest by the fact that there was light by which to work only for a por­tion of each day. As civ­i­liza­tion pro­gressed, humans found ways of pro­duc­ing light to see in the dark­ness, but those sources of light were usu­al­ly expen­sive and often scarce. Faced with the real­i­ty of no light by which to work, humans slept dur­ing the darkness. 

That sce­nario has changed. As men and women have devel­oped more reli­able ways to gen­er­ate light, they have simul­ta­ne­ous­ly ward­ed off the dark­ness for longer and longer hours. What was once a reli­able source of rhythm for the cycle of work and rest is now gone. We can now have light avail­able 24 hours a day, sev­en days a week. Dark­ness is now hard to come by in some parts of the world. 

Yet the way the human body func­tions has not changed much in the years since God com­mand­ed his peo­ple to observe a day of rest. The amount of time gen­er­al­ly set aside for sleep has shrunk, but the need for it has not. In these days filled with arti­fi­cial light and late-night oppor­tu­ni­ties for work and play, we must now be very pur­pose­ful in the pur­suit of phys­i­cal rest. 

I think we often fail to con­sid­er that we must choose to rest or else we’re like­ly to have rest forced upon us when we are exhaust­ed to the point of phys­i­cal, men­tal, or emo­tion­al dis­tress. Have you ever found your­self forced to your bed after push­ing your­self too hard? Me, too.

Worth remem­ber­ing is that oth­ers may ques­tion us and our motives when we stop to rest. Mark 4 records the sto­ry of an evening when Jesus and his clos­est fol­low­ers set out across the Sea of Galilee by boat. Tired from his endeav­ors, Jesus goes to sleep. When a heavy storm aris­es, his friends are filled with fear, and in their fright­ened state they ques­tion Jesus’ motives. Don’t you care if we drown?” they demand (Mark 4:38, NIV). What they don’t real­ize is that Jesus’ sleep is a sign of his trust and con­fi­dence in his Father. Jesus under­stands that God has pow­er over every­thing, includ­ing nature itself. Jesus’ word to the wind and waves is also his word to his fol­low­ers then and now, Peace! Be still!” Under­stand­ing that God has the pow­er to save us can replace our fear with trust and con­fi­dence, allow­ing us to rest peacefully. 

There will always be more work to do, just as there will always be storms. When we prac­tice the dis­ci­pline of rest, oth­ers may ques­tion us, and we may doubt our­selves. But at its heart, prac­tic­ing the dis­ci­pline of rest is an act of trust: a state­ment of con­fi­dence in God and his pro­vi­sion for us, for our loved ones, and for the work God has giv­en us to do. Will that work pile up while we rest? Per­haps. But our abil­i­ty to do our work may also accu­mu­late, and sure­ly our abil­i­ty to dis­cern what is most need­ful will increase. Rest is not in vain.

Image: Christ Still­ing the Storm icon. Unknown artist. Greek, 16th century.

Text First Published August 2016 · Last Featured on January 2023

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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