“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
This past Sunday at Veritas, we examined the calling to Israel in Exile in Jeremiah 29. Something striking about this text is the simplicity of the instruction, which is to build houses, plant gardens, get married and have kids… essentially, be a normal person and live. It gave rise to the opportunity for us to study an aspect of our lives that is deeply ingrained into the culture of DC, which is work. Here in DC, the infamous couplet of introductions usually goes as follows: What is your name? And what do you do? Everything about life in our city is so deeply imbedded with our working, yet it is often difficult for us to reconcile our faith and our work.
Yes, God designed us to work (Genesis 1:28, 2:15) and this is evidently true as we see in the Creation narrative that God, himself, is a worker. He not only spoke Creation into existence (Psalm 33:9, Revelation 4:11), but is furthermore actively sustaining his creation (Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17, Matthew 10:29-30, Psalm 135:6-7). As people made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), it is fitting that God has given to us a spirit of industriousness and has designed his Creation such that the reaping of his blessing, our sustenance, comes through labor. As we work, we uniquely image and glorify the Father. We are creators, sustainers, fixers and laborers because God has made us to be so.
Therefore, work is a good thing. To not work is not a good thing because it is a subversion to God’s design for humanity. Yet, we find within God’s narrative of Creation, we find an interesting inclusion: “on the seventh day, he rested” (Genesis 2:2). I would suggest to you that just as much as it is true that we are designed to work, we are made to rest. This isn’t because God is one who rests or needs to rest; in fact, we could argue that his sustaining of Creation and His people is a 24/7 task (Psalm 121:4) [insert metaphysics joke]. Rather, God rested because his work was complete. We rest because we need it. You aren’t breathing creation into existence anytime soon without it missing a beat. Unlike God, we are constantly and deeply in need of rest and reinvigoration. This isn’t because we are completely like God, but because we are fundamentally unlike him in important ways.
When our head hits the pillow, we are reminded of our inability. Yet, ultimately, we are reminded of God’s overwhelming ability and how substantially less capable we are. We can’t go 24 hours without sleep, yet God “never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). We work all day to cultivate flourishing and meet our physical needs, yet we depend on God to give to us sleep (Psalm 127:2). Rest is the sweet provision of the Lord to sustain us and care for us (Psalm 3:5, 4:8) and we depend on it for our good as much as we depend on work. I would submit to you also that to not faithfully rest is, like not working, a subversion to God’s design for us. Often at the basis of restlessness is anxiety, frustration, busyness and unchecked priorities. Yet, God commands us to not be anxious (Philippians 4:6), trust in him (Proverbs 3:5-6), and hope in his provision (Psalm 127:2) and care (1 Peter 5:7). To wear a banner of sleeplessness is to wear a banner of pride; that you have no need for sleep because you, alone, are sufficient for your needs. Therefore, sleeplessness looks to self. Restfulness looks to the Father.
Rest is ultimately not a curse to be avoided, but a blessing to be held rightly. As we practice rhythms of work and rest, we are reminded that God alone is able and that we don’t have to keep the plates of our lives spinning into the wee hours of the night. Don’t be afraid to rest because your Heavenly Father does not rest. Just as we commit ourselves to glorifying and honoring God in our working, so we should acknowledge the work that belongs to Him when we rest. And you need it. I don’t have to convince you. Make time to rest or you’ll find this out the hard way. Instead, cultivate a right heart in your work and rest, trusting and acknowledging God for his provision and flourish in your rhythms of rest.