The Case for Rest

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2

In the days of self-quarantine and working from home, social media has become an even more fascinating platform. Log on and look around for a moment and you’ll see a pattern forming. You’ll see friends circulating worried thoughts about the Coronavirus. You might even see your friends showcasing (or fighting?) their boredom by challenging each other to push-up contests or making videos of themselves dancing. Regardless of the output, we can see a fascinating aspect of our humanity at work; we feel a need to fill our lives with and work for something.

This aspect of our humanity is fundamental to the human existence as we know it; the cities we live in and societies we create are a reflection of the industry of the human imagination. Our lives are built around working and it’s not by mistake. We are, as people created in the image of God, creators and doers. In Genesis 2:15, we see that, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” It is knit into the DNA of humans to work because we reflect a Creator who is working and keeping all things. Whether you are a Christian or not, you’ll see this to be true in your life. As a measure of God’s common grace, anyone can enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from a hard day’s work. It isn’t because we’ve invented a new way to be human- it’s by design.

Here’s what we are seeing now: take a group of workers and tell them to stay home. What do we get? Restlessness. People want to get in there and get something done. Everywhere around us, we hear about how people are “crushing it” during this quarantine. We see photos of the achievements shared on Instagram for the world to see. We get updates on how people are using this extra time to get fit, read more, get organized, clean out their closet, volunteer, and so on. I think this is incredible. It’s amazing to see how people will busy their hands with work whether they’re working from home on a company computer or wondering when their job at the coffee shop will pick back up. I’ve certainly felt the pull to jump right into the stream. I’m encouraged by seeing other people getting to work and I hope I get a slice of that in my own life. There is a sincere heart by which we can desire to “redeem the time” by doing good things that honor Christ with our lives.

That said, I want to pause for a moment and invite you to another perspective: it is ok to rest. It is ok that you won’t write a novel, become a famous YouTuber, get a million views on TikTok, read to your kids every day, or make home cooked meals for your family every evening. It is ok that you won’t get 80 hours of work done this week, keep every meeting through Zoom, finish that painting, or write new songs. It is ok that you won’t achieve everything in this weird and worried time. It is ok to take some time to rest.

The sense that we need to do something is good. If we find ourselves wasting away the days, it is not only counter to how we were created (Proverbs 10:4), it violates the biblical principle of making good use of the time we’ve been given to steward (Ephesians 5:16). However, it is also imperative that we learn to rest. We see a model for rest present both in the creation narrative and given through ordinance of the Law (Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11). I’m not advocating that you become a Sabbatarian, but I am advocating that you see how serious God is about our need to rest. God calls us to rest because it does not come naturally. In the faulty wiring of our sinful minds, we can’t seem to lay down our need to achieve or provide for ourselves. To rest is to, quite literally, give your life over to God. To rest is to acknowledge that God will provide for the third of your life that you aren’t making things happen. It is ok to rest from our working and embrace slower seasons of quietness and peace. Be wise and steward well the spare time you might have, but check your heart/motivations and know that you aren’t sinning if you don’t change the world during self-quarantine.

That said, there is another aspect of rest that is perhaps even more important for us. It is an aspect of rest that I hope we come to know more deeply in this season where our lives are otherwise still and will sustain us every day. We see in Scripture that we are called to rest in the finished work of Christ. We recognize that because of Jesus’ merit and his achievement on the cross, there is no more work for us to do in order to gain favor in the sight of God. You are, right now, fully loved, accepted, and known by the Father. You can relax your grip on doing something great with your life because Christ is doing something great in you by the power of his grace. Before the foundation of the world he chose you to be his (Ephesians 1:4), called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), sets your feet on the solid rock (Psalm 40:2) that is Christ Jesus, and is confirming you to the end that you might stand before Him guiltless in Heaven (1 Corinthians 1:8) all while he intimately knows you (Psalm 139:3), bears your burdens for you (1 Peter 5:7) and is zealously singing over you (Zephaniah 3:17). There is no more work to be done. You are loved and accepted by your Heavenly Father. Jesus invites us:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

We have to be so careful that within the radical Good News of the gospel that we don’t create new burdens for ourselves for righteousness and achievement. Instead, our call is to humbly take on the yoke of Jesus as he makes us whole. We are hard-wired in our sinful nature to want to claim ground for ourselves to stand on, but the gospel calls us to another way. The gospel calls us to lay down our arms and to surrender our fight for self-justification and achievement and to start resting in the finished work of Jesus. This isn’t a lofty idea for the clouds, it informs a way of living here and now. If I’m resting in the grace of Jesus, I can give up on my panicked attempts to make something, do something or be something great. The gospel-rest we have is a reality that changes every “today“. My encouragement to you is that in this season of quiet, aloneness, and stillness, you take some time to learn to rest in that reality. Take some time to know this in a way that your heart hasn’t previously. Your heart will be more served by learning to rest in Christ Jesus than anything you will do for yourself in this quiet season.

I live in one of the busiest cities on the planet. This is true in the general bustle of the city but also in the hearts of her people. Washington, DC is a city built on achievement-minded hearts and busy hands. My counsel to everyone in our church that I’ve talked to over the past two weeks has included some aspect of rest. If any aspect of our rhythm of life needs ironing out in DC, it’s how we rest. I would encourage you to also consider in this season of working from home and the boredom of self-quarantine how you can cultivate gospel-motivated and Christ-honoring rest. Give yourself time and space to reflect on your life.

  • Where are you needing rest? Are you burning the candle at both ends? Do you find yourself busy with work more and more? Are you sleeping enough?
  • How has your lack of rest affected you spiritually? Are you spending time in God’s Word daily? Are you “too tired” for the things that matter (church gatherings, friends, family, etc.)? Are you creating a framework for achievement in your life that you are importing into your relationship with Christ?

My invitation to everyone is to continue learning to rest. Use this time to cultivate healthy rhythms, meditate on better truths, and reflect on what’s happening in your heart. Use this quietness to spend time before the Lord and seek the life-altering transformation that comes from learning to trust and rest in Him. You can rest both from the burdens of our broken world and the burdens of your broken heart. You can peacefully close your eyes to the chaos of the world knowing that God is in control of all things. In the same way, you can give up weary and anxious attempts to be somebody or do something great because you Heavenly Father sees you, knows you and loves you.

So, rest. If all you emerge with after this season of solitude is a deeper dependence on Christ and a lesson how to rest well, you will have accomplished something great.

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