Finding rest

It’s that time of year. Like many of you, I’ve taken some time off over the summer. If you’re looking for a holiday destination, I can’t recommend Hoi An in Vietnam enough. It’s close, good value, beautiful, and the food’s great. Holidays are essential, because if we’re honest, Hong Kong is an intense and busy place. It’s hard for us to rest well.

The Bible says a lot about rest. Here are two brief thoughts as we (hopefully) take some time to rest over the summer.

First, rest means to stop labouring. God has hardwired rest into the rhythm of human life. After his work of creation, God rested from his labour (Gen. 2:2-3). God tells his people to rest. He commanded his people to take a Sabbath rest; we work for six days but rest on the seventh (Ex. 20:8-11). Even though we work much more than we rest, there is a necessary counterbalance so that the rest of our work is more productive and beneficial. 

Rest is more than just taking time off. After creating the world, God looked around and saw that “it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). He did not just cease from his work; he stopped and enjoyed what he had made. What does this mean for us? We need to stop to enjoy God, to enjoy his creation, to enjoy the fruits of our work. The whole point of Sabbath is joy in what God has done and what he gives us.

God liberated his people from slavery in Egypt. In Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to materialism, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above.

Sabbath is joy in what God has done and what he gives us

Second, rest means to find peace in God. Overwork is very often an attempt to justify ourselves through achieving something great, or building a reputation, or gaining as much money as possible. When we rest, we remind ourselves that we find our salvation only in Jesus’ finished work for us. Jesus told his disciples, “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” (Matt. 11:28-29). The gospel reminds us that in Jesus, we find the deep soul rest that nothing and no-one else in life provides.

Figuring out the practical implications of taking Sabbath rest requires thought, persistence, and very often, advice from Christian friends. Rest should at the very least include two components: contemplative rest, which is deeper time spent in God’s word and prayer; and recreational rest, which is time spent in doing things that you enjoy and recharge the batteries (like going on hikes or spending time with friends).

Pursuing rest is more than merely taking some time off. It’s to find our peace in God, in enjoying him, and remembering the freedom we have in Jesus – the freedom from material striving or human expectations.