Which is it for you? Soda? Coffee? Energy drinks? Organic, all-natural, energy-increasing vitamins?
Mine is soda. As a first year teacher many years ago, I remember going through cases and cases of diet Mt. Dew. In fact I’m not sure why I didn’t turn into a lovely shade of yellowish-green? In all seriousness, I drank because I had a problem. I was a workaholic. More caffeine = more work.
I have come a long way in my relationship with work by God’s grace, but I will probably always be tempted to overwork. Ironically enough, I struggled with this the most when I worked for the church. In my case, I think I overworked because of how much I loved my job. This was work that I was (and still am) deeply passionate about. This was work where I got to see God’s “kingdom come” daily. Please don’t mishear me – no one required me to overwork. In fact, several people in leadership often encouraged me to take time off when needed. The fault was all mine. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I see now how I thought it all depended on me, therefore I couldn’t put the work down.
It’s not hard to see that this is a common struggle in our culture, especially among church pastors & staff, teachers, and non-profit workers. There are so many scary stories about people that overworked and paid dearly for it, whether through health issues, broken relationships, or eventually watching even their passion for their job be swallowed by exhaustion.
The temptation then is to declare work evil, and refuse to have anything to do with it. The problem with that is that the Bible actually says work is good. In Genesis 2:15 it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” This was before sin had entered the picture. There was no curse yet. God and people were in a beautiful, unbroken, and intimate relationship. Yet, there was work. Tim Keller says that the problem isn’t the presence of work, but the absence of rest.
So what does the Bible says about rest? The idea of a Sabbath day, or a day of rest, isn’t a response to our busy culture. The idea of a Sabbath day has existed as long as creation has. We might first think of the commandment to remember the Sabbath from Exodus 20:8-11. The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In that verse we see that even before Moses existed, in Genesis, God created the world and He rested. God doesn’t need to rest, He’s God! I wonder if He was modeling this concept for us, and showing us that rest is good. There was also a rule for the farmers in the Old Testament. They weren’t allowed to harvest to the boundaries of their fields. One reason for this was to put limits on their productivity. (Limit productivity? Horror of horrors!) Later on, in Luke 6:5 of the New Testament, Jesus says he is Lord of the Sabbath. In this chapter, at first glance, it seems that Jesus is disregarding the Sabbath, because He isn’t keeping the Pharisees’ rules about the Sabbath. What He is actually saying though, is that He made the Sabbath; He made the day of rest. He is all about the restorative work of the Sabbath. The Sabbath isn’t a rule to keep, to drive us crazy, and make us feel guilty when we cut our grass on Sunday. God gave us the Sabbath, not as a rule to follow…but He gave it to us because He knew we needed it.
If rest is a good thing, then why don’t we do it? Keller says there are trends in our culture today that make rest difficult.
1-Our jobs are less secure than they once were.
2- People at the top of a company used to make 20-30 times more than those below them. Now, they make closer to 100 times more than those under them. With a huge salary comes the expectation to work a huge amount of time. Those at the bottom of the company may have to get an additional job or two to make ends meet, so everyone is working more hours.
3-Technology now allows us to work anywhere. As a result we end up working everywhere.
4- In cultures past, our value was obtained from your family. In our present culture, our value comes from our professional success.
Each of these trends promotes subtle lies. They tell us that we provide for ourselves, and encourage us to be self-reliant. They tell us that if we have a large salary, a high position, a significant amount of professional success, then we are valuable. They tell us that productivity and progress are the ultimate good to be pursued. The Bible tells us that God and His kingdom is what we should pursue, and that God alone is our provider.
Even when we dig out those lies and replace them with God’s truths, it is still hard to rest. Judith Shulevitz says, there’s an idea that to rest is to physically stop working, but there is more to it. While that is part of it, we are more than just physical beings. Along with physical rest, we need SOUL rest. Although we may stop working, our inner being is still not sure that we are okay. We are unsure of our value or that we matter. To allow our soul to rest we have to remind ourselves WHO God is and WHO that makes us.
In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “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.” What does that mean that his yoke is easy and his burden is light? In John 6:29, Jesus answered the crowd who asked how to do the work God required (the kind mentioned in the previous verse). He said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
As Keller said, it comes down to this: You can only put your ‘doing’ down if you are absolutely satisfied with your ‘doing.’ We, as flawed human beings, are going to have flawed work. We will always feel the need to continue to work. However, Hebrews 4 says that to be a Christ-follower means you look at your life and work the way Jesus looked at His life and work…the way God looked at His work. God looked at His creation in Genesis and declared it was good. You are part of that creation. He looks at you and declares you good. Everything that needs doing, has been done.
So…remind yourself that you are not God, that God has done all that needs doing, and that you are more than okay. You are beloved and treasured child of God who is declared righteous, not by your work, but by Jesus’ on the cross.
Take a faithful step towards God, and schedule some time to rest.
Letting Go (acoustic version):