In my first blog, we saw how God is a God who works and He made us in His image. We also touched briefly on the idea that He was also a God of rest. The Genesis account says that on the seventh day God rested from all His work:
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.Genesis 2:2-3
God created us on the sixth day of creation and so the first day mankind spent with God was actually a day of rest (day 7). God was modelling a rhythm of life for us – specifically that we work from a place of rest. God had given Adam & Eve responsibilities but the first day was a day of rest. This was the pattern that God laid down for us:
The creation principle that we rest one day in seven is clear from Genesis. Later this is enshrined in the law given through Moses. Genesis 2 says that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (v3). The same words are repeated here in the Mosaic law:
9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 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. 11 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.Exodus 20:9-11
Once again we see that God was building a rhythm of work and rest into the very fabric of how His people operated. In Exodus the principle is called Sabbath which literally means “to rest”. Indeed in Leviticus 25 we also find that God initiates a Sabbath year (a rest for land and labourer every seven years) and the year of jubilee (a reset for land and property every fifty years).
Furthermore, a Jewish day runs from nightfall to nightfall vividly illustrating the principle not just through the concept of Sabbath but on a day by day basis. God intended this rhythm of working from a place of rest to be abundantly clear. We neglect it at our peril and it is an important principle as we consider what God has to say about our work. Rest matters!
Life out of balance
While I am sure that none of us would deny the importance of ‘rest’ the reality is that for many of us we are far more addicted to our work. Who for example brags about how much rest they’ve had! Mike Breen writes provocatively saying that “in our quest for productivity we have become human doings rather than human beings.” Work leaves people weary and tired. To some extent this is no bad thing, after all working hard should leave us appropriately tired. However it becomes a problem when the equilibrium of our lives are out of balance. Burnout is not uncommon and we need to discover the value of rest and think through what that might mean for us. The alternative extreme is idleness – as we saw in part 1 God made us to work not laze around with nothing to do. His rhythm of resting one day in seven is what we need for a healthy work-life balance.
The Swing of the Pendulum (John 15:1-8):
The ministry 3dm have produced a series of Lifeshapes as tools for Discipleship. One of them, specifically the Semi Circle, is about rhythms of life. This is illustrated by the pendulum swing between rest and work. A pendulum swings back and forth creating a semicircle shape. At one end of the pendulum’s arc is work (fruitfulness) and at the other end is rest (abiding). We can’t have one without the other.
1 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15:1-8
In John 15 Jesus explains the principle that as we abide in Christ, then go forth to bear fruit. We bear fruit; then we are pruned back and enter a time of abiding. Rest, work, work, rest. So, the pendulum by nature swings from one to the other just as we need to do the same. The more we rest the more productive we become. This is because the pendulum will swing further! The problem is that we’ve got it backwards – a healthy way to look at the world is to work from a place of rest – then our cup overflows into the lives of others rather than constantly going for refill.
Life in balance (Matthew 11:28-30)
The final passage I want to turn to here is Matthew 11:28-30. In these incredible verses Jesus promises rest to those who are weary and burdened if we come to Him. I love the way that the Message translates these verses as they encourage us to come to Jesus and get away with Him. He promises to show us how to take a real rest and urges us to learn the unforced rhythms of grace:
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
There is a natural rhythm to living the Christian life, which might be described as follows:
“Here we see what might be called the rhythm of the Christian life … a continuous going into the presence of men from the presence of God. It is like the rhythm of work and sleep…The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving people in the marketplace.”William Barclay, Commentary to Mark‟s Gospel, pg. 156
There are two dangers: One is too much activity while the second is too much withdrawal. As we learn to remain/abide, we will discern more clearly exactly what God wants us to do. So much of our work is ineffective because it is simply a good idea on our part rather than an idea originating in God … Not only that, but as we dwell in his presence, we are energised in the Spirit and strengthened for the task. Rather than being constantly drained because we are working in our own energy, we learn to operate from the strength of Christ within us. We discover the ‘rest’ of God – the sense of relaxation that enhances everything we do. Rather than feeling uptight and on edge (a mark of human effort), we become relaxed and natural (the mark of God at work in us). The branch takes no credit for producing fruit: the life of the vine does that. The branch’s only responsibility is to stay joined to the vine, and then the fruit-bearing is natural and easy. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.
- What is your response to this healthy rhythm of life presented in the Semi Circle illustration?
- In what ways do we see this heathy rhythm of working from our rest in the life of Jesus?
- How would you compare your life (consider daily, weekly, monthly, annually) with such a rhythm? For example, would you say that you are in a phase of growing or pruning?
- What steps could you take to become more fruitful (the result of a bigger pendulum swing)?
See other posts in this series
- Created for work
- Working from a place of rest
- Finding Purpose in our work
- Working for the glory of God
- Wrong ways of working
- New Creation Work