God Wants You to Rest

In the busyness of college life, have you ever been exhausted in the name of faithfulness? There’s homework to do, people to meet, activities to be done, groceries to buy, projects to finish, Bible studies to attend, and quiet times to be had. Sometimes it feels like there’s no space to take a breath.

We get weary, but it’s easy to feel that we’re supposed to be busy. We ask, “If I’m not doing something with my time, am I not wasting it? Wouldn’t it be a bit selfish to stop?” We feel the pressure of deadlines, professors, academic advisors, peers, and maybe even ministry leaders to keep going, going, going. And we feel pressure from ourselves to present ourselves to God as faithful, fearing that at the end we might hear from the Lord, “You wicked and slothful servant!” (Matt. 25:26, ESV).

Is this how God made us to operate? Is this how we’re supposed to feel?

Rest Comes from God

In the beginning, after God created the heavens and the earth, we get this note: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:1-3). God himself rested. God built rest into creation. God was not tired, of course, but he was showing us something. Perhaps, if the infinite, omnipotent God took one day of the week to rest, we should, too.

God also states this as one of the reasons to obey the fourth commandment. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God… For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:8-9, 11).

Another reason is given in Deuteronomy 5: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (v. 15). He says that he commands the Israelites to rest because he rescued them from slavery, in which there is no rest. So, God created us to rest, and then he commanded it. These are two good reasons to honor the Sabbath Day. But I want to propose a third and (I think) more important reason to rest.

Rest is Faith

True rest is about trusting God. This means that faith is at the core of rest. Faith is the beginning, middle, and end of salvation, and salvation is through faith in Christ. If we want to think about rest correctly, we must start there. Hebrews tells us that the Sabbath is merely a shadow of the true rest that Christians have coming. The author says, “If Joshua had given them [the Israelites] rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Heb. 4:8-10).

In context, the author is explaining how the Israelites first heard the good news (salvation by grace through faith), but they rejected it, and thus rejected rest in the promised land. In these verses he explains that there remains a true Sabbath rest for all who believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. This rest frees us from the exhausting, never-ending work of trying to save ourselves. God has freed us from that work in Christ! So, the command to rest on the Sabbath day is only a foreshadow of the promised rest to come in the new heavens and new earth. But we also experience this rest now by trusting Jesus for our salvation.

Remember before that God recalls Israel’s salvation from slavery when commanding the Sabbath. So too we were in slavery and bondage to sin, but God has redeemed us from it by the blood of His own Son. God does not free us from slavery to sin and the devil to makes us slaves once more to the law but instead gives us rest from the work of salvation and the works of the law completely in Christ.

But how does this apply to the rest of life? If Jesus fulfills the Sabbath command in this way, is there any reason we should still obey it? I would argue that we certainly should not ignore it. We should pay just as close attention to this command as any other of the Ten Commandments. We first trust God in salvation by putting our faith in Jesus. Through the Sabbath, God teaches us to have faith in him with our work. The Sabbath shows us that we are finite creatures incapable of accomplishing all that we might want to do, and that we must depend on God for any and all work that we do and for the provisions we need. He is the one that provides in ministry, school, and money-making, no matter how hard we work ourselves all week.

Consider the Old Covenant where God also required a Sabbath Year (see Lev. 25:1-7). The Israelites were commanded to give the land rest every seventh year. This command was given to farmers who had to grow and process all their food. Were they to faithfully honor the Sabbath Year, they had to trust that God would provide them enough in the six years leading up to it. So it is with our work. We must trust that God will do enough with our faithfulness in the six days allotted for work if we are to really rest on the Sabbath. Like the Israelites, we go wrong when we forget who we are (creatures within God’s ordered creation) and the realities of where we come from (slavery in sin) and therefore believe that we must constantly work to make things happen. So, the Sabbath doesn’t diminish our need to be faithful; it should make us more faithful.

How to Sabbath

This brings us to the question, “How do I do that?” Though I can’t say exactly what you, the reader, should do every minute of the Sabbath day (although you can see Tim Keller’s article for his suggestions), I can tell you a few things for certain. Take a full day of rest and do it on a specific day with your church, leaving all work to be done on the other six days of the week. The Sabbath is not a few hours of alone time with God, although that may be part of it. It’s also not a random Wednesday every couple of weeks. God has set a specific day for his whole church to rest. Consider the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?

A. [T]hat the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 103)

From this answer, we see that the most important thing we should do on the Sabbath is meet together with our local church, sing together, take the Lord’s Supper, see baptisms, pray together, and give our money and time. Historically, the church has argued that this day is Sunday. For example, The London Baptist Confession reads:

As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he has particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him (Ex. 20:8), which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s Day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished (1 Cor. 16:1–2, Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:10). (LBC 22.7.)

You’ll never open your Bible and read that the Sabbath should be on Sunday now. This isn’t a prescriptive argument, but a theological one. The pattern of rest on the first day of the week rather than the last is teaching us gospel logic— we rest before we work instead of working before we rest. In the Old Covenant, you worked to find rest; in the New, we find rest first in Christ, out of which our work flows. I am not asking that you bind yourself to this legalistically. But this is important because most of our congregations gather on Sunday, and I think the church should rest together, on the same day.1

This means that, if at all possible, you should not be doing any work on Sunday that you would otherwise do during the week (homework, paid work, group meetings, leader’s meetings, etc.). The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days…” (Q. 60.) We make it holy by not working. This might mean we have to really restructure our weeks. It might mean we can’t goof off as much during the week. We’ll have to be more disciplined and diligent Monday to Saturday and (maybe) more relaxed on Sunday.

All of this is an act of faith in a world that overvalues both work and play. It goes against the culture of the grind by asking us to fully stop for one day each week, and it goes against the leisure culture by stopping us from being slothful during the week or for three days every weekend.

As in all things, God has our best interests in mind. Remember, God made the Sabbath for us (Mark 2:27). I pray that you will find God’s good and gracious will in both work and rest.


1 There are some situations where this may not be possible (a school group can only meet Sundays, a financial situation requires working on Sundays) and I do acknowledge that. Again, I do not want to hold anyone legalistically to these ideas—I just want to say that it should be a pattern in our life.

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