The Work/Rest Rhythm

For a long time, I dreaded Sundays. I hate sitting still and, as you may have guessed from my last blog post, The Myth of Balance, I have a strong perfectionist streak. Put those two together…and it isn’t pretty. I could never rest in a way that felt right, and I often ended up tired and frustrated.

I still don’t have all of this sorted out, but I am beginning to see a better pattern. In the Bible, God models a work/rest rhythm, and from the beginning, establishes this pattern throughout Creation, with seasons for planting, growth and harvest, and on a macro-level, even our own life stages. Over and over, He shows us the need for ebb and flow, new beginnings and new endings, work and rest.

This idea that there is a work/rest cycle has been a huge help for me. In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon reflects, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven,” and some of the items he lists are pretty stressful! According to God’s design, rest provides a way to recover from the stresses of work. Stress gets a really bad rap, and rightly so if we are living in a constant state of heightened stress, but stress, when it is followed by recovery, is the necessary pattern for growth. Just as in the physical realm, where our muscles only get strengthened and remain healthy when they are stressed and then allowed to rest, so it is with our souls: in work, whether that work is inside our homes or out, we are challenged and stretched; in rest, we recover from our stresses, which brings about strength and growth. Over time, we learn how to face both seasons of high demand and seasons of rest with the same confidence and lightness.

As I mention here, Sabbath is not just “taking a break.” It is taking a real rest with Jesus, keeping company with Him and gaining His heart and perspective in order to recover and heal from the demands of our efforts. Jesus knows how to rest, and He wants to show us. It’s not natural in our current culture, so if we are to rest, Jesus must show us how. It is a gift!

God is showing me more and more that Sabbath is a “get to” not a “have to.” As I turn away from my striving in order to be with Him, I am learning that rest is an ongoing gift to unwrap and enjoy.

Resources

Did you start the year committed to working/resting differently? How is it going? If you are not quite where you want to be, is there someone who can help you get back on track?

Hebrews 4:3 talks about “today” as the right time to rest. What are the advantages and potential dangers of viewing “Sabbath rest” as something we need all day, every day? What are the advantages and disadvantages of setting aside a day each week to rest?

To dig a little deeper, Margaret recommends…

  • Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
  • Buy A Cabin: The Theology and Practice of Rest by Robert L. Franck
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero

 

The Myth of “Balance”

I’ve often been encouraged to find the right work/life balance. I don’t believe this is a concept that is from God, and here’s why.

Balance speaks to the pressure to manage life out of limitation or even deficit. Our calendars become a zero-sum game where we strive to get all the parts to fit “just right.” Trying to balance our lives puts all the pressure on ourselves to “get it perfect.” The problem is that we live in a state of constant change and chaos. Striving for the ever-elusive perfect balance is draining, if not completely impossible.

This doesn’t sound like the abundant life to me. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I have come that they might have life and have it to the full!”

Rest, then, is a paradigm shift, a shift from “managed balance” to surrendered rhythm.

Following His pace, relying on His abundance, means we no longer live under the pressure to balance a finite set of limited resources. Resting with Jesus, our lives are no longer reduced to squeezing our days and weeks into an unending grid – with the added pressure to somehow “balance” this grid against an equal weight of rest. Instead, we live in rhythm, with seasons of intense engagement alongside moments of great refreshment, all lived out – the work and the rest – by faith. As we do so, God’s great purposes for our lives are multiplied through His unlimited resources. The sum of our lives becomes greater than the sum of its parts. There is no work/life balance. Everything is tipped in our favor. Everything we need for life and godliness, we have in Jesus.

Resources

Margaret writes that the verses that God used to call her to serve with Navigators come from John 12:24-25: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”

  • In what ways does work call you to sacrifice your own goals to serve God’s goals? In what ways is rest part of your service and devotion to Him?
  • Have you found a rhythm of work and rest that works for you? What keeps this pattern fresh? When do you know you are abusing your freedom in Christ and overworking? What are the warning signs that you are just being lazy?
  • As you think about the new year, are there things about your work/rest rhythm that you would like to change? Is there someone you can tell? (Sharing plans is one way to make them a little more real.)

 

My 3 “Good Reasons” Not to Rest

For years, my husband, Chris, encouraged me in taking a weekly Sabbath, yet I resisted. How could that even be possible with the constant demands of a young family, a group of women I was investing in, events to plan, and the never-ending, bottomless dirty clothes hamper? A weekly Sabbath just wasn’t possible, at least it didn’t seem like it, so I didn’t give it enough serious thought to even try. In my heart and mind, I just wasn’t willing to consider my Heavenly Father’s invitation into the rest He so desired to provide.

I always considered the work/rest model seen in Genesis 2:2-3 as a suggestion. God had completely finished all His work and could afford a day off. I, on the other hand, had work that was never done. I also gave myself a Sabbath pass by claiming “freedom in Christ” – freedom from condemnation under the law! I used these things as justification of my choice to continue working hard day in and day out, ignoring the voice of the Spirit, Who was offering a better way.

Sadly, many years passed by while I missed out on the incredible gift of rest. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that God finally got my attention and began to lovingly convince me of His good purposes embedded in His design of a work-rest rhythm of living.

Why I Was Resisting

First, He showed me that my refusal to rest was all about my underlying fear of releasing control. If I stopped mid-stride, then all that I was working so hard to obtain would be threatened. He showed me how badly I depended on being needed and, in my pride, having to personally meet the needs of people around me. Keeping my foot on the pedal of life blinded me to the greater value of bringing the needs of those around me to the Father in prayer. He showed me my lack of faith to entrust Him with the “unfinished” and, ultimately, to surrender to His will.

Second, I was doubting that God really had good things in store for me. If there was goodness or success to obtain, it was up to me to secure it. I didn’t want to rest.

And finally, I just didn’t want to buck the cultural norm of a life full of continuous activity. I tended to wear busyness like a badge of honor.

What I Have Learned Since

These hard lessons have helped me to at least try to rest. So far, here are a few things I have learned.

Most importantly, I’ve come to believe that Jesus invites us to rest with Him and to learn from Him.

In Matthew 11:28-30, He extends this incredible invitation: “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.” (MSG)

Learning to rest does take time: it seems what the Bible teaches most about rest is what it is not. Leviticus 23:25 says that rest means “no ordinary work.” Other passages teach that rest does not equal idleness (Proverbs 31:27 – “she does not eat the bread of idleness,” Ezekiel 16, 2 Thess. 3:8, Ecclesiastes 10:18.)

So, practically speaking – rest can include activity. The key to understanding rest is this: is it life-giving? (Which most likely means expending energy.) Does it restore?

What is restful for you (organizing your filing cabinet), might be work for me. And landscaping, which is restful for me, might sound like work for you. Discovering what rest means for you can initially take considerable thought and energy but will result in fullness and joy.

You know you have rested well when your soul is at peace, when your perspective and resourcefulness are fresh, and when you are ready again for the work God has for you. When you have learned to rest, you will feel more energized and ready to return to work.

Resources

Here are 3 questions to consider:

  1. Where do you experience resistance when it comes to answering Jesus’ invitation to rest?
  2. Is there something God is asking you to trust Him with in order to enter His rest?
  3. In what ways do you mistake idleness for the life-giving rest God desires for you?

To dig a little deeper, Margaret recommends…