The Hard Work of Rest

If someone pulled you aside today and asked, “What do you think is the most challenging of God’s commands?” What would your answer be? The answer could be different for each of us. Yet, I would propose that many of us are severely challenged to keep what I would call “a personal Sabbath,” or to practice the biblical concept of rest.  

I’m not trying to make anybody nervous but practicing Sabbath is hard work! I’m not talking about the Saturday verses Sunday thing. Nor am I suggesting we need to keep the law of Moses. No man or woman has ever been able to accomplish that except the God/Man, Jesus. We are not under the heavy hand of God to keep all the law as our means of salvation. We are justified by faith, not by keeping all the commandments. 

With that said, there are principles and commands that God has put into place for our good. So, could it be that the most overlooked command might possibly be the principle of keeping Sabbath? The art of rest? The famous German theologian Gerhard Von Rad once said, “Among the many benefits offered to man by Holy Scripture, rest is often the most overlooked.” Guess what? It still is!

I want to simply introduce you to a fresh concept of Sabbath, as seen from God’s eyes. I’ll do that by introducing you to five key principles of Sabbath that will help you accomplish the hard work of rest.  

Sabbath is Medicine

If you’re like me, you will often find yourself getting caught up in the vicious treadmill of striving. It’s easy to do, isn’t it? The culture we live in honors achievement. And it especially applauds busyness with an element of speed. This tends to make us believe that if we strive hard enough, we can do it. 

Keeping Sabbath is always a matter of the heart. Why? Because it exposes the areas of our lives where we are striving, where we tend to perform instead of serving. It also reveals our deep need for acceptance. David understood this when he penned the words, “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:7 NIV).”  

John Ortberg aptly states, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule; it’s a disordered heart.” Ouch! Could it be that as sons of Adam, we struggle from a spiritual heart condition? I believe we do. For this reason, Sabbath is a medicine to our weary souls. It is a must, in order to stay fresh and relevant in these end times.

Never forget, Sabbath is medicine for your heart.

Sabbath is Rest

Rest is a word that scares many people today. Primarily because it cuts against the grain of society and culture’s demands. Often, those who practice rest are labeled as lazy, slothful, or too easygoing. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

At the time the commandment (the law of Moses) was given to keep Sabbath, the Hebrews had just come out of 430 years of slavery. Keep in mind, that’s hard, forced, slave labor. Can you imagine what a refreshing concept this should have been for them. Yet, true to human nature, they misunderstood the purpose and meaning of the promise that came with keeping Sabbath.

It’s important to look at a few affirmations of Sabbath keeping: 1) God Himself practiced the first Sabbath (Genesis 1:1-3). Do you think He was tired? Definitely not! He was demonstrating how important He thought it was. 2) Sabbath was given on the seventh day of creation. In Scripture seven is the number of “completion.” By blessing the seventh day, God was saying, “…keep the Sabbath and it will add something to your life you can’t get any other way.” 3) God commands all creation to rest. Mankind, animals, fields, pastures, crops… everything and everybody rests. 4) It’s a principle, not just a day. Yes, in the Old Testament, Sabbath was a particular day. The particularity of the day has been rescinded, but not the principle thereof.  

The question remains, do you know how to cease (rest)? Do you embrace practicing having a quitting place? Do you understand stopping and starting points? It is so important that we truly learn to build Sabbath rest into our lives. 

Sabbath Has Rhythm

Sabbath sets in motion the rhythm of God. It’s a principle that is woven into all creation. The earth itself runs by rhythm and therefore moves in perfect order. Every day earth has one rotation, or 24 hours. The sun, moon, and stars participate. So does the animal kingdom, the insects, and plant life. As a matter of fact, all created matter moves in this rhythm. We could go on and on. What more could be said? You and I must learn that the principle of rhythm and Sabbath are designed to teach us just that.

Could that possibly be why God said, “The sabbath is holy (Exodus 20:8)”? Maybe!

Holy is a word that is rarely used today. We often associate it with things like religious rituals, or priestly duty, maybe the use of candles, incense, etc. Yet, God Himself calls the Sabbath something to keep holy. Let’s take a quick moment to get a handle on this concept.

The word “holy” is the Hebrew word kadesh… it means literally, “to set aside.” In other words, to be different, not common, or every day. Here’s the idea… whatever is considered holy, is not to be treated like everything else. This means that we should be intentional and conscientious about having times and seasons where we do things differently. Where we are not rushed, strained, or constrained by the normal daily routine. 

Keep in mind that this does not have to be done on a certain day. It is more like a frame of mind, an intention of the heart. Ask yourself, “What would my life look like if I practiced guarding it more carefully? If I became intentional about setting myself aside periodically? If I penciled in a ‘slow down’ day? If I determined to ‘zero-in-on God?’”  

I think the results could be absolutely astounding, even life-changing!

Sabbath Needs a System

If you and I are going to understand the art of living a Sabbath lifestyle, we need a system or framework to follow. After all, we live in some of the busiest times in human history. Most would never say it but taking some time, or even a day, to rest almost sounds unrealistic, doesn’t it? I mean, we can rest at night! Right?

So how do I create my system? For starters, you must begin with intentionality. An attitude that says, “I will do this…nothing will stop me.” For some, a good place to start might be learning to say “No.” Unfortunately, that word is becoming extinct in our vocabulary and lives today.

When Jesus spoke of Sabbath, interestingly He framed it differently than the religious people of His day. They saw it as a duty, a requirement to keep. Jesus saw it as a day or time to refresh and regather. Of course, it centered around God. He made this clear when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).” 

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Begin to see your commitment to Sabbath as a discipline, rather than a legalistic rule to keep. Pick a day, any day of the week, or merely a segment of time during the day. Begin to think differently about that day or timeslot. See it as a time to refresh, a time to especially be aware of God and His goodness. Ask yourself, “How can I honor God in a deeper way?” See what God will do for you.  

It really could change your life!

Sabbath Is a Promise 

Many of us need a major paradigm shift when it comes to Sabbath rest. It must become part of our pursuit, a walk toward a deeper life. We must understand that Sabbath is not a command that we are bound to; rather it’s a promise we are invited to embrace. The Bible clearly teaches that if you and I will honor God through Sabbath, blessing awaits us. 

So, the question remains, do you do Sabbath well? Have you moved toward the hard work of rest? I love what Rick Warren says regarding rest and Sabbath, “Learn to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and vacate annually.” Do you do this? Maybe this would be a good place to start! Go ahead, take that first step today!

Dr. Jon Chasteen
Dr. Jon Chasteen
Dr. Jon Chasteen is the President of The King's University and the Lead Pastor at Victory Church in Oklahoma City.