We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NIV).
These are not wimpy words. They remind us of the grit and determination to make life happen in a fallen world. They are not particularly spiritual words. They apply equally well for the folks on the assembly line, the crew running optic fiber line for high-speed communication, or those managing the hurting and nervous folks in the emergency room line. Life lived productively requires effort; it often requires strenuous effort. The apostle Peter even suggested that we had to make the effort to see the spiritual growth in our lives (2 Peter 1:5-8). Life involves work, labor, and endurance. As Christians, we believe our faith, hope, and love inspired by the Holy Spirit help us produce such needed effort.
On the other hand, we must also recognize that we cannot bootstrap our way through life. More effort isn't going to fix, repair, or even improve some things in our lives. Even our best efforts are not going to be enough to pull us through some binds in which we find ourselves. That's why God built into our world a rhythm requiring rest. In fact, if you listen to the rhythm of God's creation, it was rest first, then creativity and productivity — notice in Genesis 1 there was evening then morning as part of each day.
So often in our busy culture, we feel that resting is a waste of time. We could be getting something done instead of wasting time resting. We could be advancing our cause instead of laying low and burning daylight on resting. We could be wringing an ounce or two more productivity out of the day if we could only get by with a little less rest. Rest is for down the road when we're older ... or when we go to heaven and don't have to worry about pleasing our manager ... or for when we don't have to try to keep our family afloat financially ... or for those days when we've actually gotten our "to do" lists finished. Our modern mindset is that rest is for when we're weary or sick or have time to rest.
God didn't make our world this way. God rested on the seventh day. He called it Sabbath. He built that rhythm into our world. Surely the almighty, sovereign, and all-powerful God didn't NEED to rest. So why did he rest on the seventh day? Why did he put this imprint into our busy world of work, labor, and endurance?
Simple! We needed to see God rest! We needed to know that God made rest a priority. We needed to know that our rest is crucial to us, to our lives, and to those around us.
Jesus practiced the rest principle in his busy ministry. He taught his disciples the importance of rest. Jesus clearly had much to do and very little time in which to do it. Yet with all the pressures of the people and their needs, with all the things he needed to teach his disciples before his departure, he could say to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31).
Why is our rest so important to us?
I can't pretend to know all the reasons, but there are several that are very clear.
First, we need to acknowledge that God is God and we are not. "Be still and know that I am God!" (Psalm 46:10) God said this to the busy nations, and especially Israel, wrangling and striving for superiority and preservation. God wanted the nations to know that he was at work while they rested. He would accomplish his will and keep his promises if they would rest in his will and trust in his providence. This kind of resting is not passivity: it is trust. We acknowledge that we cannot do everything needed and so we rest, trusting that God is at work doing only what he can do in our lives.
Second, we need rest to restore and renew our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. Our bodies need rest to function properly. Our minds need rest to operate at peak efficiency. Maybe most importantly, our spirits need to rest in the presence of God. The Old Testament Sabbath rest was a time for God's people to open themselves to the presence, providence, and protection of God. Setting aside a time to intentionally be in the presence of the Shepherd of our souls allows us to be restored in our spirit as we are led by still waters and made to lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23).
Third, we need to rest to allow those around us to rest. When God called on Israel to keep his Sabbath, he reminded them that they were to let all their livestock and all their servants and workers, Israelite or not, rest as well. In other words, God's rest was not a time for his people to take off from work so others could work for them, but a time for them to rest and let those around them to share in this blessing from God. God would take care of the land. God would take care of the harvest. God would bless his people and the people among them if they would rest in his care (Exodus 20:10).
As God's people, we never want to be lazy. On the other hand, we need to hear God calling us to a time of rest so we can receive his blessing, so others can share in that blessing, and so we can learn to trust God to work on things that we cannot do. In our busy world with all its demands, let's not let our first experience of genuine spiritual rest be the day we go home to God to rest from our labors. God wants to meet us, bless us, restore us, and bless others through us in our times of rest!
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." (Revelation 14:13 NIV)