By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 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).
Why do I so often ignore this sacred rhythm?
- One day of rest out of seven.
- One day each week to rest in the Lord and enjoy that rest with those who love him and also love me.
- One precious seventh of my life trusting I need what God longs to give — rest, renewal, and relationship.
Fact or legend, the following story speaks the truth:
A westerner was on mission seeking to find a remote village in Africa. Sick people in need of medicines lived in this village. People caught in darkness needed the light of God's grace. Children dying of malaria and water-borne diseases needed the medicines and the new water wells that could give them an opportunity at life.
For our westerner on mission, pressing on urgently to the village was a given. So when the guide of the small party stopped at mid-afternoon, our western friend was perplexed. When the men carrying loads of supplies sat without movement on the ground with their packs still on their backs, the westerner was flabbergasted.
"We've got hours of daylight left in the day. We need to get to the village as soon as possible. Come on, let's get these guys up and make some more progress toward our destination! Why in the world did they stop, anyway?"
Calmly, without any sense of being hurried or upset, the guide patiently explained, "We've had a long, hard trek. The men have made great progress. But they are resting now. They need to wait while their souls catch up with their bodies."
When I ignore God's rhythm, his sacred principle woven into the fabric of all creation, I don't accomplish more. I only end up breaking myself. Something in my soul cries out for rest — not just rest from my labor, but also rest with God and rest with my loved ones who know resting in God is not a waste of time.
Jesus invited his closest followers into this rest:
"Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31-32).
Jesus wasn't imposing some legalistic requirement on them to keep at all costs. The very context in which this invitation is given — and delayed (Mark 6:33-34) and delayed some more (Mark 6:35-37) — reminds us not to become legalistic with Jesus' invitation. Sabbath keeping must not be made into a legalistic set of rules (Colossians 2:16-19). Jesus challenged the concept of Sabbath rules imposed from outside of us to help us know "God folks" from non-God folks — as if there is really such a thing as "non-God humans" in the Eternal's eyes.
Jesus was ruthless in his challenge to such legalistic, nit-picking, Sabbath-keeping:
Then he [the Lord Jesus] said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
Jesus was constantly getting in trouble for breaking the traditional laws erected to protect the Sabbath to heal, help, validate, love, and bless people. In these moments of blessing, these people inevitably praised God. In the process of such blessing, he was restoring the sense of Sabbath to its rightful place as God's creative gift for his creation — a gift to both living creatures and the systems of creation, to both slave and free, and to both Jew and non-Jew.
Then, of course, we have our African guide reminding us that when we over-press without rest, we become soulless bodies in motion — soulless bodies whose physical systems soon crash and something in the person breaks. When we overtax our systems with too little rest and too much stress, make ourselves more vulnerable to illness and emotional distress. We also often neglect our families and friends. In our weariness and stress, we also become more vulnerable to sins related to the abuse of money, sex, and power. Such soulless weariness puts us on the road of physical and spiritual destruction.
As we focus for several weeks on reading one chapter of Gospel of Matthew each day, we are also reminding each other of our need for rest. We're not after a pause for laziness or time for sloppiness or a break for irresponsibility. We're not advocating for recreation and more busy-ness by another name. We are after a time to get away with the Lord. Our souls yearn for rest in his gracious presence as we learn to trust that his work will continue without our efforts. We rely on the Father to do something inside us, and with us, and for us as we trust our rest to him.
So let's keep hearing the call of Jesus:
"Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31).
Not to earn spiritual brownie points with the Creator.
Not to be more spiritual than those who don't.
Not to keep a legalistic set of rules.
But, to enter into the ancient sacred rhythm of our Lord, who longs to give us the blessedness of his rest.