What? Rest Before the Work is Done? No Way!

Jack the WordMan at Rest

Vacation time always gets me thinking about the theology of rest. All my life I have found it hard to rest when there is still work to be done. My upbringing focused on the value of work, not on the need for rest.

Working Versus Reading

My love of reading started as a child, but my mom reproved me any time she caught me reading a book during daylight hours. Our house rules were: First the house and yard chores, eat supper, wash dishes and finish school homework, then, if there is any time left, sit down, rest and read a book.

Even now, at age 74, it feels somehow wrong to be reading a book during daylight, even when it is on missions or writing, let alone a novel! Reading, even work related reading, relaxes me but it somehow feels wrong unless all my other tasks are completed.

Since my IN basket is never empty, and my TO DO list continues to grow, I never feel right about resting and reading. Besides that, I like my work—a great combination for keeping my fingers on the keyboard.

Startling Insight from Exodus

But this week, while preparing to teach a series on Spiritual Disciplines at a conference in Grand Cayman the Spirit drew my attention to something about the discipline of Sabbath that I had never seen before.

The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 have the line we all know, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, on the seventh day you shall rest.” This sounds right to me, “Do all your work, then rest.” It’s what my mom used to say.

But then I read a description of this law in Exodus 31. There the last line reads, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” He abstained. Wait a minute!

To abstain means to withdraw from, to refrain from, or to go without. It’s like the discipline of fasting, when we abstain from food, stop eating, even when there is still food left, or the discipline of solitude, when we abstain from people. On the seventh day God simply stopped working and rested even though there was still work to be done—work left unfinished! Wow! Eye opener!

Change Mom’s Rule

So, my Mom’s rule needs some adjustment. We need to stop and rest, even read, in spite of all the work not being completed. Certainly once every seven days. And we need to take mini-breaks throughout the work week. A few hours of waking relaxation each day, a few minutes of rest during each hour of work.

This is an area of growth for me. Maybe for some of you too. Our North American culture glorifies work and accomplishment and doesn’t reward sitting quietly alone, resting, reading, thinking, and pondering.

Yet that may be our problem. It reminds me of the famous quote from Blaise Pascal: “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”

Or the famous quote from the Almighty, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)