Is Rest a Gift, an Inconvenience, or an Idol?

Somehow, Americans have the reputation of simultaneously being workaholics and slouches. I’m not going to try to figure out how. Like most aspects of American culture, it’s complicated.

There are several ways to view rest. Some of us view it as the chief aim in life. We live to be able to rest. We work hard to rest. We think about resting all day and can’t wait to be able to do so. Others view rest as an inconvenience. Maybe a sign of weakness or a waste of time. It seems to me that rest is actually somewhere in between.

Even Christians struggle with the concept of rest. Depending on who you ask, rest is the devil’s playground, a necessary component of life, or something else. I think part of why we struggle with the concept of rest is because, like most things, a healthy view of rest requires moderation and balance (things which are extremely hard to maintain).

It seems to me that the biblical view of rest is as a gift from God that ought to be used for His glory. Like most things, it can be abused or neglected.

I was reading through Exodus while comparing different Bible translations, and a phrase in the NLT jumped out at me. Explaining how the people needed to gather double manna on the sixth day in order to observe the Sabbath on the seventh, God said to Moses about the people, “They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days. On the Sabbath day you must each stay in your place. Do not go out to pick up food on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:29 NLT).  

This was essentially the beginning of Israel observing the Sabbath, though the more formal command comes in Exodus 20:8-11. Notice how in Exodus 16:29 (in the NLT) the Sabbath is described as a “gift” to the people of Israel. The people of Israel were emulating God when they rested the seventh day (cf. Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11).

There’s a lot of conjecture over why God would command this to the people. Maybe to remind them of creation, or of God’s power, or to humble them by forcing them to realize that the Lord was in control and the world wouldn’t fall apart if they took a day off. Either way, it was a gift.

Rest still is a gift. We can turn it into an idol of the heart if we so choose. We can bow down to the god of rest and opt for it over meaningful experiences and doing the work God would have us to. We can also view it as an inconvenience as the people of Israel seemingly did in Exodus 16. We can see it as something that gets in the way of us running the world.

Instead, we should thank God for the gift of rest and use it in a way that glorifies Him. Connect with His creation, bask in His goodness, and enjoy what He’s given you with thankfulness, acknowledging that He’s running the show and not you.