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.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we focused on Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath” (CEB). Today, I want to look back at the creation of the Sabbath, focusing on a short passage from Genesis 2. (This devotion is a revision of one I wrote over a year ago.)
If God rested, shouldn’t we? If God, after creating the world in six days, set aside a day for rest, shouldn’t we do the same?
I was raised to value hard work. My family, church, and middle-class culture rewarded me when I was productive. So did my college and graduate school experience, as did the churches in which I served during the first half of my life. I remember one performance review I had as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. Before our meeting to talk about my efforts, I had told my reviewers that I was working at a pace that was not sustainable. I asked for their help in reshaping my priorities so that I might do what was most valuable for the church without burning myself out. When it came time for our face-to-face conversation, they told me that, for the most part, I was doing a good job. But they recommended that I teach more Bible classes, invest more in my staff, and be more available to the congregation for counseling. Basically, they wanted me to work more. This, of course, tapped into my inclination to work too much, not to mention my inherent desire to please. More work, less rest. That’s the ticket to success and fulfillment . . . or to discouragement and burnout.
I expect you may very well relate to what I’m saying. You may work long hours, with your work spilling over onto Saturday and Sunday. The notion of taking a substantial time of regular, intentional rest is foreign to your personal habits as well as your gut instincts. The power of digital technology to invade and fill every part of life makes it easier, perhaps even required, for you to work around the clock and across the calendar. If your boss expects you to respond to her Sunday emails, what choice do you have? If your customers need your attention 24/7, should you risk alienating them by taking time for rest?
If any of this speaks to you, then I have some simple questions: If God rested, shouldn’t we? If God, after creating the world in six days, set aside a day for rest, shouldn’t we do the same? Shouldn’t God’s example challenge us to consider the habits of our own lives, so that we might develop a consistent pattern of work and rest?
As one who leans naturally in the direction of overwork, I find these questions both inviting and off-putting. Part of me wants to discover the riches of godly rest. Part of me wants to fend off this apparent challenge to my productivity. My mind starts thinking of reasons why Christians are not bound to keep the Sabbath. I worry that I’ll never get done all that is on my plate if I set aside a whole day to rest. Sunday morning for church is one thing. But a whole day?
Tomorrow, I want to address more directly the productivity question. For now, let me invite you to join me as we consider the following questions.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
If you have built into your life healthy patterns of work and rest, what has helped you to do this?
If you tend to work more than is wise, if you often neglect the rest you need, why?
What determines your understanding of how much work is required? What tells you when, if ever, it is time to rest?
How do you respond to God’s example in Genesis 2:1-3?
Gracious God, in six days you created all things. On the seventh day you finished your work by resting. You also blessed and hallowed the seventh day, setting it aside as a day of rest. Teach us, Lord, what this means for me. May our lives not be formed primarily by the demands of our work, the expectations of our culture, or the urgings of our feelings. Rather, may our lives be formed by you, by your example, by your truth. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening. Amen.