Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
I was raised to value hard work. My family, my church, and the culture of my youth 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.
I expect you may very well relate to what I’m saying. You may work long hours, with your work spilling over onto the weekend. 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. Maybe your annual review included recommendations for all the added things you should be doing. You want to please your boss or your customers, so your work really never stops.
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’ll say a little about Christians and the Sabbath. Today, I want to think more about how God’s example might teach and inspire me to stop working so that I might rest. I want to ask the Lord what he is trying to say to me through Genesis 2:1-3. Perhaps you will join me in this reflection.
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 me, Lord, what this means for me. May my life not primarily be formed by the demands of my work, the expectations of my culture, or the urgings of my feelings. Rather, may my life be formed by you, by your example, by your truth. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Amen.
P.S. While Mark is on vacation for two weeks in August, we are running “greatest hits” devotions from the past year. New devotions will return on August 26. This devotional was originally published on May 21, 2015.