Biblical Rest

Matt 11:28: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In the Old Testament context, the people of Israel were instructed to rest on the Sabbath:  a day designated to abstain from work and revel in everything God had done during the week (Gen 2:2, Ex 16:23). In the New Testament context, we have graduated from a single day of rest, once per week, to a lifestyle of rest. Because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, and because the Son of God has come and hung on the Cross and died so we can be reunited with our Father, we should be resting spiritually at all times.

Here enters the concept of feeling ‘well rested.’ Many times we get caught in the trap of thinking that rest is purely physical. The truth of the matter is that our body will take cues from our spiritual health; if we are well rested spiritually, then our bodies will follow suit. Feeling ‘well rested’ is not a function of how much sleep you get, but rather how much you depend on God.

So, you may be wondering, ‘Is rest something I can control?’ The source of the rest we should feel as Christians is the result of God’s New Covenant with us; the cause (as differentiated from source) is our awareness that we should be resting.  Rest, although always available, takes a conscious decision on our part. Someone or something will likely always try to command our attention and distract us from God and everything He has already done. If God has already made it clear that we are allowed to rest, why should we argue with Him? It is therefore our responsibility to announce to heaven, hell, and all those around us that we are not going to let any circumstance affect the spiritual rest that we have in Christ Jesus.

Biblical rest is not passive, but rather active. Rest should be enjoyed with expectation of what God is going to do in light of everything He has already done. We must stay quiet and calm, but keep our minds and sprits engaged and our bodies ready with expectation for everything God is about to do. The very idea of rest implies that work has already been completed; in our case, the ‘work’ is Jesus Christ hanging and dying for us on the Cross. There is still physical (as differentiated from spiritual) work to be done, but it should be done in full view of the victory already won by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Any ‘work’ done with that victory in mind is, in fact, not really work at all.

Keeping in mind that we should always be at rest spiritually, there are certainly times when we should not be physically resting. Matthew 26:45 is one of those times:

“Then He came to His disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.’”

Here Jesus makes clear to His disciples that they should not be sleeping and resting, but rather keeping watch and remaining alert as He had just asked them to do (see verse 41). Rest is different from laziness, and it is different from apathy. We are called to intimately know God’s Word and His Will; it is only by accomplishing those goals that we can truly enter into a lifestyle of Biblical rest. It is only by thoroughly understanding the finished work of the Cross, which truthfully entails hours of work, study, and prayer, that we are prepared to rest. In the above verse, after waiting for His hour to arrive (see John 2:4), Jesus’ time to die had finally come. There is a season to rest and a season to work (or gather harvest; see John 4:35). Resting when we are supposed to be working is not acceptable, as the Bible makes clear in 2 Thess 3:10: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”

So how do we go about getting into rest? First comes trust. When we trust God completely and fully, we have nothing to fear. As the Psalmist states in Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” When we have nothing to fear, we have no reason to be anxious; and when anxiety has no part in us, we have rest (the absence of anxiety). Again, it is important to note that Biblical rest is not apathy, and it is not laziness. Biblical rest is knowing that “…all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Action may be required on our part to go out and accomplish everything God has laid out for us to do, but trust in God enables us to fulfill our calling from a posture of rest.

We can also be ‘refreshed’ by others. In 1 Cor 16:18, Paul explains that he has been ‘refreshed’ (allowed to rest) by his disciples. Paul knew that he could not be everywhere at once, and writing letters to all the church communities God had established through him could only do so much good. He needed trusted associates to help carry out God’s tasks, and could rest knowing that competent people were in charge of everything that he had left for them to do. We can encourage ourselves to ‘rest’ by surrounding ourselves with Christians who share the value we place on, and the passion with which we pursue, the things of God. We are not meant to live alone, and none of us is meant to accomplish the Great Commission as a solo act. It brings rest to know that Christian brothers and sisters are helping us to lead the charge.

Closely on the heels of the revelation that we can be refreshed by others should follow the realization that it is our responsibility to be refreshing. Philemon was a man who knew how to do this well. Paul told Philemon in Phlm 1:7 that he had taken “…great joy and consolation in [Philemon’s] love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by [Philemon].” If we can play an integral part in helping others to rest, we must endeavor to do just that. The Holy Spirit will give us even more thorough rest when we focus on loving, and giving rest to, others.

So, have a great weekend! We hope you get some rest.

-by Pastor Mike White