What is Christian rest?

“And He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’ ” (Luke 6:5).

Americans are terrible resters. In fact, the common response to “How are things?” is, more often than not, “Busy.” And while seasons of life, specific circumstances and other factors can create seasons of long hours, the question for us in a rushed culture is: Are we resting like God intended? I want to take us through a fleshing out of what resting as a Christian ought to look like as we just sit in Luke 6:5 for a bit.

God set the pattern for rest.

On the seventh day of Creation, God rested. He didn’t need to; He has no limits. But He chose to cease His creative efforts and establish a pattern of rest we are to enjoy. Ultimately, that seventh day rest (called Sabbath) is meant to turn our hearts toward Him, knowing that in Christ we can cease our striving efforts and rest in the fact that God accepts and loves us because Christ’s work is perfect and perfectly satisfying.

And God was serious about what the Sabbath should look like:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:8–11).

Whether you believe this commandment is still in full effect for believers today or that the principle of rest and worship is to be kept as New Testament Christians or if you’ve never given it much thought, we all can and should agree that God is serious about proper rest. So the Sabbath isn’t just a reminder or pointer to Jesus. It also shows us that God created us for patterns of rest for our good and His glory.

God created us to rest.

We need sleep daily, and we need breaks from the regular routine weekly. The minimum amount of rest we need is right around seven hours. God created the night for the daily rest cycle. But when he set the pattern for rest on the Sabbath, God was demonstrating for us that we are in need of weekly patterns of rest. We weren’t created to just go and go and go.

Wayne Oates speaks of American workaholism like this: “The workaholic’s way of life is considered in America to be at one and the same time (a) a religious virtue, (b) a form of patriotism, (c) the way to win friends and influence people, and (d) the way to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
There’s a lot of truth there as to how we typically view work, but God actually would have us look to Him instead. And a day or time of rest is the perfect reset for our lives on a weekly basis.

Our rest is most full when we rest differently from the world.

This is an interesting one to assert, I know. But hang with me a little. We are commanded to be people of hospitality, community, togetherness, giving, sacrifice, etc. How can we rest when Sundays are so busy? How can we have people over and yet rest at the same time? How do these things bring joy and life without making us more tired?

Rest does not necessarily equal sleep. That’s an important distinction. A lot of those kinds of questions come from a heart position that sees obedience to the Lord as burdensome and exhausting. What if God strengthens us for obedience and gives us life and joy in that obedience at the same time? What if this is really a lack of faith in heartfelt obedience?

Rest is not necessarily a lack of action. We found something interesting when my wife and I started to obey and trust God in the area of hospitality, especially on Sundays. After our guests were gone, we felt refreshed spiritually though we were still ready to sleep physically. We are created to lean on God for the physical strength to obey, and He sustains our souls to complete that obedience in joy for His glory.

These things are not how the lost world defines rest. Rest in the prevailing culture tends to be extremely self-focused and isolationist at times. Don’t get me wrong; there are times where what we need is a nap or a solid night’s rest. 100%. Absolutely! But if we think that is the extent of our need, then we are missing something, possibly making an idol of work and failing to see God most clearly.

A couple questions to get you thinking practically for your life and particular situation:

  • How can I increase my service of other brothers and sisters with the means God has given me now?
  • In what ways am I making work (or school) an idol in my life rather than looking to God for peace and rest?
  • Am I being faithful in following God’s set patterns of daily and weekly physical and spiritual rest?
  • Is there a part of my schedule or recreational time that I need to adjust or be more faithful to manage in order to honor God in these other areas of rest?


James Hammack is a regular contributor to The Rope. He also is digital services manager for The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media. He also serves as worship pastor at Sovereign Grace Church, Prattville. He and his wife, Alicia, have three children.


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