When I was a graduate student studying (and teaching) English, my days were often full of work from start to finish. I had papers to write, books to read, assignments to grade, and lessons to plan. I discovered that after these long days, in the late hours of the night, I felt like I had not done enough. Instead of wanting to rest, I wanted to work more.
I knew, even then, that this urge was not Christ-centered but me-centered. During this time, I had my eyes set on my own glory as a writer and a scholar. A break was the last thing I desired, because it meant that I would have to quit working. It felt to me like giving up.
I felt flawed for needing sleep.
Five Truths to Help You Rest
Maybe you can empathize with this need for work. Maybe you struggle with it too. For me, it has revealed something more troubling than simply a lack of appreciation for a good night’s sleep. My need for work was a form of pride: I became too focused on my own laurels. And in my anxiety to improve myself through accomplishments, I failed to recognize the work that Christ accomplished for me.
The Bible illustrates clearly why rest is so important for Christians. When the Bible talks about rest, it highlights not only physical rest but also—and more so—spiritual rest. Here are some truths that I reflect on when I feel pride tempting me to place all my value in my work:
1. God’s perfect nature includes rest.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:3)
I was mistaken when I considered resting from work to be a flaw. How could it be a flaw if God rested? God not only rested but also blessed the day through it. How amazing is that? Genesis calls the seventh day holy because of God’s decision to rest. It was not another creation that demonstrated God’s glory, it was not an endless work ethic, but a decision to rest.
2. God gives rest to his people.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
Compare this passage to the truth that God gives good gifts (Luke 11:13). When God calls for us to “lie down,” it’s a perfectly good and edifying act. So why do I choose to reject his gift? This psalm seems to provide an answer: The path God leads us down leads to his glory, not ours. I know in my heart that when I want more than what God gives, instead of choosing to rest in what he has given me, I am leading myself down a path meant for my name’s sake.
3. Jesus’ mission included rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
Jesus’ words could not have been more counter-cultural. Many spiritual teachers at the time, on top of preaching the Law, gave their followers even more commands supposedly designed to help them sanctify themselves (Luke 11:46). We let this lie sneak into our theology as well. I often feel like I need to add accomplishments to maintain my right standing with God. But that idea misses reality completely. Jesus cuts all of this away and reminds us that salvation cannot come from our action, but from his action. Yes, we are called to do good works, and, yes, we must follow the Law, but Jesus came so we could do these things in a spirit of peace, not in a spirit of constant worry for our salvation.
4. Jesus died to give us complete rest.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:8-9)
Praise the Lord! The reason Jesus provides peace to those who follow him isn’t that he was an amazing speaker or leader. Christ died for us. He gave his righteousness to us as he took on our sins. How could I ever match the worth Christ gave me? It’s impossible. How the world sees me doesn’t matter, but what matters is how God sees me. Through Christ, God sees me as righteous. What need do I have then of working late, anxiously trying to accomplish more?
5. Heaven is rest.
…for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest… (Hebrews 4:10-11)
I love how the Bible describes our future paradise as “God’s rest.” Our true citizenship is in a place of perfect rest, and we glorify God when we rest in him while on earth. I love this passage because it calls us into a paradox: We are encouraged to strive for that rest. This passage seems to say that, yes, we should be working; we should be ambitious. But those movements should be leading us down paths that glorify God and honor Christ, instead of ones that are meant to glorify ourselves.
How does the knowledge of Christ’s work bring peace into your life? How can you be striving for God’s rest on a daily basis? Let’s strive not for our own fame, but for the rest that Christ gives us through his loving sacrifice on the cross.