There are a lot of things in the Bible that are called “holy.” The articles in the temple. Fasts and celebrations. Offerings. God Himself, and by extension, the people of God. The word that means “set apart for special use” is applied to all of these objects. But the very first thing in the Bible that’s called “holy” is a day – specifically, the day of rest:
“So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation” (Genesis 2:1-3).
Interesting, right? Especially to us, who are generally people who look at rest not as a holy action but as an unfortunate necessity. We wish, at least at times, that we didn’t have to rest; that we could keep on working (or playing, for that matter). That’s what marks the people who really gidder done – it’s those who are able to, aided by caffeine patches and strong black coffee, push through their need for rest to meet the deadline on time. Rest, for us, is rare and elusive. What complicates the matter is that there are some things that we think are rest but actually are not. Here are three of those things that we should be careful not to mistake rest for:
Don’t mistake rest for… sleep.
It’s not a one to one ratio here. Just because you sleep, doesn’t mean you are resting. Taking a nap doesn’t mean that you are resting; it usually means that you are tired. True enough, exhaustion can remind us of our need to rest, but not always. Most of us don’t actually wake up rested when we sleep; instead, we wake up thinking about all the things we should have done instead of sleep, or else we wake up thinking about the next time we will be able to sleep again. Sleep, for us then, is not a matter of rest but simply a break from work. Our bodies shut down for a while but not our hearts and certainly not our souls.
Don’t mistake rest for… leisure.
This is a tough one because most of the time the whole reason we work is for leisure, first on the weekends and then eventually on into retirement. If that’s our mindset, then our highest aim is a life of leisure, walking along sandy beaches and fairways. That’s not rest; it’s laziness. The holiness of rest is not an exhortation to laziness.
Don’t mistake rest for… being entertained.
Everyone likes to stop thinking for a while, but here’s the problem: Entertainment is a drug that can dull our sense for a time. It’s a means of escape from whatever is causing us worry and anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with being entertained, but if we are using entertainment as a means of escape, then we’re not truly resting.
There is a component essential to true rest that none of these actions have in and of themselves – and that’s faith. True rest is enabled and driven forward by faith.
To get this, we need to see what the writer of Hebrews tells us about the nature of rest:
“Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).
A couple of things are helpful to see in these verses. First of all, the kind of rest described here isn’t so much an isolated instance but a state of being that’s lived inside of. Secondly, this is an intentional state we must pursue, making every effort to do so. And thirdly, true rest is only capable because of the gospel. And that’s the key.
Why are we unable to rest? Why can’t we put down the project at work? Why can’t we stop worrying about the future? Why do we stay up at night plagued with anxiety? It’s because we are failing to believe all the things that the gospel confirms for us:
– That we have nothing left to prove before man and God.
– That our identify is secure as a child of God in Christ.
– That God will give us our daily bread as surely as He sacrificed His Son for us.
– That come what may, we will never be separated from His love in Jesus.
These are the things that keep us from resting, and these are the things the gospel tells us. So how do you make every effort to enter this state? To live with a sense of rest? You do it by believing the gospel. And that belief moves us moment by moment, over and over again, into the firm conviction that we can lay our burdens on the back of Jesus. Real rest comes when we trust in and celebrate the finished work of Jesus Christ.