Strictly defined, “rest” is refreshing ease or inactivity after exertion or labor. Or so says dictionary.com. Simple enough, but the practice of rest is an elusive one in our culture. We, as a culture, have built in periods of rest like weekends, have unionized and collectively bargained our way into paid vacations and medical leave acts, and have erected monuments in the form of theme parks that pay tribute to the family vacation. Despite these things, though, most of us are overrun, overstressed, and underrested. Time is a precious commodity; one which we can’t seem to really get a handle on despite our best efforts.
Blame it on technology because we can now, at any moment, be connected to work responsibilities that we previously had to leave at the office.
Blame it on social media because it makes us seem busier than we really are because of the amount of time we spend on it.
Blame it on societal pressure that tells us that in order to have fully developed and well-rounded children they simply must participate in any and all activities available.
No doubt these are all contributing factors, but before we start assigning blame when it comes to our lack of rest, we had better make sure we know what rest really is. And the writer of Hebrews helps us with this:
“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).
It seems that when we define rest as inactivity, we miss what God intends for us, for rest is not simply a lack of action but instead much, much deeper. Rest is a state in which we live which we can only enter into through the gospel which tells us that because of what Jesus has done on our behalf, we can, at last, stop striving. We can live in a sense of wholeness and peace of heart because Jesus has finished His work on our behalf and for the glory of God at the cross. We don’t have to earn God’s approval; we don’t have to jockey for position; we don’t have to warrant any measure any more. It is finished, and we are the firmly established and beloved children of God.
This is true rest, and there are big implications to it.
It means that you can rest even when you are working. It means that rest does not necessarily mean sleep, for you can be wide awake and even physically tired and still be living in the knowledge of God’s acceptance of you in Christ.
And it means that leisure is a poor substitute for true rest.
You might go so far as saying that leisure can actually draw us away, if we aren’t careful, from true rest. That’s because pure leisure means we stop thinking; we stop reflecting; we stop celebrating what God has done for us in Christ.
So often when we are at leisure, it can act almost like a drug that lulls and dulls our senses. We use leisure like this, as a chance to forget our responsibilities and burdens, to escape the reality of the lives we are living. That stands in opposition to true rest in Christ which propels us forward to engage these real life responsibilities and struggles with the gospel. All the while thinking that leisure is really resting, we are using leisure as a very poor substitute for it.
Rest is available to us, Christians. Let’s not settle, though, for less than the real thing.