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Rhythms of Rest

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“I’m busy.” That is probably the most common response we give today to the question, “How are you?” We are not fine, we are not bad, we are busy, and for good reason. Our culture is humming along at an unprecedented rate. Technological advances, in turn, lead to greater operating efficiency that results in more work that can be done and must be done in order to keep up with the competition. We live in a culture that values humans based on what we produce. The more you produce, the more you are valued, the better you are able to make a living. You are what you do and what you do will never be enough.


Recently, all of this caught up to me. I was concluding my last semester in grad school and I realized that I was on the verge of burn out. My professors had warned me about this, warned me to take time for self-care and rest. But I thought it could all wait. “It’s a busy season right now,” “I’ll be done in a few months,” “Just push a little harder, and then I’ll get some rest.” These excuses are just a sampling of my faulty logic at the time. The problem was, I had not stopped long enough to think straight. Rather, I just kept plowing on. However, it hit me one day when I realized that I felt constantly exhausted, perpetually behind on projects no matter how hard I worked, disconnected from the Lord, and disconnected from those around me. With this realization came the reminder that rest is vitally important, it is not just a day off each week, it is a rhythm of life that God designed us to live.


Daily Rhythms of Rest


Turning to Genesis we see that from the very beginning of creation, God was designing His world to be the dwelling place for human beings. To quote Dr. C. John Collins, “The author [of Genesis] is telling us that he wants us to see the making of the first human beings as the key to all the action here. In fact, we are to think of everything here in terms of its relationship to human life.”[1] What I hope to show in what follows is that part of this creational design includes rhythms of rest each day, each week, and each year.


One of the striking features of the first chapter of Genesis, at least to modern ears, is the refrain: “And there was evening and there was morning, the [number] day.”[2] This is no accident. In Hebrew culture, a day beings in the evening. This is still evident in Jewish communities today where the observance of Shabbat begins at sundown each Friday. The first days of this world teach us that each day begins with rest.


We begin each day by resting in the knowledge that God will still keep the world running, even while we are asleep. Indeed, even though we are at our most defenseless, we can trust God to keep watch over us so we can get the rest that we need for the day ahead. Listen to the psalmist: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”[3] A good night’s rest is key to the type of life that God wants us to live.


Woven into this pattern of rest is the truth that we are dependent on God for all the sustenance required for life in this world. Thus, we set aside time first thing in the morning and last thing at night to spend with God: anticipating the day ahead and reflecting on the day passed. Science, too, confirms that our bodies need this time: “Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead.”[4] Christ patterned this for us as He took time away each day to pray,[5] historic monastic communities factored this into their daily lives,[6] and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (drawing on this tradition) advises, “According to a word of Scripture we pray for the clarification of our day, for preservation from sin, for growth in sanctification, for faithfulness and strength in our work.”[7]


Weekly Rhythms of Rest


Moving back to Genesis, we see that God sets the pattern for how we are to structure our workweeks. Our rhythm of rest is expanded from each day to each week.


Six days we are labor and toil, but on the seventh, we rest. Like our daily rest, our Sabbath rest involves setting aside time to worship our Lord and profess our dependence on Him. While we do this throughout the week individually or with our families, on the Sabbath we do so with our local congregation.


It was during my time of near burnout that I was helped to see Sunday worship with new eyes. A professor at the time, Dr. Tim LeCroy, reminded his classes students that our call each Sunday is to trust that the Lord can do more with our six days than we can do with seven.[8] Therefore, in this act of faith, we come before Him, trusting Him to take care of all the anxieties of our week, and we worship Him freely.


Another professor, Dr. Dan Doriani, taught us that humans, like God, are more than just “doers,” we are more than our work. Indeed, we are spiritual beings who need to stop and reflect.[9] Yes, we do this daily, but more importantly, we do this weekly as a corporate body where “the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances are administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.”[10]


Finally, our Sabbath worship and rest is a time of preparation for the coming week. On this point author James K. A. Smith has had a profound influence on me, writing, “Christian worship is an effective school, a pedagogy of desire in which we learn not how to be spiritual or religious, but how to be human, how to take up the vocation given to us at creation.”[11]


I relate these insights, not as a conclusive study on what our Sabbath’s should look like, but as an offering of what our Sabbath’s could look like. I find that many Christians, myself included, are sometimes perplexed by how we should approach Sunday morning worship and what its relationship to rest is. I think these insights are a step in alleviating that perplexity.


Annual Rhythms of Rest


To conclude this survey, I want to briefly examine the last rhythm of rest that I see patterned in creation. In Genesis 1:14 we are told that the lights in the heavens were “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” Collins notes that this language is technical language, referencing the Hebrew liturgical calendar.[12] The idea behind the Feast of Booths,[13] the Sabbath Year,[14] or the Year of Jubilee[15] was not exclusively for Israel; rather, like our daily rest and weekly rest, it is also woven into the fabric of the created world.


The hard work remains to apply these ancient Israelite religious festivals to our modern context. While not exhaustive, I do have a few suggestions. First, we ought to begin by embracing our vacations with freedom. Having recently returned from vacation, I often found myself feeling guilty for resting and doing nothing. We need to rediscover the freedom to stop producing and relax. These times of vacation should also be times of thanksgiving where we can intentionally set aside time to thank God for His provision and care over the past year. Vacation also provides a good opportunity to fast from technology, powering down our laptops and setting aside our phones and truly unplugging. Finally, as in ancient Israel, I believe that these long periods of rest should involve feasting and communing with close friends and family.


Resting to Produce


My conclusion in all of this is that God has written cycles of rest into the code of creation and these cycles are not arbitrary, rather, they are, perhaps counter-intuitively, producing two ends. First, we rest so that we can go and accomplish our missional goal of being fruitful, multiplying, going forth into the world and subduing it for the glory of God. God designed us to rule over this creation, but He designed us to do so, not on our own power, but on His. We can only accomplish this mission to the extent that we do it in God’s way.


Related to the first is the second: these rhythms of rest are a liturgy, forming us to rely on Christ and find our true rest in Him. We are to be molded into a people who are completely dependent on our Lord. In Christ, we are not valued by our production. In Him, we are valued as beloved sons and daughters. It is not by our work that we can achieve this, it is only by resting in Him and abiding in the work that He did for us.


[1] C. John Collins, “Genesis & The Age of the Earth” (debate, Trinity International University, Chicago, IL, February 15, 2017), accessed April 5, 2017. https://vimeo.com/204244225.

[2] Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31.

[3] Ps. 4:8.

[4] Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz, “The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time,” hbr.org, March 17, 2017, accessed April 5, 217, https://hbr.org/2017/03/the-busier-you-are-the-more-you-need-quiet-time.

[5] E.g. Mk. 6:46.

[6] See St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict, trans. Carolinne White (London: Penguin Classics, 2008).

[7] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Fransisco , CA: Harper Collins, 1954), 85.

[8] Tim LeCroy, “Ancient and Medieval Church History” (lecture, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, Fall, 2015).

[10] WCF 25.4.

[11] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 205. Emphasis in original. It should be noted that “spiritual” in Smith has a different meaning than in the quote from Dr. Doriani.

[12] C. John Collins, “Genesis & The Age of the Earth.”

[13] Cf. Lev. 23:33; Deut. 16:13.

[14] Cf. Lev. 25:4.

[15] Cf. Lev. 25:8-22.

AUTHOR - Heath Salzman