We saw yesterday how God rested, and set out a rhythm for work and rest. Here we see God giving some of the reasons why it’s important for us to rest, and how it’s still God’s gift for all creation even though many years have passed.
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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 or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV)
He wants the Israelites to practice it, and to share it with those in their employ. Even their animals are included. But it’s more than that. It has to do with showing who their God is. God reminds them they were once slaves. The day of rest, the Sabbath, is a weekly emancipation from slavery.
They were being reminded by God, weekly, that they were created human beings, not pyramid building resources. Sabbath was part of their freedom – they belong to God, not pharaoh.
This is so important today. We can live in self-imposed slavery to career, money. Or fear. Or a form of slavery to work can be imposed by an exploitative company, a sex trafficker, a manipulative boss, etc.
Sabbath is a way for people who spend all week working to announce they are not just money making machines, they are God’s beloved children, and so they are free.
Yes, this is a limitation on work – it limits profits and production. And it wasn’t just weekly, the idea of Sabbath rest also applies to every seven years – when no fields could be worked. Imagine the statement of a nation that planned ahead like that, and took a year of rest to focus on other kinds of work. It would be very risky, but it was a way to show their trust in God, not themselves or their own risk management efforts. They may have been less productive, but they were free.
Question: How do you break free from the sense you are a slave to work? How can you show colleagues that there are more dimensions to your life than work?
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Last week we learned how we are made for work – when God created (his work) the world and us, we were meant to engage in work with him. But it didn't take long for humans to rebel against God and his plan for us, and now everything is not as it should be…including work.
We went off the metaphorical train tracks we described last week - God had given us a good context, direction and plan for life, but we decided to strike out for ourselves. We are now missing the context for our lives, and life is no longer integrated.
This is what happened after that rebellion from God, in Genesis 3:17-19
And to Adam he said, ...cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
God was stating the natural consequence of humanity's departure from him and his care - life will now be painful labour. It can take everything out of you - if you have ever tried to start something new, grow food, win a game, or lead people well, you know this is true. Things are never as easy as they should or could be. Something is broken in us.
We can also see this in our frustration with the little things. Things that should be easy can be really hard.
What followed is that humans clothed themselves in an act of self-protection, which we also see in them is trust and anger we regularly have for other people, especially those we work with.
The humans also started to blame each other, the rest of creation, and God. Sound like your workplace?
So how does work end up being broken today?
At one extreme, we can live for work. We can be driven by a goal, but the problem is those goals are always fleeting - the goal itself never lives up to its hype. We are always finding we arrive somewhere, only to be driven ahead by something more, or something better. The product never matches what was in your head.
Or work becomes pointless, running after something with no real value, simply because it’s the "logical" next step in a career path.
Or work becomes selfish, all about becoming famous, wealthy, or powerful, rather than producing or generating a good for society. We can start to break rules, hide things, or violate some ethics because we are so driven.
We always need to come back to the question of why – why am I working? Why has God put me here? Given me these resources, these skills, this power, this place?
Question: Why do you work? Whatever effort you exert – why do you do it?
Just in time for summer's blend of work and rest, Redeem the Commute is starting a new series of daily challenges to help busy people restore life to the commuting lifestyle. This seven week series will look at the meaning and purpose of work, rest, and ancient practices that have helped followers of Jesus to keep the two in perspective and balance for centuries.