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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Our efforts to impose rest on ourselves often fail. That’s because the problem is not one of having the right tools to get things done, avoid procrastination, etc. We can use these things, but it really starts with our hearts – and there is a problem in our hearts called sin – the consequence of our rebellion against God. Everything we do – work and rest, and the rhythm of Sabbath rest, takes on a selfish tinge as a result.
In the 4th Century a Christian leader named Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
It’s hard work being separated from God. God said it would be – sin meant we would have to toil to overcome thorny ground and survive. But we can find our rest in God. In Jesus, we have access to that rest once again, even though we opted out in sin. Jesus did the ultimate work of closing the separation between us and God.
We can once again join him in building his kingdom, in his creative work. We do this using the gifts he’s given us to work to build a better society, life-giving technology, strong families, new infrastructure and so on. Whatever is consistent with his plan and purpose.
And we can also rest in him, knowing that it’s his work we help with, and not our work to force by our sheer act of will. We can find deep satisfaction in knowing God is God, and invites us to work with him, rather than against him or instead of him. This says it nicely:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10 ESV)
It’s in knowing God is God, and we are not, that we find rest.
Said another way: It’s in knowing God, through Jesus’ work on the cross, that we find rest for our souls.
Challenge: Make a list of the excuses and reasons you’ve used to avoid rest. Pray about each one of these and turn them over to God in trust.
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.