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  • Reverend Ivan Liew

a rhythm of rest

Updated: Jan 8

Many of us struggle to maintain a healthy balance between the important demands of work and our physical and emotional limits. For you, “work” may be the never-ending demands of being a stay-at-home mum, the unrelenting hours of your job, the drive to excel in your studies, or the pressures of full-time Christian ministry. We try balancing work with rest and recreation, sometimes with a dash of guilt thinking that if we rested less we could do a little more.

Rest is God's Command

Work can be a wonderful gift, given to us by God to provide for our families and join Him in His purposes. From the beginning of Creation, God has invited us to join Him in His work (Gen 1:27-2:2), and this continues today with His invitation to be part of His mission of reaching the lost and restoring justice. All this is good and needed work, but from the beginning of time God also mandated a rhythm of rest for us.

God demonstrated this rhythm Himself when He rested on the seventh day of Creation (Gen 2:2-3). Thereafter He commanded a rhythm of rest on the seventh day called the Sabbath (Ex 16:26-30). However, the Sabbath rest is often either neglected completely or followed so legalistically; its true principles have been forgotten.

Rest is for our Good

Jesus came up against the Pharisees’ practice of Sabbath on several occasions. They accused Him of breaking the law when He healed on the Sabbath and when He and the disciples picked grain as they walked through the fields. In response to their accusations, He gave a crucial spiritual principle: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Jesus meant that God’s rhythm of the Sabbath was created for our good, because He knew that would be best for us. A rhythm of weekly rest — 24 hours away from our “work” — is essential to us fully experiencing the best that God has for us. We are more effective, fruitful and joyful when we have a rhythm of rest and recreation.

Rest is Hard Work

Ironically, Christians have a difficult time practising a rhythm of rest. Perhaps you might resonate with one of the statements below:

1. I feel better when I work!

You feel more fulfilled, rewarded and valued when you work than when you rest. Perhaps home isn’t peaceful, you lack non-work relationships, or you don’t know what to do when not working. You used to have memories of recreation and hobbies that you enjoyed, but that was a long time ago. Musical instruments or sports equipment have grown dusty. But deep inside, you know this isn’t healthy in the long-term. There has to be more to life than work!

2. I have FOMO or guilt when I don’t work!

You feel the cultural and societal pressures to do well and have a good work ethic. Somewhere along the way, this might have been taken to the extreme where nothing is good enough, so you feel guilty if you’re not working or studying all the time. Bad theology or misinterpreted teaching may have settled in head and heart. “I’ll rest when I get to heaven!” say some driven Christian leaders and “giving our best to God” can be misinterpreted that serving is always better than resting. You know you're ignoring the need for rest, even while running on empty.

3. I can’t afford to rest because work never stops!

You feel that the buck stops with you and the needs never end. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, a missionary, self-employed, or in senior leadership then you’re in this high-risk category. You may feel you can’t financially afford to take a day off, or that taking a break will cost your team its success, so you feel pressured to keep working all the time. Some situations are seasonal, such as when we have young children. However, you may feel this way all the time. You want to rest more but you also feel you can’t afford to stop.

All these reasons (and many more) may contribute to why it’s hard for us to rest. It’s important to be self-aware and honest when we are using work as an escape or an excuse, when our lack of rest is a lack of trust in God, or when we wrongly position ourselves at the centre of others' lives. These are often the roots of why resting is hard, and getting to the roots allows us to build better, godly habits.

Rest brings Joy

True rest is intended to bring us joy! Jesus was extremely busy with intense people ministry, discipling the Twelve, and managing conflicts with those who opposed Him. Yet He had a regular rhythm of carving out time to rest.

We sometimes over-spiritualize this and think that God's version of "rest" must be times of prayer and worship, but Jesus practised many different ways of "resting". Prayer was indeed a priority that undergirded His whole life as He regularly went to solitary places to pray (Luke 5:16), but He also spent time alone to tend to His emotions and grieve (Matt 14:13). At other times, rest was with a group of closer friends, away from the crowds (Mark 4:36), and He encouraged the disciples to do the same when things got too hectic (Mark 6:31). Jesus also took time to eat, recover from exertion, and sleep (John 4:6, Mark 4:38).

Find your Personal Rhythm of Rest

Every person is unique and may find rest in different ways, but a good rhythm of rest tends to the physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of us. I think of three principles when it comes to cultivating healthy biblical rest:

1. Do something different from your regular work

If you work a lot with people, then spend time tending to yourself. If you’re in the office all week, get outdoors and get moving. If you’re constantly running about, then have time where you intentionally slow down. You’ll be a better and more whole person.

2. Find something you enjoy

Some of the best ways to rest are doing things that invigorate you. Some of us like to create things with our hands, like painting or pottery. Others of us like the challenge of fixing things, or the endorphins from physical exercise. Not all leisure activities are restful and healthy, so choose wisely.

3. Pray in creative ways

Prayer is pivotal, but don’t restrict yourself to a narrow view of what it looks like. Prayer is simply communing with God. You can talk to God when you’re on a relaxing walk or bike ride, journal and write your prayer thoughts in a cafe, pause throughout the day and be thankful to God that He wants you to rest and rely on Him.

We could talk more about special times of rest like spiritual retreats, vacations or sabbaticals. There are even times of enforced rest when God reveals a medical condition, an emotional trauma, or a mental health issue that He wants us to deal with. A regular rhythm of rest is the foundation upon which we build our understanding and practice of other times of rest.

What is one thing you can begin doing this week that will get you on the path of practising a more regular rhythm of rest? Take a moment to talk to God about it, and journal down what the Spirit says to your heart.

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