It is not uncommon. Under pressure at the office or on the job, at school or right at home, vacation can’t come soon enough. “Ah,” we console ourselves, “Three weeks away from it all, filled with hiking, camping, touring, biking, sailing and maybe even a trip to Disneyland.” When the vacation time finally arrives, we throw ourselves into our leisure, making the most of every moment, wringing every last drop of excitement out of our all too brief respite from the drag of our daily grind . . . and come home plumb worn out. We go back to work, lamenting the brevity of our respite, grudgingly facing the unwelcome demands of the job once more, trapped into knowing we have no other choice: it’s the only way to keep the wolf from the door.
Whatever happened to real, solid rest – the kind that refreshes our spirits so deeply it reinvigorates us all the way down to the very depths of our beings, or, as Psalm 23 would describe it, “restores our souls”? What happened is that we confused rest with respite, as if a 30 second timeout in the fourth quarter makes athletes as full of energy as when the game began. A vacation is merely a respite (which we all need, just like a good night’s sleep); it’s far from the kind of deep rest the Bible calls a “Sabbath.”
A warning and an example
Vacations don’t cut it; real Sabbaths do. No wonder our Father commanded that we practice Sabbath every week and he used plenty of words to insist upon it. Have you ever noticed that in the NIV, the Exodus 20 version of the 4th commandment is 99 words long? The final five commandments, all together, take up just 53 words. God has almost twice as much to say about remembering the Sabbath day than he does about murder, theft, adultery, lying or coveting combined, suggesting to us that one of the most powerful defenses against immorality of all kinds is (did this ever occur to you?) a soul saturated to the full with God’s kind of deep rest. And then, as if to give it even more firepower, would you observe that it’s the only commandment which reinforces its demand by insisting that we face up to the compelling reality that this is what God himself did, as if to both warn us that we best follow our Creator if we know what’s good for us, and besides, call us to humble ourselves enough to learn just how to do it from his example.
If you came home tired from vacation, or, more seriously, if you sense a weariness in your soul so deep that not even a full night of sleep (induced by medication), or a day of surviving demands (eased by your regular dose of Xanax) gives you the kind of relief you crave, perhaps it’s time to seriously reconsider practicing Sabbath as devoutly as you practice your yoga or fitness routine. In other words, have you ever considered fitting into the rhythm of your week, a 24 hour period where you stop living as a human “doing” and actually enjoy being a human “being”?
If you’re even slightly curious to keep reading, then let me be audacious enough to prescribe for you the pathway to deep rest: watch how God rested, and then, go and do likewise. The commandment makes it as simple as imitating God. Of course, where it gets complicated is trying to figure out just how God did it. But he has not left us without a description:
He finished his work.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing (Gen. 2: 1, 2a).
He savoured the goodness of his workmanship.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Gen. 1: 31).
He ceased from all working.
. . . so on the seventh day he rested (NIV footnote: ceased) from all his work” (Gen. 2: 2b.) . . . because on it he rested (NIV footnote: ceased) from all the work of creating he had done (Gen.2: 3b).
He separated this day from work itself.
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (Genesis 2: 3a).
Get 'er done!
Each dimension deserves such careful scrutiny, we’ll ponder them one at a time. In this issue I invite you to ponder that first element of God’s rest with me: He entered into his Sabbath by first having completely finished the work he set out to do during his “work week.”
In other words, in order to even enter into deep rest, we simply must get our work done first. The commandment is firm on this: Six days you shall labor and do ALL your work. Finish your homework, your housework or your assignments at the office. If you have work that was supposed to have been finished during your six days of labour, and could have been finished but wasn’t, due to your own procrastination, I can virtually guarantee this: that undone work is going to infect any rest you try to find on your “day off.” It will weigh on you. It will preoccupy you. You will be compromised!
I can just hear it already: “But my work is never done.” A mother’s work is never done. A farmer’s work is never done. A teacher’s work is never done. True enough, but then God’s work is never done either. Jesus said that his father was always at his work to that very day (John 5: 17). But, what was finished was the work of creating. That had been completed. It was true that much remained to be done in this creation. There was no pizza yet, or lasagna. Nobody had written poetry yet, and the only music came from birds because there were no violins. There was so much yet to do, which we call culture. But the work of creation itself was fully completed.
Every day has its task; every week, its duties; every meeting, its agenda. You want to know what really kills our rest? Work that should have been finished, and could have been finished, but isn’t finished. Unfinished assignments absolutely bar the way into joyful rest. So be like your Father. Do it. Get ‘er done, even if you have to work extra hard as your particular work week approaches its final day or hours. Nothing relaxes us more than being able to look back upon a truly finished task, be it anything from a reading assignment, having made the required number of sales calls, or having done our rounds in the hospital.
Savouring the finished work
The finest picture of such profound rest in Scripture is the utterly still body of the One who had just said, “It is finished,” lying quietly and calmly in a borrowed grave even while his spirit savored the joys of Paradise. Imagine the depth of his holy rest having fully drunk the cup of God’s wrath to the very last drop! Can there be any rest deeper than that? The wonderfully good news of the gospel is that, through Jesus, we are called and welcomed to enter into and savour that finished work. There is no richer Sabbath.
Sabbathing: Savouring the six
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