Ever since this year began, one thing that I’ve been learning is the value of Rest and what it is. Little did I know that in a couple of months most of the whole world would take a compulsory break. Many are working from home, some are laid off from work, and some are alone or with their families.
In this short series I’ll be writing about Rest and why it’s God’s intention and provision for us all. You can get the whole lowdown in the Twitter threads I wrote earlier this year here and here. I just thought I should bring it here as well, including what I’ve learnt since.
There’s so much activity around us these days. On and off the online superhighway there’s so much news, so many trends to engage with, mouths to feed, work to get done, deadlines to meet, expectations to reach and goals to, well, score I guess. It can be so overwhelming sometimes. I for one can identify.
The Net used to be my avenue for fun until work moved here this year. I found myself weighed down and overwhelmed. I just don’t seem to have the capacity for so much information and trending topics, with conspiracy theories sewn between. Deadlines whizzed by like traffic, horns blaring an’ all 😅, and I knew I needed a break.
This makes me to better appreciate the concept of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath, or Shabbat, is a Jewish tradition dating from the time of Moses. The seventh day of each week was set aside as a holy day of rest. It was one of God’s commandments to the Jews in separating them to be His very own people. In Exodus 20:8-10 He said,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
It is still the hallmark of Orthodox Judaism to this day.
Shabbat means ‘rest’ or more correctly, ‘ceasing from work’. See, that was the point. They could do all their work for 6 days but on the 7th day, all work was to cease. Even if it was harvest time, they would either harvest their crops before Shabbat or after Shabbat. As soon as the first star was seen in the sky, families would gather in their homes for the Shabbat meal, commemmorating it with a prayer of blessing. The day of rest would extend until the next evening, and thus Shabbat was done.
Note that this was not idleness. It is rest from work.
Now I’m not advocating the Sabbath day as a rule for all, no. It was an instruction as part of a covenant relationship God had with the people of Israel only. But, like with much of the Law, it was for their hygiene and well-being as well. If we understand the essence of it, it would be of great blessing to us because of what it tells us about ourselves, our work and of God’s nature.
And this is the three-fold essence of Shabbat as I’ve come to learn it.
– Rest for you
– Rest for your field (Note that I didn’t say ‘rest FROM your field. There’s a difference); and
– You know what, this is the best of the three so I’ll leave it for the end.
Shabbat is Rest for You
You need rest.
Our bodies need rest, and the Israelites were no different. They were a majorly subsistence and agrarian society at the time of Shabbat’s origin, so much of their work had to do with their survival. They relied on their fields and crafts for their livelihood, for their food and shelter and as a basis of commerce. They NEEDED to work to live, yet God was telling them to leave it for 24 hours.
It’s kinda like us today. We have needs to provide for, mouths to feed, and deadlines to meet. But if we stay in the constant grind of work it becomes slavery: a curse, far from God’s intention for us. We need a break even if we don’t feel like it. Unless there is a law some of us won’t stop working because we NEED to work.
This is one of the reasons I’m extra thankful for the concept of the Weekend, a legal break from work.
Do you know that the word holiday came from the term holy day? Or that the origin of a five-day workweek and 2-day weekend was tied to the need of Jewish workers to rest on Shabbat? (Check it out, it’s worth googling) It gradually extended to others, and Saturday and Sunday became legal holidays.
Just like Shabbat gave the Jews an opportunity to spend time with family and think on their covenant with God, weekends and holidays give us the opportunity to look at the things that matter apart from our work. To spend quality time with family and friends. It affords us the opportunity to see life as something much bigger than the bubble our work squeezes us into. It’s why when people go to relax they say they need to ‘unwind’.
When we are well-rested, we can go into the new week refreshed.
Just like the beauty of music is in the sounds and the pauses between, life and work are best enjoyed when there is a rhythm of rest even in a schedule of work.
Shabbat is Rest for your Field
Rest is necessary FOR the work you’re doing.
I first learnt this from the concept of the Sabbath years given in the Old Testament for every 7-year interval. After every 7 years, God instructed, the land was to rest from all tilling and cultivation. For a whole year!
Exodus 23:10 and 11 says
“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.
I constantly look at that and wonder how they would have eaten or coped during that Sabbath year.
I imagine that they would have had to become more creative and strategic. In the time leading up to the Sabbath year they may have worked extra hard to have an abundance to enjoy in the seventh year. For money they may have had to explore other crafts like carpentry and pottery to make a living, opening their minds to other possibilites as opposed to the monotony they were used to.
I believe God, the primo Creator who paints the skies, loves variety! But that’s a discussion for another time.
The Israelites may have enjoyed a ‘Garden of Eden’ experience, where they are eating without cultivating or planting. For that one year they ate without working because the work had been done. The land was fruitful. That’s some rest.
I have found that when I face my work only for a long stretch of time, I lose the passion and drive that called me to it in the first place. When we see our work as our sole supply and focus it puts more pressure on it than it needs. Like driving an 18-wheeler on a road made for bicycles, the road will wear down until there are more potholes than roadways. Productivity suffers when there is no passion or capacity.
Whether it’s a 9-5 or freelance work or a creative endeavour, this still applies. I have seen it in my work too. When I’m overwhelmed I take a walk, or spend time with family and friends. Anything worthwhile to keep me away from the work. Sometimes my weekly meetings with church are my opportunity to cut loose and relax (And any of my church fam reading this can tell why my dry jokes come easily when I’m with them. It’s me unwinding, really.) And when I do return to the work, my mind is refreshed and rested. The time has afforded me the opportunity to consider and reconsider ideas. Some alternative methods of getting the work done have passed through my mind, or I have sought counsel from another who knows how to do it. Either way, I am coming back to it better because my mind is less burdened.
My mind is refreshed because I rested.
Because, you see, my mind is the field of supply, not the work itself. The work is just a medium to bring out what God has placed in me into a substrate (a job, or assignment, or task) in which it can be fruitful.
This is, in a sense, why academics go on a leave or vacation that is aptly called a ‘Sabbatical’. It is an opportunity outside of the grind of their usual grounds, so they can learn and practise in their field in a different environment. They are still working, but the novelty adds colour to an otherwise drone of monotony.
There are targets to meet and fulfil, but be deliberate about taking time to rest. Not all of us can afford to rest on weekends, but make the time. I know someone who I was told takes his rest on Mondays due to the nature of his work. Some take periods of rest everyday, which I also encourage.
Either way, for the field (your mind) to be refreshed, take time to rest.
The Core of Shabbat
So far I have looked at the essence of rest for you and for your mind for your work. But here is the best part, which gives meaning to the previous two.
OK, here we go.
God patterned the Sabbath rest after His Creation Story of Genesis 1 and 2. After working in creating for 6 days He rested on the 7th day. In asking the Israelites to follow this pattern He was inviting them to share in a pattern that had been exclusive to Him alone all this time!
Shabbat is God’s invitation to Himself.
Shabbat is an invitation to faith. It beckons us to a way of life where our trust is not in our work or livelihood or our abilities and limitations, but fully in God. That way we would see all these other parts of life as channels through which God, our True Source, can supply every need of our lives.
And, oh, Shabbat is a shadow of a deeper reality that Jesus called us into as He whispered, “It is finished.” Or as the Contemporary English Version put it, “Everything is done.”
Now all who enter in can face life’s battles, and indeed face all of eternity, from the Victory that Christ has already won. Living as something more than conquerors. It’s a life we gain access to by trusting our lives to Him, with the promise of seeing and experiencing greater and greater expressions of His glory in us through us and around us as we go deeper and deeper in Him.
Like in Romans 5:1 and 2 Paul wrote,
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Shabbat has always been about God calling us to His own domain of rest. As if God called us to visit Him for lunch, so we can experience what His kind of life is like.
And in Jesus, He opened the doors wide open so we’d never ever have to leave. In Christ, God is our home.
Hebrews 4 lets us know that there still remains a Rest for the people of God. But didn’t we enter that rest when we came to Christ? Or is that Rest Heaven?
Well, yes and yes. This Rest is an eternity with God, but it’s also the experience of the journey towards that. Truly, eternity with God begins when we accept God’s gift of eternal life in Christ, but the fullness of this will be when we are present with the Lord either in death or at His Return. There is really nothing like it, and it is absolutely something to look forward to.
Until then, it’s a crescendo of a journey as His lifestyle of Rest invades ours.
Even as believers sometimes we have those Martha moments (not the Batman “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!” kind 😉. But the Luke 10:40 kind). I can personally identify with Martha in that story much of the time. I have those moments where legitimate work and needs cloud me from the value God has for us outside of it in the quiet stillness, opening the door to pressure and eventually missing the point of what God is saying or doing. And that, missing God’s point, is sin and the root of all sin.
Trusting in His ability. Submission to His Lordship. “Not my will but Yours.” This is His Rest. Anything outside of this is disobedience and causes us to miss out on the Life He’s provided for us.
So I’m learning to live from this place and understanding. To live from His rest and, in my work, take time to rest. To work in and from peace, not the pressure of fear or loss.
His Perfect Love casts out all fear. There is no fear or pressure in love.
Living from that assurance that God is for you and that He loves you, that’s rest.
The Sabbath of the Lord is not bound to a day but for all eternity. The 7th day unended.
Jesus beckons us in. He says,
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 NKJV
It’s an invitation for all to enter.
Have you entered?
Thanks for reading!
I’ll continue this subject next week with ‘Breaking the Sabbath’ (and now you’re probably like, “Wait what?!”)
I’ve also got something planned for writers in my own journey that could be of help. Should be this week.
😁 See you then.