Years ago, we had an all-night youth event on New Year’s Eve. The plan was to stay up all night going to different venues in Salt Lake City. It sounds like a blast, right? I learned a valuable lesson that night, and that lesson has stayed with me ever since.
I learned that I don’t function well without sleep. This should be a no-brainer for most people, but when you’re young, you often feel invincible. Despite all of the fun activities we were doing, I wasn’t having a whole lot of fun. I tried surviving with energy drinks, but that was just another mistake. They made me sick and shaky. So now I was tired and sick. Not a great combination when you are responsible for a bunch of sleep-deprived teenagers! I ended the night hiding in a ball pit, praying for the sun to come up. Not my best moment in youth ministry, but not my worst either.
The story’s lesson is that we need rest for us to do what God has called us to do. Rest is a principle God gives us since the beginning of creation. “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1–3 ESV).
This idea of a sabbath has been lost to many American Christians. Our culture is to be always on the go. It seems like a competition sometimes to see who can be the busiest. We even do it to our kids. We put them in as many programs as we can afford and even more sometimes. We do this because there is always more to be done. Ironic, though, isn’t it? No matter how busy we are or how much we work, we are never done.
God rested on the seventh day not because he was tired but because the work was finished. There was nothing left for him to do but rest. I think this is why this principle of rest is something we don’t practice very well. The work is not done yet. “There is still so much to do; how can I rest?”
God is the only one who can finish the work. This is the lesson that God is ultimately trying to teach us. This is the point of the sabbath. We can sweat and strive and push and still have work to do, so we rest, not because our work is finished but because God is the one who finishes the work.
We have forgotten what it is like to be bored, be still, and know that he is God. The other day my son came to me and was complaining to me that he was bored. It was like the worst thing that could have ever happened to him. His expectation was for me to fix this for him, to let him use a screen or take him somewhere, but I refused. After he realized that complaining wasn’t going to change my mind, this amazing thing happened, he began to use his imagination.
I don’t think it was ever God’s intention for us to fill every second of every day trying to complete some task or trying to entertain ourselves. Yet this is how we spend most of our days, and then we often wonder why God seems so far away from us or why we can’t hear him anymore. We need to get away from all of the noise and connect with the God of peace. Where was Moses when God appeared to him in the form of the burning bush? He was alone in the wilderness. Where was Jacob when he wrestled with God until God blessed him? Alone in the wilderness. Where was David when God prepared him to defeat Goliath and lead a nation? Alone in the wilderness. The list goes on and on.
Jesus was the ultimate example to us when it comes to the concept of rest. As his ministry started, he was understandably swamped, and there was no lack of people demanding his time and attention. Still, in the midst of all of the craziness, we see a consistent pattern of Jesus getting away from it all to spend time with the Father. Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46 are just some examples of Jesus going to a secluded place to pray. If God in the flesh saw the importance of practicing this principle of rest, how could we possibly hope to survive without it?
I would be willing to bet that many who are reading this article are hiding in a ball pit of their own, praying for the sun to rise. Let me encourage you today by saying it’s ok; the Son did rise on the cross, and at that moment, he said, “It is finished.” Stop trying to do it all. Stop trying to please everyone. No, you shouldn’t be lazy, but you should also get away from it all and just enjoy the One in whom the work is complete.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). The rest is not for those who do nothing, but it is for those who have answered his call. Make this a part of your life regularly. A scheduled time to get away, go up to the mountains and just pray, be still, and know that he is God.
Trevor Rickard is an Associate Pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship.