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If you work without rest, you will burn out. If you rest without work, you will become slothful. To work and rest well makes a person complete. It is a beautiful dichotomy of wholeness—two components that lead to a contented life. An illustration of this dynamic duo of work and rest is the automobile industry.
You have probably heard that it’s not wise to buy a car that someone built on a Monday or Friday, though I’m not sure how you would know when it came down the line. The theory suggests that if a person builds a car on those two days, they are recovering from the past weekend or looking forward to the next one. This idea follows the instincts and habits of our society.
You can sum up the culture’s view of rest by the term “living for the weekend,” where the average worker works hard during the week and plays hard on the weekend. The result is a lack of enjoyment of work and rest because of a misunderstanding of the interrelatedness and codependency of both.
The effect on this kind of person’s soul is incremental discontentment that motivates him to try harder to find fulfillment, which is a pursuit that will never satisfy. He may go to inexhaustible lengths to fill the God-shaped void in his life. This weekend theology of rest is the theology of hedonism. In his view, work becomes the necessary evil that finances self-seeking pleasure.
Work is the means to the end rather than a part of a worldview that should bend toward enjoying and glorifying God in all things (Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 10:31). This work hard, play hard hermeneutic is a disjointed view of life that spawns perpetual dysfunction. There is ingrown-ness to this kind of thinking that uses people, places, and things for self-seeking benefits.
I heard a stat about a group of ninety-plus-year-old people. The question was if they could live their lives over again, what would they do differently? Out of the scores of folks surveyed, there were three top answers. I’m not aware of the priority of order, but these were their three responses.
Reflection, their last point, is one of the main operatives of the restful soul. Our society seems opposed to the notion of reflective thinking. We live too frenetically. The pace of life moves at the speed of the Internet. We have reduced our relating to each other to tweets, blurbs, and quotes.
To stop, think, and speak is becoming an anomaly in our culture (James 1:19). We have too much to do to slow down and carefully reflect on what we are doing. Reflection is not valued, in part, because we do not know how to do it.
Five-hundred years ago, we had thinkers. It was a job description. Imagine two kids talking to each other five centuries back about what their fathers did for a living.
Thinkers are a thing of the past. The doers have replaced the introspective job description. The doer gets things done, though he does not understand how to do what he does well because he does not set aside the time to rest and reflect (Genesis 2:2). He does not know the true purpose of resting.
Resting is not the cessation of work as though you are kicking your brain in neutral and doing nothing. Though the Lord rested, He did not disengage Himself from who He was and what He was doing. He worked while He was resting. Some people see rest as the antithesis of work rather than a component of it. They are not unrelated opposites but interrelated necessities.
The person who does not understand this will come home from “work” and check out of life. His goal will be to do something that does not require his mind, a perspective mistake. He will more than likely want to entertain himself with his preferred amusement.
The word amusement means without the mind. “Muse” means “mind,” and the letter “a” is a prefix that negates what follows—the mind. To muse is to think. To amuse is not to think. When the man comes home to amuse himself as a way of relaxing, he is not relaxing at all, though it may feel that way at the moment. It is like a drug addict who takes a meth trip to find relief from the stress of life.
Eventually, the addict comes back down to earth, and all his stress is still with him. He may have checked out, but he was not transformed, rested, or satisfied. He only wants more of his escape; he lives for the weekend. It’s more accurate to say this is an addictive soul, not a restful one. If he is wise, he will realize he has not escaped anything, but he entered a vicious cycle of work and rest that has captured him.
The worn-down person needs to spend more time in reflection, thinking about his life. His job does not allow him to do this. His goal must be to reclaim what life has taken from him. Rather than succumbing to the demands of life by disengaging, he needs a new strategy. Like most tired folks, he has this notion that doing nothing is the answer.
To do nothing is to do something that will never satisfy. To do nothing does not reclaim anything. It fakes out the brain into thinking it is resting when it is not. A wife will talk this way, too. The daily pressures of her responsibilities overcome her. You will hear her say, “I just need a break. A weekend away would be great.” In a temporary way, she is right, but it won’t change what she hopes will change.
Like the drug addict, a break would allow her to check out of her responsibilities, but it would not transform her with the fortification she needs to persevere in the duties that await her when she returns from the trip. Within a day or two of reentering the fray of her life, she will experience exhaustion all over again. She will be ready to take another break, which is not how the Bible teaches us to rest.
Therefore, let us strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11).
The Lord warns us not to stop striving to find rest. Rest requires work, and if you work well at it, you will discover the perfect sweet spot that sits between work and rest. Because work takes a toll on the soul, you must know how to be proactive about how you rest. There is a rest for the people of God, but it only comes to the person who works at it.
The husband who comes home with a plan to serve his wife will enjoy a restful home. The father, who thinks about how to engage his children, will build a peaceful home. Laziness and disengagement will not accomplish either of these things. The complaining wife, who lets everyone know how exhausted she is, will not find rest, and neither will her family.
There is a counterintuitive element to this kind of thinking, as there is with all gospel-informed living. “To work to find rest? How can that be?” You might as well ask, “Will I live if I die?” (See Matthew 16:24-26). The way of the gospel-centered life is counterintuitive to the self-centered person. Take the three illustrations about the husband, father, and wife.
The husband comes home, not giving any thought to his wife or how he can serve her. Now multiply that kind of self-centered thinking by ten years. You also have to insert the other areas of his self-centered in his life. Laziness and selfish habits will not isolate only in his marriage. There will be an “all about me” assault on all the spheres of his life, which will accelerate his home toward dysfunction.
The father who continually checks out of his children’s lives will reap a whirlwind of anger and rebellion from them, plus a broken heart if he cares at all. In response, he may spend more time on his job as a means of escape from his home life. He will become a slave to his career while disengaged and mired in selfishness at home.
The wife with a complaining, grumbling, criticizing, and negativity patterns in her life will sow seeds of discord and division into her family. They will walk on eggshells, never knowing if they have met her expectations. One teen counselee told me that they would phone ahead to a sibling to see how things were with their mom before coming home. There was no rest in their family. If these are ways to unrest, what is the path to rest?
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the Lord wanted them to set up memorial stones to remind them of His great work in their lives. He did not want them to forget what He did for them (Joshua 4:1-7). Work should anticipate reflection for redemptive purposes. It reminds me of how I feel after mowing the lawn. Typically, I will stop to take in a few minutes to enjoy my freshly trimmed yard. It brings satisfaction to look over my work and rejoice in its accomplishment.
Do you see the interconnectedness to work and rest? The Lord made us for work but not just for the utilitarian purposes of working. Doing a job is more than just getting a task done, whether it is the work you do vocationally or the work you do to build your home. To do a job and not enjoy it is detrimental to the soul. The Lord wanted the Israelites to remember and appreciate what He did through them.
An aspect of hard work is sitting back and reflecting on the good Lord’s strength that enables you to do those tasks. Don’t be that utilitarian guy who moves from task to task without taking the time to think about all God did through you. If you don’t enjoy His perfected strength in your life, your job will be just that—a job. You will soon exhaust yourself through purposeless grinding. If you work hard at your job and work hard at your home life, you should be able to sit back and rejoice in what God has done through you.
The sequence is that you work, rest, and rejoice. These three things make you complete. Rejoicing in the work done is one way to express gratitude to the Lord. You are acknowledging that He is the one who gives you the power and intelligence to accomplish any task. The person who works hard at work and works hard at rest will be the most grateful because he has experienced God’s grace in all areas of his life.
He has found the sweet center as work, rest, and rejoicing encircle his soul. He understands the interrelatedness and codependency of work, rest, and rejoicing. He faithfully labors at work and rest, and he enjoys the Lord’s benefits and empowering favor on both endeavors. His response is gratitude for God’s mercy on him.
When a person works hard at work and works hard at rest, there will be fruit that makes the heart glad. If the disengaged husband or father and nagging wife worked to change, they would find rest for their souls rather than stirring up chaos. Their family would be at rest, too. They would have a peaceful home—a grateful one. When the fruit of this type of “work, rest ethic” materializes, there will be a newfound rest, even while they toil.