All right, so we know we’re supposed to be diligent–to work hard–at following God’s commands. How in the world does rest fit into this picture? Does working hard mean working 24/7?
The short answer is “no.” Genesis 2 introduces the idea of rest right in the very beginning–God establishes the Sabbath by “resting” on the 7th day after He finishes creating. Quick note here: Does “rest” in this scenario mean cessation of all labors? Is God sitting up in heaven twiddling His thumbs? Obviously not. We are not deists (well, at least, I’m not anyway, and I don’t see how you can hold with the Bible and be a deist). God rested from creation and began doing something new–working in the world He’d just created. We see Him working in individual lives to drive history towards redemption.
Rest doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sitting on your hands for hours at a time. Frankly, that kind of rest sounds pretty boring to me! But we also see that rest is necessary. God establishes the Sabbath before the Fall. Rest isn’t optional. Speaking as someone who has lived like it is for far too long, we can’t live the life God has called us to without rest–if nothing else, our bodies break down.
Exodus 23:12 and 31:17 talk about how rest is so that we can refresh ourselves. I love how gentle and tender God is with us. Elijah has this amazing mountaintop experience: he has a showdown with the prophets of Baal in front of all Israel and God sends fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar (causing the people to start worshipping God again). Then he organizes the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. Then he settles himself on the mountain and prays for rain. The Spirit of God comes on him and he runs 20 miles, beating Ahab who was headed there via chariot. I’d be pretty tired by then. When he hears Jezebel’s threats, he falls apart. He heads to a tree in the wilderness and prays for God to kill him. You might think that God would tell him to trust, or remind him of all that God just used him to do. But no, this is how He handles Elijah:
He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:5-8 (NASB)
God lets Elijah sleep and feeds him. God ministers to his physical body. We also see this kind of tenderness with Jesus and His disciples. Mark 6:31 “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)” (NASB)
Rest is important and necessary. It’s easy for me to see my need for rest as a failing, but if Adam & Eve needed Sabbath pre-Fall, it’s not. And failing to rest is not just a bad idea, it’s a sin.