Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest. ― Mark Buchanan, The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God
Taking it from Genesis on the day of creation, we find that God labored for six days, and on the seventh day, He rested. Rest is a creational principle. What a powerful illustration that is to a world that is frenzied and hurried in order to compete in today’s globalized economy. It is interesting that God gave a special and specific command in the Bible to put aside work and to just rest. (Deut. 5:12–15) What’s also interesting is that even secular studies have embraced the idea that we need to take a break and relax regularly on Sundays, considered as “rest day” for most of the Western world. Sundays, by default, is that one day where people take a day off and allot activities like shopping, family lunch out, playing and whatnot, not necessarily what it is to us Christians as a form of rest or spiritual edification. For most, Sundays is when things simply shut down so people could be with their families. We often hear people say, “I can’t; it’s family day”, and no other justification is needed.
Biblically-speaking, Sabbath was Saturday in Jewish context, and Sunday was the first day of the week. In our culture and context, and not being so dogmatic about it, Sundays is the representation of Sabbath, our own rest day. Our time with God. Therefore, Sunday is sacred. Of course one will argue, aren’t all days sacred? Yes, they are. God gives us one day to live everyday and so you ought to make the most of that one day. But out of all the days allotted for us, one day is commanded by God as a day of rest. God himself modeled this for us, and what a privilege it is to be given this priceless gift.
Of course, having laid these all out, you would think that Sundays would be totally restful for me. I found out today that Sundays don’t automatically become “restful”. Because like any other day, anything can happen. You always want to be in a state of chill, really, but some days are just….full. You know what I mean?
I had such a busy day yesterday, so much so that I finished everything I knew I needed to finish past 1:00 this morning. I divided my time between training a new staff and answering emails, between cooking a complicated but sumptuous dinner and finishing a powerpoint slide for worship service, between practicing for the music team and doing grocery. I was putting post-its all over papers with specific instructions for the staff so they know what needs to be done. It was such a busy but very productive day that I slept almost 2:00 AM and made a mental note to wake up in 5 hours. Of course, with the body protesting, that did not happen. I woke up at 7:30 AM, already in a state of rush. It was mechanical from this point: take a shower, brush teeth, dress up, put on make up, wait for staff to arrive. I squeezed in a short prayer to God to bless this day and to help me prepare for worship. On the side, do you realize how advantageous it is to prepare what you are going to wear for Sunday the night before? Sunday mornings can be crazy. Yet, despite having already prepared beforehand, I still had to do last minute changes (“why is this so see-through?!”)
My staff came a little late but I determined that it was still okay as I had already informed the music team the night before that I was going to be a little late for practice. I don’t like keeping people waiting. When I know I’m going to be pressed for time, I inform people as a sign of respect for their own time. Surprisingly, the roads were quite empty, so it took me just the usual 15 minute drive to get to church. I also uttered a short prayer at the stoplight. I arrived around the time I said I would arrive, and then it was just go, go, go, practice, practice, practice. I’m part of the music team as the keyboardist so we usually arrive an hour an a half earlier than everyone else.
When the entire worship service was done and I was on my way out for lunch with Rachel, it dawned on me how completely unnecessary it was to have rushed my way through worship today. It felt as if the lessons and truth of Sabbath were lost on me today. Sundays are not automatically “restful” by default. It is your attitude and your state of heart that makes it restful. It is your heart wholly rested in God, ready for worship, that makes Sabbath sacred. It was because I was such a control-freak perfectionist that instead of resting the night before, in my mind as I was sleeping, I was still thinking about work and making sure everything was done properly. No wonder my body protested. I couldn’t get proper sleep because I was restless with so many thoughts in my head the whole night. Even my rushed prayers didn’t help for the very nature that they were rushed –how could you get in a word of thanks when all you give God is a bullet-form list of, “Lord, please do this, do that?”
I shared this with Rachel, who I am discipling. I shared with her a message my mom sent us in the family facebook thread, about how she shared her ordinary day of eating healthy food and going about her usual routine, and the line that struck me was when she said, “we’ll take it easy.” For someone who is experiencing a medical concern, “taking it easy” sounds quite…simplistic. Overly simplistic. And yet my mom showed me exactly what was needed to be done. What is the use of rush and panic and adding stress and worry to your life when each day already has its own troubles? Very much echoing Jesus, don’t you think? Today has enough troubles of its own. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Couldn’t I have done that last night?
I realized that from my mom’s message, to today’s unfolding of events, God was reminding me of what real rest looks like, what real worship looks like. It isn’t rushed. It isn’t doing. It is being. Whatever stress I am feeling right now and how rushed my day becomes is a result of all that I do unnecessarily. We have to admit that oftentimes, stress is caused by our very own doing. I could simply entrust work to people (and perhaps also accept that they will not always be perfect –who is?! I’m not!) and also just let things run as they are free of our control, because not everything can be within our control. The beauty and sacredness of Sabbath is that it allows us to put aside all of that: worries, problems, work, thoughts, before the feet of Jesus, and just come as we are, ready to worship Him in spirit and truth. When you let the other unimportant things divide your time with God, you become restless and anxious, so how can you worship God this way?
Whether it is Sunday, your Sabbath, or any of the other days, I think it’s a principle I should live by. Free yourself unnecessary stress, unnecessary striving. Take it easy, trust God, and do the best that you can do for the day. Maximize today, and let tomorrow’s worries be for tomorrow. Pause, take a time out of a busy today to pray, to worship God. Let him bless the day and fulfill your work as excellently as you can. Then you can sleep soundly. Then you can be in a state of peace and rest.
This was a convicting and beautiful reminder to me today. I hope by my sharing this, it will also be to you. The Bible is full of encouraging verses on rest. Here are some I’m meditating on tonight:
Psalm 23: 1 – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
Matthew 11:28-30 – Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Hebrews 4:9-11 – There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
Isaiah 26:3 – Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.