There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest… Hebrews 4:9-11
Ah, summer. School is out, or just about. Even if you don’t totally live by the academic calendar, the end of the school year is kind of a finish line of sorts. Usually by this time of the year, I’m tired, running on fumes and barely making it across that finish line. I don’t just look forward to a summer vacation, I need it. I need a Sabbath-rest.
But rest – any kind of rest, be it a summer break or annual leave at another time in the year or a regular Sabbath in each week – is elusive, especially in Hong Kong. We have unused Annual Leave days. There’s always something urgent and never a right time to go away. There’s a transition in your team or you go from one project immediately into the next, or you’re already behind and you’ll be even more so if you take time off. The list (of excuses) is endless.
We need to put aside the excuses and observe Sabbath-rest. Keep these points in mind as you think about your time over the summer or the second half of the year.
Rest is a spiritual discipline. The writer of Hebrews emphasises that we need to “make every effort to enter that rest.” It doesn’t come easy and it certainly won’t happen if we don’t plan it. If you follow a diet, if you exercise, if you have regular prayer and devotional time, if you tithe to the church and give to God’s work, if you prioritise family and life-giving relationships, if you work hard and also strive to have work-life boundaries in your schedule, then you are living a disciplined life. A life of discipline takes work and effort – and also requires rest in order to maintain it all. Remember that rest is not a break from doing all the other things – it’s a spiritual discipline just as important as the others. When you go too long without adequate rest, things (the other disciplines) start to slip and eventually break down.
Rest is an invitation. It’s hard for many of us to allow ourselves to rest. A friend who was near the point of burn out, recently confessed that she “wore busy-ness like a badge of honour.” Rest – especially Sabbath-rest – is not slacking off or being lazy. It’s not an extended break. It has a much higher meaning: it’s an invitation from our Lord Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29). If you were to receive an invitation from a head of state or some other VVIP, you wouldn’t turn it down. Jesus sees the situation you’re in and knows what’s best for you. Don’t turn down this invitation from Him to rest and lighten your load.
Rest needs to be intentional. Not all rest is created equal. In the same way that there are empty calories and unhealthy foods that satisfy hunger but aren’t good for you, rest is the same way. Binge watching your favourite TV show or having days of sitting on a beach doing nothing could be part of your rest, but don’t let it be the entirety of it. Plan to have some form of recreation and rejuvenation as well. This is the best time to turn away from the urgent and pressing things to make room for the good and healthy – and necessary – things that we don’t normally make time for. The passage from Matthew 11 above tells us that we find the greatest rest in Jesus’ presence when we respond to the invitation to draw near to Him. In your holiday or time off, don’t overlook your soul. What does your soul need in order to be restored and refreshed?
Rest reminds us that we’re not greater than God. God rested from His work. (What was His work again? Oh yeah, it was creating everything.) It’s easier than we realise to develop a Saviour complex. We think that it all depends on us, that things will fall apart without us, or that we’re the only one who can save the day. Sabbath-rest is an integral part of the created order of things and was built into the rhythm of life since the very beginning. God the Father rested and God the Son also rested. We are not following the example our Lord if we don’t make every effort to enter into Sabbath-rest. It humbles us, sets our priorities right, reminds us of the Lord of the Sabbath and is inextricably intertwined with worship of Him.
How are you doing, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Do you have adequate rest planned for the coming weeks or months?
Entering into Sabbath-rest is not just about taking a summer vacation. It’s about taking care of your soul all throughout the year.