If you’re anything like me, you know that you have to be intentional about learning how to rest. It’s hard for some of us to downshift. Some have a bent toward laziness and others a tendency to overwork. Phil Ryken has made the helpful observation that busyness stems from the same sinful root as laziness. Both are sinful manifestations of an idol of control. When we overwork, we are trying to control our own life and guide it to a selfishly motivated outcome. We are trying to secure what makes us feel good in life. Those who are lazy do exactly the same thing as those who overwork. If Satan can’t get us to try to do so by the vehicle of laziness, he will do so by tempting us to burn the candle at both ends. There is a sense in which just as those who are lazy need to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith and work hard at learning to work, so those of us who are inclined to overwork need to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith and work hard at learning to rest. In order to grow in our ability to rest, we must know ourselves. We must be able to examine the patterns of our thoughts and actions. After all, the Proverbs tell us that “the prudent considers well his steps” (Prov. 14:15).
Know Your Context
Additionally, if we are to overcome our sinful tendency to overwork we must first be mindful of the way in which our culture encourages overworking. Tim Keller, in his sermon “Work and Rest,” makes the following observation:
The most workaholic culture in the history of the world (that’s us!) dare not turn up its nose at any effort–even misguided efforts–to giving to people one of the things most crucial to making life even human, which is rest…The modern situation means that the eternal human need for rest is enormously aggravated. Let me give you four trends:
A. More and more, at least in Western culture, jobs are insecure. Jobs, whole departments, if they don’t perform and if they don’t turn profit, they’re eliminated. There has never been a culture where job security has been so bad.
B. There has been a lot of research done on the fact that where it used to be that people at the top of the company used to make maybe 10 or 20 x what people at the bottom of the company make; now, it’s more like 100 to 200 x. And partly as as a result of this, to some degree, increasingly, people who make large amounts of money and it’s expected to put in enormous numbers of hours–it’s just expected. If you don’t want to do it, there’s a line behind you. Whereas people on the bottom are having to take multiple jobs. So everybody’s overworked. It doesn’t matter where you are on the scale. In order to make ends meet, they have to take multiple jobs.
C. Technology. Ah, technology! You can work anywhere, which means now, we work everywhere. It means you can’t stop work from spilling out of every nook and cranny of your life.
D. Whereas traditional societies said that you got your meaning in life from your family, and through fulfilling a fairly prescribed social role–. And work wasn’t as important as that. You define yourself. There’s never been more sociology and emotional pressure on work.
Know Your Limitations
We are finite creatures. We were created to have limitations. Our great problem is the problem of accepting what it means for us to be creatures and not the Creator. When Satan tempted our first parents, he did so by insisting that they could be like God. Ever since the fall, the history of man is the history of trying to attain God-like status. Strange though some may find it, the Lord deemed it necessary for us to be told through the Psalmist, “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3). Overworking is one of the foremost ways in which we act as if we do not have creaturely limitations. Phil Ryken, in his article “Embracing Finitude,” draws out the major application of this point he says:
Embracing finitude also means living by faith. I need to trust that God has given me enough time to do the things he has actually called me to do. This doesn’t mean that I have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Nor does it mean that there won’t be times when, through my own negligence and sin, I won’t have enough time. If I squander the time God has given me, then I won’t have all the time I need to do what I’m supposed to do. But I still need to trust God for time as much as for everything else. Rather than stressing out over all the things I don’t think I have time to do, I need to live by faith, trusting God to give me the grace to do what truly needs to be done.
This is especially something pastors must learn. Ryken again notes:
I also need to trust God to take care of the things I don’t have time to look after. As a pastor, I get plenty of practice with this. Every week there are needs in the church that I am unable to meet personally. Some of them are needs I am not equipped to meet anyway. Others are needs that I’m equipped to meet, but not called to meet. Fortunately, God has made us one body with many gifts. No single Christian is designed or called to meet anyone else’s total needs. Only God can do that. But God uses his people—with all the variety of their gifts—to help do his work in people’s lives. It doesn’t all depend on me. When there is a need, often there is someone else who can meet it better than I can. So I simply need to trust the sovereign God to take care of all the things I am unable to accomplish.
Know the Work of Christ
We must not only know ourselves, our context and our limitations, we must have our minds fully convinced of the saving work of the Lord Jesus. Jesus worked for our salvation; then, He rested from His labors on the Old Covenant Sabbath as He lay dead in the tomb. In His work and in His rest, we have had our salvation accomplished for us. As Israel was commanded to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” as they faced what seemed like their inevitable destruction (i.e. trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea), so we are to do the same as we face the inevitability of the eternal judgment that we deserve for our sin. In the same way, Israel was told, on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), “you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all” (Lev. 16:29). When we hear the Lord Jesus crying out “It is finished,” and are told that “He by Himself made purification for our sins” we are assured that He is able to provide what He promised when He said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).
The effect of resting in the finished work of Christ ought to be a restful attitude in our everyday work and rest. William Still explained this so well when he wrote:
We must learn to act properly, with a due balance of rest and work, which we may say is to work from a position and attitude of rest…as Christians
we ought to live with a restful ease, even in busyness and in energetic activity, which not only ought to enable us to get through our work, but to do so more efficiently and therefore also more enjoyably. (Rhythms of Work and Rest, pp. 39-42)