It’s always a choice.
And it’s always an act of faith.
Telling ourselves that we “can’t” rest simply means we won’t. There’s too much on. The baby is crying. The house needs to be viewed today or someone else will buy it. An employee just put in his notice and you have to go in to work on your day off.
But none of those or any other circumstances are a reason not to choose rest, because as we’ve seen, rest is not merely something you do. Rest is a discipline. Rest is the Son of God Himself. Rest involves work (and vice versa).
It is a choice we make – either mentally, physically, emotionally, or all of the above – and it is always possible.
True love is sacrificial. Gives of itself – as a choice – by putting the other person first.
True rest accepts that the sacrifice has been made, and receives it – as a choice – and puts your own wants and needs second.
You can choose rest when the baby is crying by asking someone else for help – someone in your house, a friend, or God Himself. You can choose rest when the house has to be viewed by accepting that if you don’t get to buy it, your life will not be crushed and ruined. You can choose rest when your day off turns into a working day by choosing to be thankful, and not allowing your mind to stew and broil and mutter.
Rest leads to other choices
Will I be grateful? Trust God in a hard place? Stop working when my mind is frenetically telling me I can’t ever stop?
One of my greatest challenges in rest came at a time in my business when everything was at a crux point. My business partner and I had decided to split the partnership into two separate companies. I was dissolving one company whilst also setting up a new one, dealing with solicitors and accountants and banks and funding companies whilst also trying to keep the current business going. One of my key employees put in his notice. A few clients had decided to change what work they did with us, but we also had more prospective new clients than ever before. And we had just launched a new online programme and were working on marketing it.
There were days when I would get up at 5, have my coffee and a short quiet time, start working at 6, and only stop twice to eat until 2am, when I fell into bed for a few hours to start it all over again.
It was a unique time, and I knew that it would slow down. Once the business split occurred, and the employee left, and the clients settled in, I wouldn’t need to work 20 hour days.
But one Saturday I realised that the only day I was choosing to rest at all was on the Lord’s Day. That was a habit built in, ingrained, and most likely a life saver for me. But what about all the other days?
Granted, I couldn’t take a full day the rest of the week. And I didn’t need to. The “six days you shall labour” concept had come home to me in a new way – and the most amazing thing was, I loved it. I enjoyed being so motivated to get up early and work hard and well.
So how would I choose rest on those days?
My mental attitude and choice
Like most of the 9 to 5 working world, when I was in employment, I was used to having Saturdays off. Our culture accepts that working five days a week is standard, and then you get “a weekend”.
Once I became a business owner I realised that weekends, and summers, don’t really exist. But I’d still take the odd Saturday now and then, or a bank holiday, because although there was plenty of work to do, my mental state began to change on a Friday when everyone was wishing each other a happy weekend and making plans with family or friends.
During this ‘crazy busy’ time of my business, on Saturdays I would plan to work all day. I’d get up at the usual time, perhaps take longer in the morning on breakfast or sitting outside listening to the birds or sipping my coffee, but then I’d get on the computer and start “working”. After a few hours, though, I’d discover that I hadn’t really achieved anything. I checked emails, replied to a few old ones, started about six things and finished none of them. I’d try to do something else – clean the house or go for a walk or watch a film – and then I’d find myself back in the office, pretending to work.
I may as well have taken the day off, but instead I kept going. I’d go out with friends in the morning, and it would be a gloriously sunny day. Instead of staying out, enjoying it, I would rush back to the house and achieve hardly anything – but I’d feel better (or so I thought).
The problem was not the work I had to do: it was my mental attitude and choice.
Because the next morning, a Sunday, I would do all the restful things my body needed. A few more hours’ sleep, sitting quietly, going for a walk, reading a good book, choosing to go to a friend’s house for lunch after church.
Why was I able to do that on Sunday, and not on Saturday?
The difference was my mental state. On Saturdays, I was worried. Ideas or concerns or plans would come into my mind, and I would mull them over. Take notes. Send emails. Work on systems.
On Sunday, when those things came to my mind, I consciously set them aside.
I knew that theologically, a day of rest was not only necessary but commanded. God knows better than we do how much our bodies and minds need rest, which was why He included it in the list of commands that even the rest of the world regardless of religion or beliefs consider to be standards of living. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Honour your father and mother.
Granted, most people – and most Christians – gloss over the fourth, the command to rest. But it’s still there, it’s absolutely necessary, and it is also the greatest gift we’ve ever been given.
A day off work, guilt free.
On Saturdays, I felt like I had to work. I ought to work. I had a full day with no clients and no emails coming in and nothing urgent – so it was a perfect opportunity. And it wasn’t Sunday, so I didn’t need to take it as a rest day. Therefore, I chose work.
But I didn’t choose rest at the same time.
He is the one who gives rest
My working-day situation is not the same as yours. For the mother of four children, or the health care worker, or the minister, all your days may blend into one, even Sundays.
You can still choose rest.
- Take mini rests throughout the day – either physical, or mental.
- Work in a focused manner, with no multi-tasking, and then stop.
- Take a different sort of day off now and then
- Ask for help. Pray, text a friend, ask a family member or colleague to take on something that is weighing on you.
- Look for opportunities to rest, and seize them.
- Choose to be thankful.
Making that choice is an act of faith. Believing that God will give you the rest you need, and bless the work you do.
There’s a passage in Deuteronomy which I love. It sets out so clearly how God will bless those who choose to obey Him. And it can be tempting to read it and think that the connection is immediate. “If I take this day off, then tomorrow I will get that new client.” “If I choose rest today, the baby will get well.” We know God doesn’t work that way – but He does, always, bless us for choosing rest.
It’s just that it may be a spiritual blessing you don’t get to see yet. Something He is at work on in your heart, and it takes months or years before you realise the blessing He has given.
That’s where the faith comes in.
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God:
“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
“The Lord will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
“The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you.
“And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
“And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.
“So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” Deuteronomy 28.1-14
It’s so specific. Blessing is coming in your work, your family, your house, your church, your bank account, your mind, your heart.
But don’t turn aside, and go after the gods of overwork, and worry, and fear, and self reliance.
“It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.” Psalm 127
He will give you sleep. He will give you rest. It is vain to choose anything else.