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rest and preparation

You may have seen the meme but if you have not seen it, you have certainly felt it at times. It comes in various forms, often with pictures intended to garner a knowing smirk, but its basic gist is this:

The first five days after the weekend are always the hardest.

Whenever I see this it always elicits a chuckle as I have experienced some really hard weeks in my adult life, knowing that the weekend was supposed to be the time to recover. Then I bought my first house. Suddenly weekends also meant lawn care and home repair and organizing the boxes of stuff in the basement and re-organizing the garage. I quickly learned the truth of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation about owning a home.

A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life; he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

After working a long week, the meme suggests the weekend is supposed to be our reward, yet how many of us find ourselves working on the weekends for our homes? We don’t even get paid for working on our homes; doing so costs us money. Where is our rest? Where is our reward for our hard work all week long?

What if this is the wrong perspective? What if the weekend—days off, really—is not a reward for a job well done, but something else, something far more important? To understand the real import of the “weekend”, we have to look at its origin. We call it a weekend, but the truth is it is both the end of the week (Saturday) and the beginning of the week (Sunday) and herein lies a big clue as to the real purpose of rest.

Consider the creation story. In Genesis 1 the author describes God’s creative acts. On days one through five he created the universe and the planets, the earth and plants and all the creatures that live in the seas. Then on the sixth day God created land animals and, last of all, God created man. After each of the first five days God declared that his work was good. After creating man on the sixth day, however, Genesis tells us that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”. Then we come to day seven.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:1–3 ESV

One thing that is clear from the creation story is God created humans with the responsibility to work. Adam was directly tasked with working the garden and keeping it (Genesis 2:15). Eve was directly tasked with assisting Adam in his work, as the only creature among all God’s creatures equal to Adam, and therefore “fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

If anyone were truly and properly rested, it would be the newly created Adam. Imagine him on his first full day in the garden of Eden. He had never worked a day in his life at that point. Nothing would have him drained of energy. No stress from, well, whatever working the garden and keeping the garden entailed, would have been weighing on him. His body was perfect. It functioned perfectly. His DNA was created directly by God and so had no errors in it. He was in every way a perfect human being with a perfectly functioning body. If anyone were ready for work, it was Adam on his first day—except Adam’s first day was God’s seventh day.

This means that God created Adam on Day Six and on Day Seven God rested with Adam. What on earth was Adam resting from? Adam wasn’t resting from something; he was resting for something. Rest is not a reward for a job well done. Rest is preparation for a job to be done. Did you hear that? Rest is not a reward for work that you have already done, but rest is preparation for work you have yet to do.

Adam rested with God on his very first full day in the garden, in anticipation of the job that lay ahead of him. By resting from his labors, God was demonstrating to Adam that Adam needed to rest for his labors. To say this another way, rest is supposed to come before work, not after.

We were created to work. I do not mean that work is what defines us. Far too many get their identities from their work, whether through a job title or an income or a sense of accomplishment. While the idea of a person sitting around all day and doing nothing is utterly contrary to the Scriptures, work is not the thing that defines us. This is part of the reason God had Adam rest on his first full day. Adam had a job to do, but his primary purpose in this world was to walk with God, and so God and Adam rested together.

This principle of rest is a necessary one for human health and productivity. Our lives ought not be measured merely in terms of what we produce, yet being made in God’s image requires that we engage in productive activities, whether in the workforce or in the home. These productive activities can be described as creating order out of disorder. This is what underlies God’s instructions to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). They were to take the raw materials of this world and improve them. We need to be fruitful in our endeavors.

The idea of rest in the Ancient Near Eastern context in which Genesis was written is that God ceases his work of bringing order out of disorder. On the first day he created the material universe and then brought order out of the formlessness and void of the raw planet (Genesis 1:2). By resting on the seventh day, God was disengaging from his work, indicating it was already accomplished. When Adam rested with God, there was the implicit trust that God had, indeed, brought order out of chaos and the entire cosmos remained firmly under his control, though he was resting from his “labors”. By resting before he even began his work of subduing the earth further, Adam was indicating he trusted in the ongoing stability of the world, which is to say he trusted God completely.

When we rest from our labors, we must do so in faith, trusting that the world will not actually fall apart without us. While there may be a bit of chaos in the office or in the shop when we’re gone—or worse, when we get back, the world will keep spinning. Day and night will continue to alternate. The Lord will remain in control. When we return from our rest we have to bring order out of a bit more chaos than there would have been without us resting, yet we must rest for doing so is our expression of faith in God who controls all things.

Rest should be an act of worship. We should regularly disengage from our labors so that we might be refreshed and prepared to engage in that labor again. By stepping away from our work, we express our faith in God. We demonstrate our complete reliance on him, for when we rest, the world will continue, just as it did on the seventh day when Adam and God rested together.

What this rest looks like is entirely dependent on the sort of work you do. I was given advice years ago to find a hobby that was completely unlike my ordinary work. If you dig ditches for a living, digging holes in your backyard probably won’t be restful. Maybe writing poetry or reading epic sci-fi / fantasy would be, as these are quite different activities from the back-breaking labor of digging ditches. If you write poetry for a living, digging holes—well, any activity that involves manual labor—may well be refreshing to you as it allows your mind to rest while giving your body much-needed physical activity.

This is why I love road cycling. Spending two or three hours spinning up and down hills is physically demanding. While I use a stand-up desk, spending hours praying and reading and studying and writing and meeting with folk is not exactly physically demanding. It can be very emotionally taxing. It can certainly be spiritually draining at times. I find, however, that when I engage in an activity that is unlike my “work”, I am refreshed emotionally and spiritually.

I think the most-difficult part of my work for the church is Saturday evenings. The weight I feel on Saturdays can be overwhelming. So often it really feels like trying to bring order out of absolute chaos! There are many times the sermon seems to be a complete mess and I am tempted to stay up all night rewriting it, yet going to sleep is an act of spiritual resistance. It is an act of militant faith, knowing that even as I sleep, the Lord remains in control, even of messy sermons. While I generally get fewer hours of sleep on Saturday nights, I am—poorly, perhaps—trusting the Lord to work in and through his gathered assembly the next morning.

Taking a break from the weight I feel on Saturdays is truly refreshing to my soul. This is why I am thankful the Council of Elders requires that I take extended time off each year. It isn’t a month-long vacation, but it is a time of disengaging from my regular labors. To be sure, there will be significant downtime as Dawnae and I do some fun and relaxing stuff. It is, after all, intended to be a time of rest. However, part of my time away will be spent studying and praying and preparing for the coming months. I will plan my preaching calendar through 1 and 2 Timothy, including wrestling with some of the more difficult—and more controversial—texts in 1 Timothy. To that end I will read, or in some cases, re-read, several books and articles written by various scholars on issues related to these two letters. I will spend time seeking the Lord and his direction for this church. I will also enjoy some leisure activities. For many much of this sounds like work, and it is similar to what I do regularly, yet I find it refreshing. I find it restful, and therefore, I find it to be good preparation for the work ahead.

Please pray for us, that we might be present in all that God has given us to enjoy. Pray for our refreshing and our safety. Pray for one another. As you have vacation time or days off in the weeks or months ahead, try to approach your rest from a different perspective. Rather than see it as a reward for the work you have already accomplished, recognize it is an act of faith in God who holds all things together and see it as a time of preparation for work yet to do. So pray for one another, asking God to grant rest, that we might, together, be ever more fruitful in the days ahead.