Exodus 23:10-13 – The Primacy of Rest

“Sow your land for six years and gather in its crops, but in the seventh year leave it alone and give it a rest so that your poor may eat from it. What they leave, let the wildlife have. Do the same with your vineyards and olive groves.

“Work for six days and rest the seventh so your ox and donkey may rest, and your servant and migrant workers may have time to get their needed rest.

“Listen carefully to everything I tell you. Don’t pay attention to other gods—don’t so much as mention their names. (MSG)

One reason poverty exists and seems to continue unabated, is that it is inextricably tied to rest. Perhaps that seems counter-intuitive. However, it is not. Where work is exalted to such a degree that rest creates feelings of guilt, there you will find an entire class of poor folk who labor tirelessly without making ends meet. Those with power and wealth who eschew and denigrate rest are typically the ones who take advantage of the less fortunate and stereotype them as lazy.

Scriptural rest is not a luxury. An honest biblical sabbath rest is a vital necessity. It is important enough that God lovingly encouraged it and divinely commanded a day of rest to happen for everyone each week and a year of rest every seven, including both creature and creation. There were to be no exceptions.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what God was thinking when he ordained his people for intentional times of rest comes from my time in a prayer chapel.  One morning I set aside a four-hour block to “rest,” get away, and pray.  I will be honest that I marched into it with a personal agenda of what I wanted God to do.  I had my list of prayer items and my thoughts of how I believed God should work. I was ready for anything but rest. I came to wrestle. Silly me.

It did not take long into my forceful striving at God to see I was on a misguided adventure in missing the point. In my desire to see prayer requests answered, I lost sight of why I was there: To simply be in presence of God and enjoy Jesus – without all the laborious work, as if simple rest and enjoyment were not enough. 

In our daily work-a-day world we poke and prod, push, cajole, and finagle to move forward and get our way on all kinds of things. To separate ourselves from our typical routine takes something of a withdrawal, and it is downright hard. Maybe that’s why many individuals are so tired, cranky, and negative all the time – we find all kinds of reasons not to rest, and even when we do, we’re still trying to impose our will on God. Silly us.

We simply need Jesus – to know Christ, be with him, and experience the depths of our wondrous and gracious union with him. And that will be difficult, unless we obey the command given by God to rest.  To rest means to relinquish our plans and agendas, just for a time, and come into God’s presence and enjoy each other’s company.

Our compulsions for performance and perfection are culprits to rest. We want to do everything right. We long to pray right, talk right, be right and live right – instead of simply coming to Jesus like a little child. Perhaps we are so profoundly dissatisfied with so many things because we are discontent with Christ. Just maybe the best or right prayer to pray is that we all may be content together no matter the circumstances. Only then might we find that our burdens are light and our life easy.

Jesus modeled the life of rest for us. If there was anyone who did not need to pull away and rest it was Jesus, and yet he continually did so. If Jesus needed a sacred space and place to commune and enjoy the Father, then how much more do we need a solid sabbath rest and a place to do it? Jesus rested and prayed to connect with his heavenly Father. There was no multi-tasking, keeping abreast of social media, or juggling other responsibilities.  There was merely the pursuit of intimate rest.

If we fail to rest and avoid sabbath, then we are expressing our confidence that money, hard work, and individual talent are really all we need rather than God. Rest is only secondarily about refueling our depleted resources; it is primarily about connecting intimately with the divine and becoming aware of our true thoughts and feelings. 

Just as we need a special room and a certain bed for sleep, so we need a consistent place and time to enjoy God.  Proper spiritual hygiene, just like proper sleep and health hygiene, includes setting aside a place to daily rest, pray, and be with God.

Real spiritual and biblical rest only “works” when we realize we are imperfect – that we are helpless and need Jesus. Apart from the rise Christ, the blind cannot see, Lazarus remains dead, and I am lost in my sin. I cannot “do” life without Christ in me and with me.

Maybe this old world is not experiencing grace and peace because God’s people have not yet learned the necessity of rest. If we try and manufacture results instead of relying on the Lord for refreshment and renewal, the good things of life will be elusive. 

Enjoy Jesus today, my friends, tap into the Holy Spirit, and allow your rest to spur you to love and good deeds for the poor and underprivileged of this world.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill. Amen.

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