The Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted an article on their website entitled, “Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic,” which documented research from the past decade on sleep-related behaviors. According to their research, thirty percent of adults report getting an average of less than or equal to six hours of sleep per night when they actually need at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. In other words, many people fail to get the rest they need even though it is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and I would contend that many Christians fail to get the rest they need because they fail to recognize that rest is an expectation of God.
God recognized mankind’s need for rest. He knew that we need rest in order to recover from fatigue and function at our absolute best. Remember, God is the One who designed the human body; therefore, He knew it was going to get tired and need an avenue through which it could recharge. As a result, our God, who knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8), demonstrated a concern for our rest throughout Scripture. For example, in the Old Testament God provided instructions to the Israelites which demanded a time for rest. Under Mosaic Law, God instituted the Sabbath which is described as a day of “solemn rest” (Exodus 16:23; 31:15; Leviticus 23:3), a day on which “you shall do no work” (Leviticus 23:3). One reason God instituted the weekly Sabbath was for it to serve as a day that allowed workers to recover from their toil. Exodus 23:12 specifically says, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed” (cf. Exodus 31:15; 34:21; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3). Interestingly, this day of rest was so important to God that He protected it by establishing the death penalty as the consequence for failing to observe it. In Exodus 31:14 God said, “You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (cf. Exodus 35:2). Now, we are not required to observe the Sabbath Day as they did under Mosaic Law. However, we would be wise to recognize that God was legislating a day of rest to ensure that His people made time for recuperation. Think about it this way: if rest was so important to God that a day legislating its observance was included in His top ten commands, then shouldn’t it still be important to us?
Maybe the reason rest is not as high of a priority today is because we do not associate any theological significance to it, but there are theological reasons to rest. First, rest is a demonstration of our trust in God. When we rest, we surrender control to the Lord by intentionally refraining from active control. In other words, when we rest, we are essentially proclaiming that everything is going to be okay without our involvement because we trust that God is in control. David realized this. He wrote Psalm 3 while he was fleeing from Absalom, his son who was trying to overthrow his kingdom. In Psalm 3:5, David said “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” In other words, David acknowledged that his ability to rest during such turbulent times was because the Lord took care of him. This same sentiment was also expressed by David in Psalm 4:8 where he said, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” And, it’s worth mentioning that David’s most famous psalm identified the Lord as the one who “makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). In all of these passages King David associated his ability to rest with his trust in God. So, our rest can function as an expression of trust in the One who grants us rest.
Not only is rest a demonstration of our trust in God, but it can also be a demonstration of our reliance on God. Solomon, who is arguably the wisest man ever to walk this earth other than Jesus, said in Psalm 127:2 that “it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” In other words, Solomon indicated that rest is a gift from God. It is as if he is trying to communicate the fact that God is the grand resource for recuperation when it comes to the burdens of life. In fact, Jesus is the One who invited us to rest when He said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In other words, spiritual recuperation and eternal rest are found in Him. Maybe that’s why John heard a voice from heaven say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed indeed, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). That voice described heaven as a place of permanent rest. However, such rest is not a reference to physical sleep but to spiritual relief because heaven is a place where confrontation with evil (Revelation 21:1, 25), intimidation by death (Revelation 21:4; 22:2), expectation of pain (Revelation 21:4; 22:3), temptations to sin (Revelation 21:16, 27; 22:3), and separation from the Father (Revelation 21:2-3) are all made obsolete. Thus, Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to find relief from that which exhausts our souls. So, our rest can also function as an expression of reliance on the One who relieves us of the baggage with which this life burdens us.
So, today, we are challenged to rest. Not only that, but we are challenged to recognize that rest is not an activity to be viewed negatively because it prevents us from accomplishing something. Instead, we are challenged to view rest as an essential activity that demonstrates our trust in and reliance on God. Ultimately, rest allows us to function at our best, and shouldn’t we be prepared to offer God our best every day?