Rest: Why It Is a Command from God

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on The Meaning of Work (and How to Make It Meaningful).

An illustration of a woman resting at her work desk.
An illustration of a woman resting at her work desk.

Rest: Why It Is a Command from God

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on The Meaning of Work (and How to Make It Meaningful).

Work is a gift, and so is rest as well. But how can we rest in a manner that aligns with God’s plan?

Leslie Koh

Remember my friend Jamie? The one who works hard and humbly, and gets sidelined in the process? Well, I have to admit that he’s got it right, as far as attitude towards work is concerned. 

But I haven’t told you the flip side. Jamie works so hard he doesn’t get enough sleep. Between his long hours and attending to his kids, he ends up sleeping less than 5 hours a day, on average.

Recently, he discovered (with the help of a phone app) that he had been averaging three hours a night over one month. Needless to say, his health has not been great.

If only Jamie took an equally dedicated approach to rest as he did to work. 

If only he realises the good news: Rest is a command from God!

A Biblical Cycle of Work and Rest

Work and rest are key parts of God’s cycle of time, which He has designed with purposeful functionality. 

Both work and rest are clearly mandated in the Bible, which we can see in God’s own example, His commands, and the way He designed nature. While God made work part of our purpose in His creation, He also made sure to put a limit to our working hours. 

First, we are to sleep enough every day (Jamie, are you hearing this?).

Right from the very beginning, God made day and night (Genesis 1:4–5), each of which has its place in the functioning of daily life. In the day, as Psalm 104:22–23 notes, “people go out to their work, to their labour until evening”. 

This suggests that before the era of overtime, night shifts, and working across global time zones, work was meant to end when the day did. As Proverbs 3:24 assures us in this lullaby-like lyric: 

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid;

when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

Second, we need to rest each week. 

God’s plan for the week, as Exodus 20:9–11 shows, is clear:  

“Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work . . . for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.” 

Modern-day schedules may not always allow us to take a break on Saturdays or Sundays, but we can certainly keep the principle behind the Sabbath rest.

And while the Sabbath rest was expressed as a command for God’s people, it’s also a gift. A truly sweet respite from the days of constant work, duties, and responsibilities. A much-needed break to recharge and recover physically, emotionally, as well as spiritually. 

God gives us the day of rest to enjoy His presence and His creation. It is a time to stop striving, and to simply worship Him. The Sabbath is called “holy” because it is meant to be set apart for God.

God Himself did the same. After six days of creation, “on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2).

Housework and Chores Count as Work

By now, you might be wondering, if God’s work week was to last six days, what does it mean for our five-day week?

Well, that’s if you see “work” as time spent at the workplace. 

God, however, doesn’t define work the way we often do—as jobs that we are paid for. After all, the work of full-time housewives, caregivers, volunteers, and many others certainly counts. In fact, they usually work far longer hours than the usual employee.

God’s definition of work appears to be much broader, going by how even animals’ work is included in Exodus 20:10. A more biblical way to define work, then, would be the opposite of leisure and rest. 

That means that “work”, as far as the Bible is concerned, includes housework, caregiving, chores, errands, ministry at church (yes, this counts, too!), and the many thousands of things that can tire us out.

And that means we need to take a break from all these tasks, too.

And Then There’s the Ultimate Rest

I don’t know about you, but much of the time, the nightly and weekly rests just aren’t enough for me. Even the annual break can’t seem to take away that deep, draining feeling of being worn out by the cares and worries of the world.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to sometimes ask God, “How long will this go on, Lord? When will it ever end?”

More good news (though this one’s going to take some time):

There’s a bigger, eternal rest

There’s a bigger,

eternal rest

waiting for all of us who put our trust in God. 

Hebrews 4:9–10 speaks of this special, incomparable rest that God has prepared for us: 

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”

In this Sabbath-rest, all work will finally cease. With the complete redemption of creation, we will no longer need to strive endlessly and constantly in futility.

We don’t know what this rest looks like, but I imagine it would contain all the wonderful elements of a good night’s sleep, a great weekend with loved ones, an amazing time of worship with God and fellowship with the body of Christ, a fabulous holiday that never ends . . . and more. 

As Hebrews 4:1 also reminds us, “let us be careful that none of us be found to have fallen short of [this rest]”. 

May we be found faithful in the work that God has given us on this earth, wise in taking time off to rest and worship Him, and hopeful in the eternal rest that awaits us.

And may we learn to find rest in Jesus, who says in Matthew 11:28–29: 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Adapted from a sermon by Sim Kay Tee, author of Journey Through Ruth by Our Daily Bread Ministries.

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