Most people recognize that they need rest from their busy and hectic lives. But what this usually means is taking a slight “pause” so they can get just enough energy to get back to their busy and hectic lives. In this sense, “rest” simply becomes another tool, another blunt object, to force the machine to keep going. The fundamental shape of our lives remains disordered, chaotic, weary.
Yet what Jesus has to offer us is not a mere reprieve from weariness. He is offering a new way of living—a life of rest:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
But what does a life of rest look like? Here are three essential elements:
- Communion with God
Rest can be most simply defined as communion with God, in which we are transformed by His glory for His glory. In this sense, rest (not work) is the ultimate purpose of our lives. We see this purpose powerfully presented in the creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:3, which portrays the created order as a temple, a cosmic sanctuary intended for the glory of God. At the culmination of His six-day creative work God rests on the seventh day, which is presented as His enthronement in the cosmic temple that signifies His gracious presence and His glorious reign. The divine rest on the seventh day thus serves as the goal of all creation—to enjoy the fullness of his presence and to experience the blessing of his reign. In in this light, humanity, created as the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27), is rested within the inner sanctuary of the Garden (Gen. 2:15) to dwell in God’s presence and to manifest God throughout the cosmic temple (Gen. 1:28). Thus, Jesus’ call to rest is first and foremost a call to Himself.
- Practice of Faith
But how does one access or experience the rest of God? Throughout Scripture, the practice of Sabbath is the practice of faith. God commands the Israelites to cease from working on one day of the week to test them and form them (Exodus 16). The weekly practice of not working on the day of rest was not only an act of obedience, but it was an active practice of trust in God to provide all that is needed—including one’s identity apart from work. For this reason, the Sabbath became a symbol of one’s faith in God in all matters. We rest not in our own works but in the grace of God. As the author of Hebrews exhorts, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9–10). Thus, a life of rest is a life of faith, trust, and dependence upon God to rule not only the cosmos, but our lives.
- Rhythms of Ceasing and Engaging
Finally, a life of rest is characterized by rhythms of ceasing and engaging. It is a misunderstanding to think that rest is only ceasing from an activity. The problem with this misunderstanding is that when we finally rest from our work, we oftentimes engage activities that are not restorative, not good for our souls. Rather, the idea is that as we rest from the good work that drains us and we rest for activities that restore us—such as activities of faith, family, friends, and fun. “Rest” is thus short for “Restoration.” We must think of a life of rest more holistically, where our rest not only complements our work but also sets the foundation for our work as well. We work from our souls as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23) throughout the week, which culminates in the rest for our souls unto the Lord. In this sacred time, we cease from working, from striving, from cultivating—trusting that God provides and is in control—and we engage in worship, fellowship, and delight. And having engaged in rest we reengage work, not from a place of weariness, but from a place of rest. In this way, we fully embrace the call to rest: to enjoy the glory of God’s presence from which we manifest God’s glory to the world.
This is a brief picture of the life of rest we are called to live: A life of communion with God. A life of faith. A life of rhythm. It all begins with accepting the invitation to come to Jesus.
Graham Michael is an academic tutor for the BibleMesh Institute and teaches at St. David’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina.