Invitation to Rest
God didn’t create us to be production machines. God didn’t create us to be constantly busy. God didn’t create us as human-doings, but as human-beings.
Today, the biggest mental health issue among high school and college students is anxiety. According to the American College Health Association, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services.
A recent New York Times article, tells the story of Jake, who went to a residential treatment program for extreme anxiety. In the article, he had to challenge his own anxious thoughts “which often persuaded him that if he failed a single quiz at school, ‘then I’ll get a bad grade in class, I won’t get to the college I want, I won’t get a good job, and I’ll be a total failure.’”
Anxiety among young people reflects the greater restlessness that is pervasive within our culture. Our culture has the attitude that we need to work harder to reach the ultimate goal of life which is to be satisfied and successful.
We see this in education – that parents need to put their kids in the right preschool otherwise they won’t get into the right college. High school students must have the best extra-curricular involvement to get into the right college. It’s no longer enough just to have good grades, you have to be in the honor society, or the right club – but not just in the club, but the president or secretary of that club.
And there is constant pressure of doing everything right because if not, they’re never going to be satisfied and make it in life.
Egypt, Pharaoh, and more bricks
This pressure of producing more and more isn’t something new to our world today. In the 4th Commandment, the God of rest offers us the gift of rest – the gift of unplugging from the constant pressures of this world that tell us we need to produce to be considered worthwhile.
Imagine how the Hebrew people would have heard this coming out of Egypt. Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, made them work as slaves to produce more and more bricks.
Exodus 5:1-14 tells of the incessant demand of a hard-nose production manager whose schedules have no margin for error and no room for stopping, not for even a moment.
4 But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” 5 Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”
6 That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: 7 “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. 8 But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”
Here was a culture without rest, without margin, with the expectation of constant production, putting out more and more with less and less.
Into this hopeless weariness, God breaks in to offer a life-giving alternative.
God says in the introduction to the Ten Commandments, “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt.” He brought them out of the craziness. He brought them out of the constant demands of producing just a little bit more, and commands them to rest. God isn’t demanding constant production. God isn’t demanding more and more. God is putting limits on what we can do.
In Genesis 2:1-4, we see that God demonstrated this for us. God rested! God enjoyed a work stoppage. And He called it very good. God enjoyed the community of the Trinity, enjoyed community with Adam and Eve, and enjoyed his creation.
That’s the basics of Sabbath rest – connecting with God, enjoying relationships, and doing something you enjoy.
Sabbath rest is God’s desire for us, because satisfaction doesn’t come from chasing the things of this world. Our deepest needs of safety, security, identity, significance, self-expression, fulfillment, which we often look for in work, which we often look for in busyness, which we often look for in what we are doing, is not fulfilled in keeping busy for 24/7/365. God commands us to pause one day a week and find our rest in God himself.
Refusing the Pursuit
We are commanded to set those driving things aside, and for one day a week, reorient our lives with the relational God, who created us for a relationship, not for production. Who didn’t create human-doings, but human-beings. We are invited to refuse pursuing that which the world says will give us value, and instead pursue God who truly gives us what fulfills our souls.
Walter Brueggemann, in his book, “Sabbath as Resistance” says:
On the Sabbath,
– You do not have to do more.
– You do not have to sell more.
– You do not have to control more.
– You do not have to know more.
– You do not have to have your kids in ballet or soccer.
– You do not have to be younger or more beautiful.
– You do not have to score more.
Instead we are called to Remember the Sabbath day and the freedom it offers. Those who keep Sabbath are free to be, rather than to do. Free to rest. Free to trust. Free to put our lives in God’s hands, instead of our own, and leave it there.
Into our anxious restlessness comes the God of rest who invites us to step out of it all into a deeper truth.
“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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Jon Hoekema has been pastor at Horizon Community Church in Downers Grove, Illinois since December 2003. Jon is deeply committed to the Word of God, to prayer, and to seeking God’s presence and power. Jon helps lead several local and national ministry efforts including: leading a prayer movement among congregations in the Chicago area with the Christian Reformed Church, and through partnership with The 6:4 Fellowship and Strategic Renewal.