Blog Post

We Rest to Work

If, as I argued last time, we all need to rest, then this raises an immediate question: what do we do with passages in the Bible which seem to suggest that even a small amount of rest is enough to destroy us? Take Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34, for instance, both of which say the same exact thing:

A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

According to these verses, even a little sleep and a little rest is too much if we want to stay out of the poor house and be able to provide for ourselves and our families. If that is true, then why in the world would I argue in my last article that we all need to rest?

In answering this question, we need to begin by remembering that the three most important rules of real estate—location, location, location—apply to biblical interpretation as well. In order to understand what these two proverbs are intending to say, therefore, we need to first understand the context in which they are located. In both of these cases, we can readily see that the context is aimed at addressing laziness and foolishness. Rather than providing general wisdom for all people without distinction, these two proverbs are instead specifically speaking to the “sluggard” and to the “man lacking sense.”
As human beings, we are all different. We have different personalities, different motivations, and different experiences that have shaped us and made us who we are today. Some of us struggle with working too much, and we may need to be reminded of the importance of rest. Those of us who tend in this direction would benefit from having the passages that we mentioned last time held before our eyes consistently. Others of us, however, struggle with resting too much, and we may need to be reminded of the importance of work. We require passages like these two proverbs to be held before us, which are obviously designed to challenge our affinity for rest and relaxation.

But we may also require passages like Genesis 2:15 to be consistently held before us, especially when it is taken alongside of Genesis 3:15-19. These two passages taken together imply that work is a creation ordinance which was given to humankind from the very beginning but was later corrupted when sin entered into the world. The implication that arises from them is that work and rest always went together perfectly before the Fall. Work was not wearisome before the Fall nor was it laborious. It was wholly restful all the time. We know this is true, because Genesis 3:17-19 highlights the radical change that sin brought upon our work. All our labors from this point forward involve “sweat” and “pain” and thoroughgoing opposition for the rest of our lives.

But we also know that work and rest went together before the Fall because God is said to do both at the same time. Moses tells us in Genesis 2:1-2 that God “rested” after finishing His work of creating “the heavens and the earth…and all the host of them;” and, yet, Jesus clearly stipulates in John 5:17 that God has never been inactive but has been “working” all along ever since the beginning: “My father is working until now, and I am working.” This obviously implies that work and rest go together for God, which would make complete sense. Work is not wearisome nor laborious for God. He doesn’t need to rest from His endeavors. He never grows tired. He never slumbers nor sleeps (see Ps. 121:3-4). His work is itself restful, and His rest always involves work.
This would seem to be the condition in which Adam and Eve were originally created and placed within the Garden of Eden (and the condition to which we will return in heaven when the effects of sin are lifted permanently). Otherwise the curses that God pronounces upon the ground in Genesis 3:17-19 do not make any sense. Sin corrupts both our work and our rest by separating them from each other and by making our work painful, difficult, and freighted with opposition.

This affects rest in at least two ways. First, it means that one of the primary post-Fall purposes for rest is to help us to work. Because sin has made all our work painful, difficult, and filled with opposition, rest is necessary simply to go on working. We quickly grow tired, anxious, frustrated, stressed out, and sometimes even burned out. We need to rest in order to keep going.

What this means is that it is extremely difficult for rest to function as an end in itself in our lives. That is because all of our efforts to pursue rest, this side of the Fall, will be affected by sin and therefore will be imbalanced. We will either rest too much and not work enough or we will work too much and not rest enough. Because of sin, rest must now become a means to the end of fulfilling the command that God has given each of us rather than being an end in itself.

The point I am trying to make here is that rest in a post-Fall world should be directed to the end of enabling us to fulfill our mandate to work. This sets boundaries on how much we rest and what that rest looks like. It tells us that we should, generally speaking, rest only as much as we need to in order to work. And it tells us that we should choose forms of rest that will help us to do our work better and for longer periods of time and to be more efficient and more effective in what we do. Oftentimes we don’t think about this, and we choose forms of rest that are not restful at all. When we do, we usally find that we need to rest from our rest before we can return to working at our optimum capacity.

The second thing this means is that rest should not be defined in terms of inactivity. It should instead be defined in terms of whatever can help us fulfill our mandate to work. This may well involve inactivity. But it may also involve exercising or working on your car or sewing or baking. The point is to refresh yourself and enable yourself not only to persevere in your work but to do it better, with all your strength, and in a more God-glorifying way. This also means that what one person finds restful may not be restful for someone else. While this is to be expected by the very nature of what I am saying here, it also has some really practical implications, because we so often evaluate the world through our own experience. What I mean is that we typically evaluate someone else’s attempts at rest through the lens of what we find restful. We need to be careful here, because one size certainly does not fit all. How we rest and how long we rest are very subjective matters on this side of the Fall. The most important thing is that we take time to rest in some capacity so that we can do our work—filled with pain and difficulty and opposition—and do so in such a way that God gets all the praise and the glory.