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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Rest: design flaw or divine plan?

I’m not good at reading instructions. Watching friends, I have seen the way they tackle flat-packed furniture: noting the manufacturer’s directions, checking no piece is missing, proceeding step by step, and referring back to the manual after each part of the process is completed. Gradually, and as the result of several disasters, I have learned to follow their wise example.

Our creator has also provided instructions. Instructions designed to guide us in living fruitful lives, designed to facilitate alignment with God and his purposes, and designed to help us know joy and contentment whatever our circumstances. One vital step in these directions concerns rest. This is born out in Jim Loehr’s study of top class tennis players. He wanted to understand the factors that set apart the greatest competitors in the world from the rest of the pack. He found the key was their use of time between points to maximise recovery. Many lower-ranked competitors had no recovery routines at all.

Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day. On the first full day of their existence, before the mandate to work and care for creation was given, they were invited to participate in God’s rest – to learn the principle of stopping work and celebrating. As we follow the story of God’s people through Exodus, we see the principle of rest being lost and regained. The Egypt of Exodus 5 gives us a picture of restlessness – a society based on ever-increasing production schedules, endless consumption (the slaves were building storage capacity) and cheap labour.

Having led the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses receives the new instruction manual, known as the ten commandments – instructions detailing how to live in relationship with God and with each other. The command given the most air-time concerns sabbath rest. Through it, the Lord nullifies the entire system of anxious production and the need to get ahead. Work is placed within limits. Sabbath rest is intrinsic to our identity as God’s people. ‘You are made in the image of the creator God who did not need to work to get ahead. Nor do you! We will not be defined by busyness and by acquisitiveness and by pursuit of more … because our life does not consist in commodity’ (Walter Brueggemann).

The creator God has built into our design that we will become weary. He has fashioned us to need energy renewal – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And he is the one who renews. We may expect ourselves to ‘keep going’ – God does not.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus offers us rest as a gift: ‘I will give you’. To receive this gift, we are invited to come to him. Come to him with our weary bodies, our worried minds, and our spent emotions. Who is this gift of rest for? For those who are weary and burdened – those who most need it! But perhaps, also, those who are most resistant to it, saying ‘I don’t have time to rest’; ‘I cannot rest with all that needs doing’; ‘If I rested, I would just worry’. It is as if we believed that our need of rest is a design fault! Rest is not just about physical refreshment but also mental and emotional peace. Anxiety and prayer are the two great opposing forces in Christian experience. Both act as a barometer of our faith in God. Only through prayer and thanksgiving (the antidote to worry) will we have the peace that enables us to rest.

We were chosen to bear fruit in every aspect of our lives, including our work. That fruit is not the result of our effort but our obedience – obedience to the designer’s instructions to rest as well as work. Our Lent prayer journey, Working from Rest, explores the reasons for our restlessness, the gift of rest, and how our work can flow from that place of rest and connection with God. Do join us!

Bev Shepherd
Prayer Journey Project Lead

Working from Rest: A Prayer Journey

Sabbath rest is essential to our identity as God’s people: a gift to refresh us and equip us for good work. This prayer journey will help you explore the reasons for restlessness, God’s gift of rest, and how your work – in your job, your home, or your street – can flow from that place of rest and connection with him.