A Theology Of Rest
Summer is just around the corner, and for many of us, that means a full calendar. Summer Camps, Mission Trips, Work Camps, Wilderness Treks (for some of us, all of the above) have filled our days. And that’s just the overnight stuff. Our church has a weekly prayer lunch and a weekly service project in the summer. For the 10-12 weeks of summer, my life gets pretty crazy.
Anyone who claims that youth ministers are lazy, has never seen a youth ministry summer program. A few summers ago, we were so busy, I worked one stretch of more than a month without a single day off. I even bragged about it to some of my youth ministry friends. Boasting like my work ethic was something to be proud of.
But that’s not a badge of honor. That’s not something to brag about at all. In fact, that month-long stretch is actually a marker of my own spiritual weakness. Because rest is an important part of what it means to be a follower of God.
In Deuteronomy, Moses is reiterating the Law for the people of Israel, and in chapter 5:15, he gets to the Sabbath. He says, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (NRSV)
Keep the Sabbath. This command shows up a lot in the Torah. But the reason that he gives here is pretty compelling:
Because once you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of that slavery.
For the Hebrews in their slavery in Egypt, their only goal was productivity. And in our culture today, our goal is often the same thing. What are you producing? How much money are you making (either for yourself or for your employer)? How much is on your schedule? How hard are you working? If you’re not productive enough, you’re not useful. And, if you’re not useful, you’re expendable.
But we’re not in Egypt anymore. In the Exodus, God delivered His people from their busyness and productivity and gave them Sabbath instead.
So why do we keep turning back to the gods of busyness and productivity? Why do we wear our busyness like a badge of honor?
Creation is Incomplete without Rest
God extends Sabbath to us. If we reject it, we’re choosing slavery over freedom. If we ignore the Sabbath, we ignore our own salvation.
Abraham Heschel, in his spectacular book on the Sabbath, points out that while God created the world in six days, it is on the seventh day that God completed the work of Creation by resting. Creation is incomplete without rest. By practicing Sabbath with God, we become who we were created to be. It is where we are restored and redeemed. Sabbath is where we find shalom.
So Sabbath isn’t just a day off, Sabbath is the defining landmark in the hours and days of our week (Heschel calls this idea of Sabbath a “Palace in Time”). If Sabbath is the central structure of our week, then who we are on the Sabbath will overflow into who we are the rest of the week. But if work and productivity are the central landmarks of our week, then we will find our productivity sneaking into our Sabbath rest, until we no longer practice Sabbath at all. Until we reject freedom in favor of slavery to productivity. And soon we might find that we not only go months at a time without engaging God in rest, but we actually brag about it to our friends and family like our busyness is a badge of honor.
So keep Sabbath. Summer is rapidly approaching, and for many of us, that means extreme busyness. Which makes it even more crucial that we take a break. Don’t plan youth events every night of the week, or every weekend of the summer. Don’t give up your Sabbath rest in an attempt to always have something going for your teenagers. You need the rest, and your youth group needs that rest as well.
God brought us out of slavery and into God’s rest. We were made to experience renewal and completeness in Sabbath.
So take a break.T
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.