For many, the idea of “resting well” seems silly at first. Doesn’t spending time learning “how to rest” or “why to rest” sort of defeat the purpose? Why would we want to put extra thought or effort into rest and relaxation? Isn’t the whole point of “the Sabbath” to stop working so hard for a while?
Well, if we are honest with ourselves, we already know the answer. There is a difference between resting well and resting poorly. One needs only to think back to a Saturday spent binging on TV and fast food to know that not all “rest” is actually beneficial to us. Additionally, we all know what it’s like for a weekend to blow on by. Without realizing it, we’ve let our to-do-lists, line items, and “things in need of fixing” stack up so much Monday-Friday that we have no other choice but to spend the weekend focused on productivity and efficiency.
This is all because resting well doesn’t come naturally to us. Our tendency to rest poorly is part of being sinful and imperfect. That’s why if we are to truly “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11) we are going to need some help. We are going to need a change of heart.
Thankfully, we serve a God who understands our temptations and tendencies better than we do. That is one of the reasons the Bible talks so much about rest. God knows, left to our own devices, we will not do it well.
Turns out, our hearts don’t just need a break from work, they need real rest. Rest that doesn’t actually drain us, get interrupted by the need to be productive, or descend into laziness and apathy. When God asks for us to Sabbath, he isn’t only wanting our bodies to recharge physically, he wants us to find real rest in him. God himself is supposed to be the source of our rest. And it will be by communing with, feasting with, fasting with, and praying to this God that we actually experience it.
This Sabbath rest isn’t only supposed to help us recover from over-working or give us the energy to make it another six days. When Jesus says that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27) he reminds us that this time of rest is a gift. It is actually part of what it means to live the Christian life! It’s not legalistic, based on rules and regulations, or tiresome and boring. But it will involve slowing things down, taking time seriously, and filling every moment with truly good things.
So, what does this new way of resting actually look like? Be warned, at first, it may feel counter-intuitive, uncomfortable, or even a waste of time. But be assured, adding a bit of intentionality and thought to your weekend will ultimately make you more like Jesus.
1. Spend Time with Jesus. Communion with Jesus is absolutely essential to finding true rest, because when we fail to set time aside for prayer and reading Scripture, we are forgetting the very source of life (John 14:6). What’s more, we cannot allow simply “going to church” during the weekend to check the box for our spiritual sustenance. God wants us to daily devote to knowing him more fully and that doesn’t somehow cease when we are “Sabbathing.” Consider coordinating a set time on your day of rest for communing with Jesus, either by yourself or as a family.
2. Turn Off Your Screens. Our cellphones and laptops give us the option to be constantly distracted, constantly productive, and constantly consuming. And while some of these things may be necessary during the work week, none of them are compatible with true Sabbath rest. In order to slow down, focus on Jesus, and actually fill ourselves up, we are going to need to cease the endless refreshing of email and social media. Find a time where you will commit to being without your phone and keeping the TV off. It will be weird at first, but you will find more fulfilling means of communicating and consuming.
3. Cook and Enjoy a Good Meal. There is a reason that Jesus spent so much time around meals. He knows that community and conversation naturally gravitate toward good food. Our Sabbath days should be the same. Resting well means thinking and caring about our physical bodies. A weekend filled with relaxation, great conversation, and intimacy with the Lord, can still prove unrestful if all you eat is fast food. The next time you have a day to rest, consider spending time in the kitchen with friends or family. If you don’t know how to cook, try an easy recipe or ask someone to teach you. Making a meal doesn’t have to be labor intensive for it to be incredibly worthwhile. The end result will fill up more than just your stomach.
4. Spend Time Outside. The natural world is an incredible gift, but it’s easy for our rest to be completely detached from it. The comfort of air conditioning, couches, and televisions make staying inside feel all too tempting. However, if you are wanting a weekend to feel truly restful, try spending some amount of it outside. Go on a walk or a picnic. Find a trail you can explore with friends. Watch a sunset or listen to the birds. God crafted our world with beauty so that we might appreciate and give thanks to him. Stepping outside gives you a chance to cherish God’s good gifts.
5. Get Some Sleep. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Don’t let staying up too late counteract all your rest. As the Sabbath comes to a close, be diligent to protect your sleep. If you feel the pressure to prepare for tomorrow, remember that tomorrow will have enough problems of its own (Matthew 6:34). Whatever practices you put into place for your Sabbath don’t turn them off at 8PM. Continue to let rest, communion with Jesus, and thoughtfulness define your day.
As you contemplate resting well, remember that the Sabbath is ultimately about Jesus. When we commune with God, it is his rest that we enter into (Hebrews 4:9-10). So, as you seek to rest, recharge, or relax, know that true restoration doesn’t come from a set of activities or from avoiding hard work. True restoration comes from Jesus.
Taking the Sabbath more seriously will eventually transform the other parts of your week. When you understand how you benefit from a rhythm of work and rest, you will start wanting to apply these things to your weekdays as well. The irony is that all of the practices above are beneficial every day of the week.