This was originally posted at The Gospel Project site. To see the entire series click here.
The Need for Physical Rest
As we get older, it is inevitable that we will wear down physically. In turn, our need for rest and recuperation becomes more noticeable. At least, that’s been my experience in the last few years. When I do not get as much rest as I need, I become impatient and irritable towards my family and friends. So, the older I get, the more I cherish rest. Many nights I collapse into the bed exhausted, and sink into the mattress from the weight of the day’s activity.
Physical rest repairs and rebuilds the body and mind. When we exert ourselves physically or mentally, we long for the restoration of our energy. Researchers have shown that both the physical stress of manual labor and even the emotional stress of a desk job require subsequent rest for the body and mind to recuperate.
Many of us need more rest; we live in a culture that forfeits rest to chronically overwork. Studies have shown that the average American doesn’t get nearly enough sleep for what their body requires to function at peak performance. This scientific information is good and all, but research can only offer observations about rest and our need for rest. The Bible, on the other hand, can actually offer the deeper reasons for unrest and lasting motivations for rest.
A Theology of Rest?
What actually drives us to unrest is rooted in our hearts, usually idolatry. For example, the workaholic sacrifices rest to the god of success, power, and productivity. This pattern can be seen in almost all areas of our life. The good news is, God is not silent about our need for rest nor has He left us without good reason or motivation for rest. The Bible is very clear that humans need rest, and interestingly enough, rest teaches us something about God.
Physical Rest is a Gift from God
God building in the need for rest in the lives of His creatures is a gift of grace. In Psalm 127, we read that God “gives to His beloved in his sleep.” The nights that I sleep well lead to mornings when I am most refreshed and days that I am most productive. Let’s face it; the anxieties of everyday life can wear us down to the point of physical and emotional fatigue. I am thankful that the infinite God granted this finite man the need for rest. In fact, it is impossible for a finite being like you and I to live well without rest.
Physical Rest Reminds us that We are not God
Again, the psalmist proclaims that God will “neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). How different from us? We need rest. If we do not rest it has massive implications for our physical, emotional, and mental health. However, God does not need rest. Not only is God all-powerful (not needing rest), He is ever-watchful (watching us while we rest). For some of us it is a scary thing to consider that we lay down all control and consciousness when we sleep. The most powerful people in all of humanity spend a third of their lives asleep, as helpless as an infant, and the world still progresses. Simply put, we are not God.
Physical Rest requires us to Relinquish Control
God handles the world quite well while on His own. God is sovereign over our world while we are awake, even more so when we are at rest. John Piper once said, “…Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign.” We’ve all heard the hard worker wax all self-righteously about his/her early morning and late night working hours, as if they run the world. How silly. It’s better to work well and sleep well, rather than to sacrifice rest in an effort to stay in control.
Lying Down and Laying it Down
God intended sleep to be a gift, a time every day where we remind ourselves that we are not God, and that God is in control. If you are like me, you probably have trouble sleeping when you are worried about something. Well, Jesus is pretty clear on the fact that worrying accomplishes nothing (Matthew 6:27-29).
So, I’ve learned that when I lie down to sleep it helps me to say to myself, “God, I am powering down, even though there is a ton to do, and lots to worry about, You are awake, working, and in perfect control, so I trust You to handle what I can’t.” It helps me rest well knowing that everything is in His hands.