“AYE AYE, GUNNERY SERGEANT!” my buddy screamed. It was after midnight and I was standing duty at Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. Earlier, my friend had been trying to study in his bed. He had failed, and was now propped up, with his notes in his lap, fast asleep. He continued to scream occasional responses to dreamed instructors until I finally woke him and told him to just lay down. He assured me he was fine and returned to his “studies.”
Officer Candidate School is designed to force candidates to lead and make decisions in an environment of physical and mental exhaustion. While certainly not the Marine Corps’ most strenuous training, it was, for a civilian like me, an “awakening” to the realities of military life. Forced to operate on two to four hours of sleep a night for ten weeks is an experience you can’t forget. I remember starting to hear phantom sounds as I wrote orders at 3 am. I remember rubbing hand sanitizer under my nose and eyes to irritate my senses, just to help me stay conscious. I experienced true fatigue for the first time, and my appreciation for simple rest radically changed.
I experienced true fatigue for the first time, and my appreciation for simple rest radically changed.
We tragically underestimate the necessity of rest. Each day we faithfully dive into the innumerable demands placed on us, ready to caffeinate or cardio our way beyond the natural limits. And when we do take a break, we also take our phones. Yes, we know that this incessant labor will burn us out, but there’s just too much to do! How could we possibly justify taking a break when so much is required of us?
Relax. No seriously, take a deep breath right now and loosen those tight shoulders. You cannot forgo rest. Not only is it a physical necessity, it is a worshipful one. Our ability to rest—or not—testifies to our core beliefs about God’s goodness and the world He has created.
So, why do we rest? The easiest answer is this: we have to. God made us so. Our bodies and minds are not meant to be pushed ever onward without a break. We get sick and our bodies become uncooperative when we approach our physical limits, but this isn’t news to anyone.
Our ability to rest—or not—testifies to our core beliefs about God’s goodness . . .
Beyond our physical need, the Christian “holds still” because God tells us to. God Himself set the example at creation by resting after His good work, and then again by including rest and respect for the Sabbath in His law to Israel. Christ himself withdrew from the crowds and His work in order to rest with His Father and His disciples. So this shouldn’t be news either: we want to follow after Christ, which means being obedient, and in this case that means resting.
Consider just one of these examples. In Exodus 20, God commands:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (v. 8-11, ESV).
Beyond our physical need, the Christian “holds still” because God tells us to.
This command is not a mere, arbitrary encouragement for the sake of our physical and mental health, and the holiness of the Sabbath is not just about our coming together as a community. It is rooted in God setting apart a particular time for Himself. He asks us to come away from the cares and work that dominate our lives and, as did Christ, rest with Him.
In the command to rest, we are being called to accept that we are not in control. In observing the Sabbath, we recognize and trust in God’s control over our circumstances rather than our own ability to manage them. And by physically resting, we acknowledge that it’s not our efforts which keep our lives from chaos.
The people of Israel practiced this in a way that is difficult for moderns to fully appreciate as we no longer live in an agrarian society. God expected His people to tangibly trust Him to provide for their needs by forgoing a day of labor rather than grasping for control. It would be difficult to know that bad weather could destroy your livelihood and jeopardize your family because you chose to be obedient. But that complete confidence in God’s ultimate love and provision is the whole point.
. . . complete confidence in God’s ultimate love and provision is the whole point.
In the same way that we don’t control the weather, we don’t really control the outcomes of anything else. We don’t get to dictate the results of our labor. We can’t ensure that our children grow up to pursue Christ. We can’t secure success in our ministries through our own strength. All of this is in God’s hands. So when we burn the candle at both ends, as if our efforts determine our success or failure, we are not just living a lie. We are denying His lordship over reality and the very details of our lives. Resting, however, does the opposite.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness is a testimony of confidence in the One who never tires of loving, caring, and providing for us in the ways that He has promised.
Are you in a place of absolute exhaustion? I’ve been there. You and I aren’t in control of the universe. And living like we are, vainly trying to secure everything in our own strength, dooms us to be crushed by the never ending demands of our lives. So, alternatively, rest! Trust Christ who sweetly promises, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”