Have you noticed it’s hard to slow down? Life seems to have an unrelenting inertia to it, always accelerating incrementally so that you’re increasingly aware of your frenzied pace, but you can’t quite remember how you got there, and you certainly don’t know how to apply the brakes.
Recently, I came face to face with this reality. Life had been coming fast, and my family and I were feeling thin. So we scheduled a block of time simply to unplug, unwind, and regroup—a Sabbath of sorts.
I quickly discovered, however, that real rest doesn’t show up simply because it’s on the schedule. With unfinished work projects looming, my brain in perpetual motion, and a calendar that doesn’t like taking orders, I struggled to slow down. And because I struggled to slow down, my family couldn’t slow down either. I found myself postponing the start of our “Sabbath” so I could complete just a few more tasks, and, once it had begun, I was quick to make exceptions to our pre-planned rest.
What I was discovering was that real rest is much more than just a natural physical response to weariness or a peaceful state of mind. It’s more than just a period of relaxation. It’s possible to be relaxing on a quiet, sunny beach with a glass of lemonade and nothing on the agenda—and not actually rest. That is because true rest starts in the heart, and it has everything to do with your relationship with God. If you want to lead your family to truly rest, you need to learn to rest yourself.
So what is rest? Here are three truths about biblical rest and some practical suggestions for implementing these truths into your family life.
1. Rest belongs to God.
In the fourth commandment found in Exodus 20, God commands Israel to honor the Sabbath day for one primary reason: “For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11).1
Why do we rest? We rest because—and only because—God Himself rests. He has completed His work of creation, and is now resting in an ongoing and eternal “seventh day.” So any true rest you and I ever experience is actually God’s rest (Ps. 95:11). He loves the idea of rest so much He created people to rest with Him. In fact, there is no rest without Him.
The concept of true rest shows up at key moments in the storyline of Scripture:
- God initiated our rest at Creation. He looked on all that He had made, declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31) and began to rest. His creative work was done, and His image-bearers are able to enjoy the finished product in His presence.
- Jesus secured our rest at the cross. Though we sinned against God, fled his presence, and rejected His rest (Is. 57:20), our Savior declared that “it is finished!” (John 19:30). His saving work is done, and we can now experience true soul-rest in His presence (Matt. 11:28).
- God will restore our rest in the future. The ultimate iteration of God’s true rest is still to come (Heb. 4:9). Then His redeeming work will be done, and we will experience full-orbed rest for all eternity (Rev. 21:5).
But what does it mean to rest with God? Simply stated, it is “to experience his presence by faith.”2 It is only when we enter into a relationship with God through the finished work of Christ that we begin to experience true rest. And as we walk with God by faith, we continue to enjoy that rest.
As fallen humans, we tend to resist rest, arguing that we aren’t finished yet. “Surely, I don’t have time to rest this week.” “There must be more for me to do.” “Just look at this pile of unfinished tasks!” Yet, we forget our rest wasn’t based on us in the first place. We rest because our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior is resting.
2. Rest is worship.
Ever headed out to play ball with your kids and found yourself working on yard projects instead? Maybe you’ve aimed for some relaxation time with your wife but ended up scrolling through your Instagram feed or checking the stock market. Or you’ve been on a week-long vacation, but your peace of mind keeps getting snagged by unanswered emails.
What’s going on here? Your attempt at rest is exposing some idols in your heart. True rest is actually worship, and no idol likes to be dethroned. When you attempt to truly rest as a child of God, a worship battle ensues. If you’ve been worshipping your reputation, you’re not going to want to leave those emails unanswered. If you’ve been worshipping your possessions, those yard projects will eat at you while you play with your kids.
True rest can only be found as we seek God’s presence above all else. In this way, a day of rest can be an incredibly worshipful exercise as, with our actions, we tell God that He is worth more to us than any earthly treasures.
3. Rest requires faith.
On this side of eternity, rest is counterintuitive. The visible evidence around you screams, “Too much too do. No time to rest!” Like the children of Israel in the wilderness, we can start to feel like it’s the smart choice to gather manna on Sabbath. You can picture an Israelite reasoning, “Yes, God promised, but I’ve crunched the numbers, and an extra day of gathering really is going to help.”
So, it is vitally important that we listen closely to our Savior when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Attempts at rest can easily spark fear, pride, anxiety, and worry. “What if my family won’t be taken care of?” “What if my reputation will suffer?” “What if I won’t get everything done?” We must turn from these responses to cling to the God who offers true rest.
Your Creator said that it is “very good,” and He’s the one who keeps the world spinning. Your Savior said that “It is finished,” and He’s the one who keeps your soul secure. In the face of all the visible evidence, He tells you that “in returning and rest you shall be saved.” (Is. 30:15).
You’re just going to have to trust Him.
A Suggestion for Rest
With the above truths in mind, here is a suggestion for leading your family in rest. Keep in mind that we all rest differently. What may be restful for me may be agonizing for you. Maybe take some time with your family to think through what would work best for you. Here are some thoughts to get you started:
- Set aside a block of time during the week to intentionally rest. It may be a 24-hour period. It may be a 4-hour block, like a Sunday afternoon. Try to clear out your family’s major activities during this time so you can slow down.
- Begin with a minute of quiet and prayer. There’s nothing like a full minute of silence to shock your system out of its frantic pace. Take some time as a family to thank Jesus for His offer of rest and to ask Him for the faith to slow down.
- Read a short passage of Scripture that can remind your family of who God is and what He has done.
- Try to engage in “restful activities.” (Once again, everybody is different.) These could be sleep, outdoor recreation, spending time with people, conversation, reading, games, puzzles, etc.
- Try to stay away from electronic devices. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with a device, but for many of us, they can open the door back into the frenzy of life. Consider shutting your phone off for a set number of hours or at least placing it in another room.
- Use a portion of your rest to look to your Savior. Thank Him for His finished work. Repent of any idolatry that has cropped up. Claim His promises.
- Use a portion of your rest to focus on your family. Serve them. Enjoy them. Listen to them. Make it your aim for them to look forward to when “Dad is resting.”
- Don’t be surprised if you come face to face with major issues in your own heart. Often, rest reveals as much as it refreshes.
- Afterward, take time as a family to assess how it went. What went well? How can you improve?
- Consider creating a regular rhythm of rest in your family.
As you lead the way to rest, you will point your family to their Creator and Savior, the one who alone must be the object of their worship and the anchor for their faith.
For the Old Testament believer, weekly Sabbath observance was a shadow of the coming Messiah who would bring true rest (Col. 2:16–17). Although Sabbath observance is no longer a requirement for a New Testament believer, true rest is both a privilege and a necessity. The fact that Jesus has secured our rest doesn’t give us a free pass to be a workaholic. If anything, New Testament believers should be even more intentional about taking time to rest. ↩︎
Thanks to my brother, Brian Pate, for this definition of rest. I benefited greatly from his paper on a theology of rest in the Old Testament, “I Will Give You Rest,” as well as personal conversations on the topic. ↩︎