From “Sustainable,” a series of Camp Arcadia lectures, Summer 2016
If you’ve grown up around Christianity then you’re familiar with the word “sabbath.” It refers both to the day of rest we see God taking at the conclusion of his creative work in the book of Genesis as well as to the command he gives us to us his people to do the same. God is one who labors and then pauses for a brief holiday (derived from “holy day”) to enjoy the fruit of his efforts and he expects us, the crown of his creation, to do the same. For many of us that’s what Camp Arcadia represents. It’s our annual sabbath, our time of rest in the middle of paradise. And yet we know that God calls us to rest with a bit more frequency than once a year on the shores of Lake Michigan.
If you’re anything like me you hear God’s command for sabbath, for a regular moment of rest and you think, “Excellent idea…for someone else.” The demands of faithful living simply don’t allow us the same luxury that God affords himself. Nice idea, but simply not practical. The truth is that we are addicted to “doing.” Some of us loathe that truth. Some of us are just fine with that truth. But most all of us are stuck relentlessly laboring underneath that truth.
The reasons for this are many. The boundaries of work are blurred due to technology. Work follows us everywhere. It buzzes in our pockets and pops up on our watch. Likewise we are demanding more from our work than ever before. As we become increasingly secularized we are expecting our work to do for us what spirituality once did for us: give us peace and make us feel whole. As a result a day without doing, without tending to the garden of my constant activity, feels like dying.
But doing without resting is not God’s plan for us. He commands a rhythm of rest be added to our obsession with work because our bodies need time to recover and because our lives need room for relationships, which take time. But the main reason God commands that we stop and sabbath is because it is in our rest that we will have the space and time to express our faith in him. Our willingness to rest is an indicator of our heart toward him. Let’s put it this way. If you refuse to rest, and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s a problem with time management, you’re kidding yourself. Our refusal to rest is not a calendar issue. It’s a faith issue.
You either refuse to rest because you think you don’t need to rest or because you think that you can’t afford to rest. You either think that somehow the command doesn’t apply to you or that your world will irreparably suffer if you stop for more than a moment. Both attitudes tell us something about your heart. The first says that you overestimate yourself and that you think you’re above God who has commanded rest. The other says that deep down you underestimate God who has promised to provide. The latter was the challenge to ancient Israel who was given the explicit command to set aside a full day as sabbath. In an ancient agrarian world where you were wandering in the wilderness work was not about making yourself feel good. It was about surviving. It was about gathering food, protecting yourself from the elements and being on guard against violent enemies. To set aside an entire day and do nothing was more than being rejuvenated physically and spending time with the kids. It was a profound demonstration of trust in the word of God.
Which is it for you? Take a moment to really think about it. How is your refusal to rest a reflection of how you see yourself in relation to God? Do you somehow think you’re above the command? Or do you struggle to trust that he will come through and provide if you attempt to keep the command?
Chances are such deep reflection gives you heartburn. It fills you with a sense of conviction, a realization that you fail to love God as you should. As a Lutheran pastor we have a label for that. It’s called being crushed by the Law of God which, despite how it sounds, is a good thing. Why? Because it makes room for the Gospel. And wouldn’t you know it God has some insanely good news for people who are able to admit what they find in their refusal to rest.
In Matthew 11 we hear Jesus saying this,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29)
Jesus’ words couldn’t be more comforting. Do you grasp what he’s saying? Using the agrarian imagery of his day Jesus is saying that we are the oxen plowing our fields and he is a farmer. And if we labor under his yoke the burden is easier to bear because his leadership is gentle, humble, and loaded with rest. Jesus is saying, “If you’re broken from your addiction to work, come to me. I am a better boss.”
One of the many great and comforting claims of Christianity is that Jesus gives to the world a rest for our souls. He releases us from the angst of soul that drives us to relentlessly churn, to work, convincing ourselves that if we don’t “do” we die. How? He’s the kind of boss that does all of the work for you and pronounces that the worst of it, the impossible aspects of it, have been completed on your behalf and offered to you as a gift. Jesus labored under the law perfectly. He died for lawbreakers—those who can’t keep up with the demands of life and of God—sacrificially. And then he rose victoriously. And he hands all of it—the perfection, the sacrifice, the victory—to us, through faith.
In Jesus Christ you have a soul-sabbath that frees you to take a physical one. Through the work of Christ you are worthy in the eyes of God the Father. You don’t have to prove yourself through doing. Take a load off. Through the work of Christ you are guaranteed to have the favor of God the Father. You don’t have to worry about life falling apart if you stop and rest. God will cover you. Relax.
The truth is that something in your life is going to “yoke” you. Something will have its hands on the shoulder of your soul, driving you. Often times it is our arrogance. For many it’s our fear. Both convince you that stopping is a threat to your peace. But there is a better boss. There is Christ whose nail scarred hands rest on your shoulder too, not pressing you to perform but reminding you of his caring presence. This same Jesus leans in and whispers in your ear a constant reminder that the real work is done. Your acceptance is attained. Your future is secure. You are free to work from a place of peace and not striving to attain it. You are also free to stop, to rest and to enjoy the fruit of your labor. That’s the kind of boss Jesus is, and that’s the boss—baptized child of God—that you have now, today.
We are addicted to doing. But doing without resting is not what God had in mind for you. It’s not sustainable. It’s not faithful. And besides, if taking some time to rest after a solid week of work was good enough for the Creator, how much more so for the creation? Don’t let your annual week at Camp Arcadia be the only real, joyful, rest you receive. In Christ you have the freedom for a holy day—a holiday—far more often than that. So take it. It won’t be as awesome as ice cream from the Wigwam on the shore of Lake Michigan but it will be close, and it will be well worth it.