Part 3, Resting – The Art of Sabbathing
In my past two editions of my weekly Pastor’s Desks I have drawn parallels between caring for our physical health and how we should care for our souls (our spiritual, emotional, and mental health). In Part 1, I discussed the benefits of aerobic exercise for our physical health (which increases the demand for oxygen intake) and how this was similar to the spiritual discipline of praying. In Part 2, I had compared the need to maintain a healthy balanced diet for good physical health and how this related to the need for the believer to maintain a healthy spiritual diet from reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, the Bible. Now I turn my attention to an oft neglected aspect of our spiritual well-being: resting. As a disclaimer, I am one of the least qualified to discuss this topic—but, embarrassing, any lessons I have learned about the value of rest have come negatively from not resting as I should have and then enduring the inevitable consequences.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
“HAVE YOU BEEN BUSY?”
Being busy is like a badge of honour for many people. It’s not enough to be a mother looking after young children. This mother is expected to be a busy mother looking after young children! Men are trained to regard being busy as a condition of manhood. It becomes their excuse for not getting things done – “I’ve been busy”; and their routine introductory conversation starter, “Been busy?” In fact, it is almost a shameful thing for a man to confess that he hasn’t been busy and almost unthinkable for him to say that he has spent the whole day doing nothing! But perhaps it is because people do not make rest a routine part of their regular week that they are so prone to burn-out? Before we consider the enormous spiritual benefits to resting, I want to overview some of the largely unappreciated benefits of rest, particularly sleep.
If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
THE BENEFITS OF RESTING/SLEEP
Several years ago I collapsed in my office in excruciating pain unable to move my legs. It turned out that a motor-cycle accident that I had had twenty-five years earlier (after a Nissan Patrol had side-swiped me and put me into a coma with a broken shoulder) but had apparently also broken my back – yet had not been diagnosed at that time. After I was eventually able to re-use my legs I went for scans which revealed the true nature of the damage that had caused my collapse. The neurosurgeon said my back was now too far gone to operate, but there were two things I could do to help manage my back health from this point: (i) drink more water and (ii) get more sleep (he also said get more active, take pain killers and rest when it hurts too much). Since then I have tried to do just that. I have also done a bit of research into why sleep is so important to our health — and not just our physical health too! Here are some of the benefits of getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night:
- BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM: Sleep is necessary to boost our immune systems to be able to fight off diseases.
- PREVENTS WEIGHT GAIN: Insufficient sleep causes our bodies to produce an appetite increasing hormone (ghrelin) that leads can lead to weight gain.
- DECREASED RISK OF HEART ATTACK: Proper sleep is necessary to reduce the risk of heart attack because our hearts need to rest through sleep and decrease our blood pressure and the amount of cortisol in our blood which places our hearts under stress.
- PRODUCTIVITY INCREASES: A well rested person is a much more productive person.
- IMPROVED MOOD: A good sleep pattern has a dramatic impact on our emotional well-being.
- INCREASES HEIGHT: When we sleep our spinal discs re-hydrate (if we have actually drunk enough water throughout the day) and we actually wake up a millimetre or two taller at the start of our day.
- DECREASED TRAFFIC RISK: Lack of sleep dramatically increases your risk of a road motor vehicle accident. The person who only gets five hours sleep a night quadruples their chance of crashing!
- SLEEP IMPROVES MEMORY: When we are asleep it is an opportunity for our minds to sort and file information away in the long-term memory of our brains.
We sometimes hear of national Prime Ministers or Presidents that “get by on four hours of sleep a night” and wonder how on earth they could do it. The truth is. They can’t. Not in the long term at least. God has designed us to sleep. Busy people often view sleep as “time wasted”, but the data clearly tells another story. And when we add in the number of times that God spoke to people while they slept (Gen. 15:12-21; 20:3-6; 28:12-15; 31:24; 37:5, 9) we begin to realise that there may be more happening to us while we sleep than we might realise (or happening to other when we pray for them!).
JESUS SAID TO HER, YOU ARE ANXIOUS AND
TROUBLED ABOUT MANY THINGS
The sisters, Mary and Martha appear in two different stories in two different Gospels. In Luke’s Gospel, Dr. Luke tells of when Mary and Martha hosted Jesus for a meal. Mary rested at the feet of Jesus as He sat teaching her while her sister Martha was left carrying the load of hospitality in the kitchen. The problem wasn’t that Martha was serving and Mary wasn’t – the problem was that Martha was distracted by her serving because she had become resentful of her sister Mary who wasn’t serving. Pastor Phil Hills would say over and over again, “We don’t rest from work, we work from rest!” Before we had our larger auditorium we used to hold our pre-service prayer meeting in my office. On my white-board I had “Our service is our worship. Our service enables others to worship.” Martha’s problem was that she did not see her serving as worship of Christ which enabled Mary to worship at the feet of Christ! Jesus saw right into the heart of Martha and exposed her needless anxiety and resentment. Naturally as a Pastor I want people to serve gladly in our church and to do without any sense of resentment that others should be serving more – but I especially want people to serve from rest so that others can rest in worship at the feet of Jesus just like Mary did!
¶ Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.
And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching.
But Martha was distracted with much serving.
And she went up to Him and said,
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,
but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
SABBATH – A DAY OF REST, WORSHIP & THE WORD
It seems that from creation, God established that mankind should rest from his usual labours each seventh day (Gen. 2:3) and reflect on his relationship with God with thanksgiving. In much the same that sleep is seems counter-intuitive to the busy person, the idea of a sabbath (resting each seventh day) also seems counter-intuitive to a busyness person. It may also seem odd that God would even have to incorporate such a thing as a sabbath day into a set of ten primary laws for all former Hebrew slaves who had never previously got any time off before being delivered Egypt! But God actually made it the fourth commandment after:
(i) Have no other gods (Exo. 20:3),
(ii) Do not make or bow down to any carved imaged or anything in the sky above or on the earth or in the sea (Exo. 20:4-5),
(iii) You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain (Exo. 20:7), and
(iv) Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy (Exo. 20:8-11).
After Israel settled into the Promised Land they soon neglected to keep the Sabbath and God raised up the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to call them to repentance to re-establish their obedience in honouring God by observing it. After the Jews returned from their Exile in Babylon and Persia they actually became very legalistic about keeping the Sabbath and even developed some 600 additional sub-laws on how it was to be kept properly! Interestingly, each of the Ten Commandments is repeated in the New Testament as applicable for Christians, except keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. This is because the Old Testament Sabbath not only provided a principle of weekly rest from usual labours and a time to reflect with thanksgiving upon the Creator, it also prophetically pointed to the coming of the Messiah who would redeem lost mankind on cross and bring an end to the “works of the law” (Gal. 2:16; 3:13). The writer to the Hebrews said that to turn to Christ in repentance and faith was to permanently enter into God’s rest and warns those tempted by false teachers to try to earn their salvation by keeping certain rules, such as seventh-day-Sabbaths not to be fooled:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,
for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from His works as God did from His.
¶ Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
When Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, and then fifty-days later sent the baptising Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost Sunday of the Christian Calendar, tens of thousands of formerly seventh-day Sabbath keeping law-abiding Jews were converted to Christianity and were baptised and switched their Sabbath observance to Sunday not just as a day of rest — but as a weekly day to celebrate their newfound eternal rest!
In our day we too meet each Sunday to do the same! It is an exercise that is good for our physical health, our mental health, our emotional health, and especially our spiritual health!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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