Why We Resist Jesus’s Command to Rest

The following is a post by Pastor Rob Golding of First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. He also writes for the Westminster Theological Seminary Magazine.

As Christians, we feel guilty for not following God’s commands except for one: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). “Rest” (anapausasthe) in this passage is an imperative verb. It is a command Jesus gave to His disciples as they worked for Him. Arguably, the most significant Old Testament law was the Sabbath; “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest… (Exodus 31:15a, italics mine).

A man could be put to death for doing something as “insignificant” as collecting a few sticks while he was supposed to be resting on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). Yet, many of us write emails, finish off the workweek, or handle business not attended to during the week on the Lord’s Day without a twinge of guilt.

It is very American to see the fourth commandment, rest on the Sabbath, as no longer relevant. In the US, we follow the nine commandments. Leaving aside the (very persuasive) arguments to keep the fourth commandment, we find ourselves regularly violating the command to rest without even considering the issue of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

We work like dogs and stay glued to email while we are supposed to be eating with family. We collapse with exhaustion on the couch and think incessantly of that little “thing” that was not done. We bring our pocket computers into bed with us—like work adulterers—and allow our tasks to be the last thing we see before sleep and the first thing we see upon waking. It is easy to idolize work in America (for the hardworking, at least), and we have done a pretty good job at it. So good that we hear Jesus’s command to “rest,” and we shrug it off as we open our laptops with weariness of soul.

Why do we feel guilt for everything but this?

In America, work is our new fourth commandment. “Thou shalt work hard” is printed invisibly on our citizenship papers and our hearts. We think we are doing something good by working too much, but Jesus’s command shows us otherwise.

In reality, we are saying with our deeds (actions speak louder than words) that our work is more important than God’s. “God helps those who help themselves,” right? “Thoughts and prayers” are useless, right? Those who are too “heavenly-minded are of no earthly good,” right? These are the lies we buy, and they drag us into exhaustion and eventually despair.

Christ is our loving Master. He does not set us free to frolic, but He puts a yoke on us, but this yoke is easy. He shows us what to do, and doing it is often a significant task (1 Corinthians 15:10), but He always shows us when to rest (Psalm 23:2-3).

To truly follow Christ, we must follow Him into rest. Watching football on Sunday or scrolling social media after dinner does not fulfill His command. He has called us to rest in Him. We must “come away” (Mark 6:31) from the cacophony of other people, screens, and work. If Jesus needed to rest (Luke 22:39), why wouldn’t we? Are we stronger than He? Do we trust Him with our work?

Guilt is a great thing when it prods us to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to burden your soul for ignoring the command of God to rest the next time you work yourself into exhaustion. His burden is easy, and His yoke is light. God’s plans for the world will not crumble if you take another week to answer that email. But you will if you ignore His command to rest.

-Rob Golding

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