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Blessed to Rest

God wants us to learn from the way he works, how to live.


What if one of the most important things you could possibly do to live the blessed life, to have life in all fullness as Jesus promised, looks like the opposite of doing something? I’m talking about rest. Specifically, I’m talking about Sabbath.

What I say about rest might be a challenge to what some of you have thought or believed. Talking about the Sabbath can be a point of tension. Nothing shook the Pharisees more than what Jesus did and said about the Sabbath.

In Genesis 1 we see that whatever God saw that he created was good and he pronounced a blessing over it. Then he made people at the end, as the pinnacle of his creation. He made them, male and female, and blessed them saying, “very good.”

Then Genesis 1 is done and we turn the page, still seeing from a panoramic cosmic standpoint what God is doing as Creator, and look what we find him doing.

(Read Genesis 2:1-3)

God Works and Rests

Verse 1 says it was not random. It was not Mother Nature but Father God who made the heavens. He made the host of heavens, which isn’t the stars—the word means armies. Spiritual beings in heavenly places, which God originally created as all good because he only does good.

Later we read that one of them, Lucifer, rebels in pride and leads a rebellion against God and is thrown out of the highest heaven. So, the focus of his hatred now—because he knows he can never beat God—is the earth, and us, because if you are nasty and you can’t hurt the parent, attack the kids.

That sums up the context for what the Bible calls our ongoing spiritual warfare; principalities and powers, archangels and demons—our battle is not against flesh and blood—all that is introduced in one verse, Genesis 2:1.

God created everything in heaven and earth. Then he stopped creating. But we know the story isn’t over, history—our part in a much bigger story—is just starting.

So far God had been super productive. Getting stuff done. He smashed a massive to-do list. Then after he’s done it all, he rests.

Whenever we talk about Sabbath and rest, I find there are two types of people who hear this very differently. Some people that are great at working, but terrible at resting. The danger and problem there is obvious, except to them. But everyone around them sees it. Some other people are great at resting, but terrible at working. The danger and problem there is obvious, except to them. But everyone around them sees it.

If you’re in the first camp, a lot of what we are going to look at today is going to be vital, because you need to learn how to work to a plan, to priorities, not to pressures. Pressures that come from others or maybe from your own perfectionism.

If you’re in the other camp, well, kick yourself awake so I don’t have to.

Both camps notice God could have made all these things, everything in the universe, in a moment, but this says he didn’t do it all at once. But day after day, even though everything was not “done” yet, he said “That’s great work! I’m happy, and productive and it’s not finished but it’ll do for today” with more to do the day after.

He could have done it all at once, he’s God after all, but he worked and said, “That’s good.” Over and over. It wasn’t all done. It was all good. And he also rested. And the Bible says these things are written for our instruction. God wants us to learn from the way he works, how to live.

And notice that yes–he works! Jesus said, “My Father is always working!” He never stops, apart from that one day we just read about. That was not for him or because he needed to, he never grows weary. It was for us and to model that we need to rest from work and work from rest.

One of God’s attributes, one of the things that makes God, God, is that he is omnipotent. Omni = All. Potent = powerful. He uses that power. If he didn’t, nothing would happen. If you’re going to do anything, anything great for God or for anyone else, it takes work. I know that sounds like an unpopular thing to say but it’s reality.

Now we all, to a greater or lesser extent, prefer comfort. We think that’s what makes us happy, but in the end, sitting over that side drains your energy rather than creating more. It makes us lazy and miserable, because we’re made in God’s image and work was what he did and what he told the first humans to do as a blessing, before the Fall, to join him and work with him. Work was part of God’s original blessing to creation and it’s part of what makes us human and when we enter the next life there will be work for us to do too because it’s good.

We need to plan our work and work our plan and do something related to it just about every day. That’s the only way we’ll write the book or right the wrong or whatever God says he wants you to do.

What does God want you to do? Where does he want you to go to work? Don’t just make a resolution, make a plan and do the work. Start small, big changes come over time. Consistency is what counts.

If I brush my teeth hard for 10 hours I won’t have great teeth. But brushing them every day, a couple of minutes, now I’m smiling. You won’t get anything great and worthwhile done in one day, but one day you will. We’ll see it was all worthwhile and that’s great. We have to work, and rest to live the life God-blessed life.

So, we see that God puts his power to work to create the universe. He makes time as part of that, not like we say we’ll “make time.” I mean there are distinct epochs, eras, or ages of time that the text calls days. But seeing as sun and moon are not made till day four I don’t see how it’s literal days. Remember this is not telling us how he did it—that would be above my pay grade—but this helps us understand why and what he’s doing.

What Are the Big Rocks?

So what if Sabbath isn’t a day, a 24 hour period? What if it’s more than a day? What if Sabbath rest is a state of being—not doing—that God wanted his people to enter into? As preparation for that, the Jewish people were commanded and observed one day in seven to practice Sabbath, but that was not the thing itself that mattered, it was a shadow of what was to come?

If you think you’re working too hard maybe you’re not the best judge of that and you need to ask others. Because being busy doesn’t mean you’re doing what is important. You haven’t learned to put first things first.

Stephen Covey famously told a story I find helpful as a continual diagnostic to make decisions and work according to priorities and also to make time for time off and it’s about a teacher who had a big bucket.

She put three or four big rocks in and said “Is it full?” And everyone said, “No, there’s still room for more.” She poured in some pebbles up to the top and said “Is it full?” No there’s a little room. She filled it with sand and they said “It’s full!” Then she poured in water to the brim and asked, “What am I trying to teach you?” They said “You can always squeeze more in?” “Yes!” said another, “if you try hard enough …” But the teacher paused and said, “If you want to get the big rocks in, they have to go in first.”

The question now becomes for you and me, What are the big rocks? To live the life God can really bless, he wants to show you how to put first things first. In every area, what are your big rocks? There are times and seasons of life some of these may change but what will it be for you now? What are the absolute musts? We all have this “everything else” going on, all the time. Our phones really don’t help, do they?

Without priorities all you end up with is problems, pressures, and procrastination. That word priority is from the Latin that means “first.” It is singular. But now we talk about having a list of priorities, my “top ten priorities.” If everything is first, nothing really is. You won’t remember what was meant to be most important. We end up doing all the other urgent things.

So, what’s first for you? What’s the water and the sand you say no (or no thank you) to? Because, “No” is a complete sentence. And “No thank you” is a polite complete sentence. Or is life just going to keep on filling up?

I hear a phrase all the time, more and more since COVID I think, “I haven’t got capacity.” Well, we won’t get any more. 24 hours is standard, seven days a week. I have a lot of sympathy for the feeling because it’s been very tough and busy for many of us. Yet what if the problem is not the capacity. What if it’s how I’m filling my life? What I call good, and good enough, and done.

Jesus is God become a human, come to save the world. He limited his capacity deliberately. He sat down at a well and rested. He slept in a boat in a storm. He said, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” He worked miracles. That’s putting first things first. What’s first in your focus?

Rest Leads to Flourishing

Let’s look again at Genesis 2: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing (he got the work done, now what? Rest.); so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Let’s not misunderstand this. It does not mean rest like when we have been working hard and rest in order to restore our strength. Isaiah 40:28 says, The Lord “does not grow weary.” This means activity ceased. Everything he does he blesses, then he blesses rest. God stopped. Effort ended. No more creating. Yes, God is still active and working in his creation now but he’s not creating, except when someone gives their life to him then he says “I’m making you a new creation!”

One day in the future there will be a new heaven and earth, all things created anew. But we’re not there yet.

So, God created, then he rested. But he didn’t rest for himself. The Sabbath was not made for him. He Sabbathed for us. Not because he was showing us what he needs as God, but what we need, as humans. What creation needs, to flourish.

The word "Sabbath," the word "seven," and the word "rest," are all from the same basic word in Hebrew, Shavat. The heart of the meaning of Sabbath is rest. You can’t Sabbath without rest and that means stop working.

The commandment came in as one of God’s top-ten in the Old Testament, central to the lives of all the children of Israel, slaves, even animals are included. At times the land was to be rested.

Sabbath doesn’t mean having a day off. On a day off you may stop working for an employer, for money and so on, but still work. Sabbath means my focus is when all I do is rest and worship, enjoying and trusting the One who gives me rest. I make him the one and only Rock, and build everything else on and around him.

Why would I only make that a day? When it’s so much more available and expansive than that?

There’s been a lot of discussion around the Sabbath for centuries, when it should be and what you can and can’t do and even what day it is. In the Old Testament it was Saturday, the last day of the week for them, or rather from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening. They killed people for breaking the Sabbath. To this day orthodox Jews will jump through all kinds of hoops not to work on that day. Scratch that, because hoop jumping would pretty much definitely qualify as work.

Then Jesus comes along and says, “Man was not made for the sabbath but the sabbath for man.” He goes out on Friday night and around on Saturday morning healing and helping people making the religious leaders furious. They rush a trial through and are very careful to make sure they don’t break the Sabbath, on the day they kill God. Which goes to show how crazy legalism can become when it gets religious.

Some people then teach that the Sabbath switches to Sunday, because Jesus rose on the third day but I can’t find evidence that the first disciples who were Jewish changed to a Sunday Sabbath. They didn’t call it the Sabbath, they called it the First Day, and later, “the Lord’s day.” Not because it was the Sabbath, it celebrated something different. That Jesus is Lord and he is alive! So, they gathered and celebrated the new day, the Resurrection, that changes every other day forever.

Please check Scripture on this for yourself and yes have a day off, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Sabbath is not a Sunday. (Well, it hardly ever has been for me or anyone who works for a church.) It’s not just a day off. Of course, I think there are many brilliant reasons for gathering together like this to worship the risen Lord, I don’t think Sabbath is one of them, biblically.

That doesn’t mean that I think I or you should observe Sabbath on a Saturday either, like Seventh Day Adventists say we should do instead. That’s missing the point.

Within a hundred years it seems the believers stopped celebrating both because according to the New Testament, Sabbath is not a day in the week or a date on the calendar, though of course if I’m serious about putting God first I have to put that as the Big Rock and put time in like any important relationship. Minutes, hours, days, months of drawing close to God, resting in him.

I’m blessed that this year God willing from May to July I’m going to have a sabbatical. My first one in over 30 years of full-time ministry. What do I want to do? Rest and worship, enjoy God and his creation. Do I need three months to do that? No. But sometimes days have come and gone when I hardly took three minutes to Sabbath.

Maybe you’re thinking, What do you mean you didn’t Sabbath, didn’t you have a day off that week? Well, I don’t even do that too well sometimes, I intend to work six days and have one off, but too often I still swing over to do some work. But I want to Sabbath more and better in this year of blessing, and not just one day a week, but every day. Really!

In Hebrews, one of the major focuses there is to say that Sabbath is available to us all now, to experience. Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God” [it is available to us now] “for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labours as God did from his.” This says the true rest, the blessed life now, is to stop trying to be my own Savior, cease striving in my own goodness or self-righteousness and simply trust God.

The only effort he says we make is to enter that rest. To trust Jesus’ sacrifice, to save me. That’s what Hebrews is about. The Jewish believers had to see that religious laws, rules, sacrifices, and observances not only don’t work but they were just shadows of something greater, fulfilled by someone greater.

I can never save myself by my own good works or activity or even by my own inactivity on a Saturday, Sunday, or any other day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t come to church on Sunday, I could give you hundreds of brilliant reasons to come. Some of them are sitting right next to you. I’m not saying work all the time, that’s foolish and goes against how God made us. Have a nap, have a day off, have holidays, and be off the grid and come to church, and join a grow group, it’s all brilliant.

But don’t do any of it because you must, do it because it’s good. Come here because you love Jesus and his people, you’ll enjoy it way more. Good is always better than should.

Then live a Sabbath life. Have a Sabbath year. This year of blessing, let’s have a Sabbath time every day, loads of Sabbath times in the week, and yes plan it into your months too. Time for Sabbath. Being with God and resting in his love. Now there is a time of Sabbath waiting for God’s people to enter into and he loves it when we do.

The Apostle Paul wrote that one person observes a particular day as special and someone else another day, but he told the Colossians who were in danger of being taken over by legalists “Let no one pass judgment on you with regard to food or drink or a festival, new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:13-17).

Sabbaths were not an end in themselves. Like all the sacrifices in the Temple, Christ ended all that on the Cross, together with all the ritualistic observances religious people had tried and failed to justify themselves by. They were not the point they point to him. They were shadows. He’s the substance.


So, if now there is a Sabbath waiting for God’s people to enter into, when is it? Wrong question. How about, “Who is it?

The answer is given in this famous word of invitation of the Lord Jesus, recorded in Matthew 11, and I want to leave you to pray and ponder on this and what might it look like for us to keep putting God as the big rock and living this out in our year of blessing—every day. There is a Sabbath rest waiting for us to enter into. Yes, today on Sunday, but also on Monday, to find him our Sabbath, and Tuesday night and Friday morning and Wednesday after lunch.

When we’ve been working and driving hard, and even before we get so tired, waking and going to bed we remember first things first and everything else is shifting sand but Christ is the One Rock, our foundation stone who says,

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Notice, he will give you rest, whenever you come, it’s not something I take but he gives me rest when I come and ….)

“Take my yoke upon you …” (Stop trying to do it alone, carrying it all by yourself.)

“… and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (There it is again. He is my Sabbath. When I come to Jesus, he gives me rest, and I find rest, stopping my own activity resting in him and what he is doing.)

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”

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