So often we wake up tired, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. Our souls can become restless from alerts that pop up on our phones of another mass shooting or natural disaster and more divisive politics, disease and destruction. The weight of the world can weigh on us before we even get out of bed. This can even happen the Monday morning after a Sabbath, when we’ve slept and since forgotten Sunday’s message.
So how do we factor in daily rest for our spirits, the unseen yet most-powerful part of our psyche? How do we strike the balance of work and rest that God so wisely outlined for us in Genesis 2:3 when even He rested after the creation of the world and declared that day holy – special, set apart, and sanctified?
When to work, when to rest. It’s the pull of pace and productivity we try to balance daily.
In my younger years of college and career, I often joked that I’d sleep when I was dead. There was just too much to be done. (This makes me laugh now.) To my 20-year-old, arrogant self, sleep seemed highly overrated and a colossal waste of time. In my child bearing years, I amusingly thought the lack of sleep might kill me. It didn’t of course, but there’s nothing quite as humbling as a helpless infant who keeps you up all night through heavy eyelids. Now that I nearly have a teenager in the house, I often wonder when she’ll finally go to bed so her father and I can turn in too.
Over the years, I’ve grown to cherish sleep and the recalibrating effect it has on my body, mind and emotions. I’ve grown to press into and yearn for God’s good design of work and rest. Sleep can be healing, fighting off sickness, stress and sadness. It can even signal a trust and abiding in Jesus, knowing that the world and our problems don’t rest solely on our shoulders.
We can sleep well because the Lord never does.
The all-powerful God wasn’t tired after creating the heavens, earth and humanity. No, the Protector of Israel never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:4). Like a good Parent, He was simply modeling for us how to Sabbath, celebrate His creation and humble ourselves under His sovereign wings.
Yet, even knowing our need for rest, we often push ourselves to the very limit, burning the proverbial candle at both ends until our entire beings scream for a break. We take on too much, whether from guilt or a need for significance or the inability and discipline to say no, or the lie that no one can do it better than us.
No part of us suffers more than our spirits when we repeatedly overextend ourselves and dismiss God’s design for rest.
Labor Day serves as a kind of secular sabbath, where many Americans take a three-day respite from the demands of vocation and education. It’s a brief breath before diving into seemingly endless fall and holiday activities that can exhaust the most energetic of souls.
According to an article in The New York Times, American workers held the first Labor Day on Sept. 5, 1882. More than a parade, it was a protest against working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, often in physically demanding, low-paying jobs. Conditions were often harsh and unsafe. Even children worked, on farms and in factories and mines. These workers were stretched thin by the demands of life in industrial America and a lack of protection from exploitive employers. They held signs during the Labor Day strike that called for “Less Work. More Pay.”
Isn’t that the very thing we want for our spirits? Less striving. Less toiling. Less work. More victory. More fruits of the Spirit. More pay out for the kingdom of God.
The very gift of the Gospel – God’s victory message to us through Jesus – is that we can’t work to earn it. Yet, we when we receive the free gift of salvation, when we rest wholly in Christ, we receive the ultimate inheritance – a personal relationship with God for eternity.
“Less Work. More Pay.”
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This Gospel essential is forgotten even amongst seasoned believers. We have to preach the Gospel to ourselves daily.
Innately and in our fallen nature, we want to earn it. We want to keep score. We want to think we are good enough to deserve it. We want to prove our value. We search for significance even though our identity and worth come solely from who we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-13). We self-justify when we’ve already been justified by faith in God (Romans 3:28).
When we work for our salvation, we labor in vain. The payout is empty. Like King Solomon who lacked nothing in worldly wealth, we will find that “this too is futile and a pursuit of the wind" (Ecclesiastes 4:4).
We must rest in and work from the finished work of the cross.
“For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:10-11).
When we abide in Jesus, our hearts move from self-reliance to God dependence. We rest in Him and then we work for Him.
“Less Work. More Pay.”
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden in light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When we wear the yoke of the world and fall into patterns of disobedience – working before resting, working to please others and not the Lord - our promised refreshment and renewal in Jesus is diminished.
It is safe to say that we are all exhausted by something, and a holiday like Labor Day isn’t going to be enough to relieve us.
A Wall Street Journal article reported that mothers work an average of 98 hours per week, the equivalent of two full time jobs plus overtime. This statistic could explain the rise of anxiety in women, who are often mothering while earning income for their families, as well as volunteering and caring for extended family.
This frenetic activity is a symptom of our restless souls. We’ve forgotten to get away often with our Father (Matthew 6:6). We’ve forgotten how to be still (Psalm 46:10) and let Jesus fight our battles (Exodus 14:14). We’ve forgotten to let the Lord lead us beside quiet waters (Psalm 23:2).
We don’t have time to not rest in the Lord.
Instead of being productive, this lack of intimacy with the Lord is counterproductive to the work He calls us to do.
But when we rest from our own work, we can work restfully in the Lord.
Before Jesus and the disciples fed the 5,000, He instructed the men to - guess what? - rest. Doesn't this go against our very nature and instincts, to rest before we work instead of resting after we work (or rarely at all)?
“Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while,” said Jesus. “So they went away in the boat by themselves” (Mark 6:31-32).
Jesus was teaching the disciples - and us - the natural rhythms of work and rest.
To be about our Father’s business, we must first rest in Him and gain our strength from Him.
Posture before productivity
I have a blue sticky note in my desk that reads “Posture before productivity”. I don’t recall where I first read this phrase, but it has become a lighthouse for my soul, a flashing signal that warns against working in my own strength and keeping me from getting lost in the demands of the day. This simple yet vital reminder to pray before I write, to get away with God before I work for Him, not only protects me from spiritual exhaustion but also assures that the work I will produce is glorifying to Him.
We all desperately need this reminder, particularly when limited time to work would urge us to dive right in and forgo a posture of worship and humility.
The irony, is, when I do take the time to be prostrate before the Lord before I try to produce, my work is always more productive. This is the kind of “Less Work. More Pay.” we want to achieve.
So how do we go from being restless to restful? We abide in Jesus through His Word and prayer.
Instead of scrolling on our phones morning and night, let's open the Scrolls of Heaven at dawn and dusk.
Instead of posting about our problems, let's pour them out before the Problem Solver and check in frequently for His response.
Let's find rest and direction from God's Word that grants us all things for life and godliness, including how to work and rest well (2 Peter 1:3).
Spiritual rest yields physical rest
When we labor for the Lord, we can both lie down and rest in peace (Psalm 4:8).
This gift of physical sleep isn’t about circumstances, either. More than a dark, quiet room or a hot lavender bath, restful sleep comes from the space in our hearts that is at peace from abiding in Jesus. The Bible tells us that it is the "unclean spirit" who "roams through waterless places looking for rest but doesn't find any" (Matthew 12:43).
The spirit not abiding in Jesus will be restless and roaming. Sin and strife will steal our sleep.
When the disciples found themselves in a furious storm on the Sea of Galilee, where the waves were beating their boat and sweeping over them, Jesus slept (Matthew 8:24). Jesus wasn't emotionally absent or unaware of this storm. In that moment, the perfect humanity of Jesus could rest because He knew His Father was working.
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid ... your sleep will be sweet … because the LORD sustains [you]” (Proverbs 3:5, 24).
What if we walked out the “Less Work. More Pay.” protest by laying our burdens down, picking up our cross like a picket sign, and working instead for the advancement of the Gospel in all that we do?
This would empower us to say no to meaningless activities that might make us look good, because we already know we’ll never be good enough. We can cease striving, laboring for the approval of man, because we know God has already approved and chosen us. We can throw off the weight of worry, because we trust that God is for us and has gone before us.
We can truly have "Less Work. More Pay." everyday as we labor for the Lord.
When we are abiding in Jesus and resting in Him, our faith will then activate our works (James 2:17). We will work from the power of our salvation, not for it.
Our work can become our worship when we do it all for the glory of God, not to one-up a co-worker or outshine a competitor or fellow coach or parent. When we work with excellence, we will actually love our neighbor as ourselves because we are working for man - or our children or spouse or community - as though we are working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23).
We can see every bit of work as part of God’s holy harvest. Instead of being burnt out from our work, we can be lit up by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
No one worked harder than our Lord, yet He never turned away the sick or ceased to feed the hungry. He had compassion on them because His heart was divinely knit to His Father's.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:35-38).
Ask God to send you out as a worker for His kingdom. There is no greater job. You don’t have to become a missionary to be a worker for the Lord. God has strategically placed His people to work for Him everywhere, not just from the pulpit: in both public and private schools, the police force, in politics, philanthropy, as president or payroll clerk, and even in pee-wee leagues.
You can be a worker for God anywhere, so that God can be glorified everywhere.
"My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples," said Jesus (John 15:8).
If you feel under qualified, first - join the club. Then, ask boldly and with confidence for God to equip you. Trust that His plan is always accompanied by His power, that He is the Ultimate Employer who will not only give you all you need to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for you but will also give you deep soul rest while you do it (Ephesians 2:10).
Rest well and work well in Jesus as you abide in Him. It truly is “Less Work. More Pay.”