The Bible speaks about running the race of faith - with the image that often follows being that of a runner on an athletic track. However, some prefer the more octane version of this - living at breakneck speed - which is often more likened to that of Formula One drivers on a race track.
I’ve heard that driving a Formula One race car is like strapping onto a supersonic cruise missile where the acceleration is so violent that it snaps your head back, pinning it against your seat. Drivers reach dizzying speeds of up to 350 km an hour, and the physical pressure from taking a corner at this high speed feels like a sumo wrestler sitting on your neck. Exhilarating, terrifying and addictive.
Some of us have a very real desire or need for speed – and we translate that into the way we live our lives. Full throttle. However, while all-out passion and wholehearted pouring our lives out are commendable, we don’t often slow down to consider the biblical concept of rest. Rest. This unassuming four-letter word is more important than we realize. If we ignore what the Bible so clearly teaches and instructs us on this subject, we stand the risk of becoming burnt-out wrecks, having missed the warning signs that will eventually catch up to us.
Right from creation, we see God firmly establishing the principle of taking a day of rest after he had finished his work (Genesis 2:2). On the seventh day, the Lord “rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:17).
Did God need to rest? Was he tired and worn out from making the heavens and the earth? Of course not! God rested to show us how to rest – he modelled its importance for us limited humans. As one author says, “Like a parent who coaxes a cranky toddler to lie down for an afternoon nap by lying down beside her, God woos us into rest by resting.”  The Hebrew word for ‘refreshed’ is linked to “breath” and could also be translated as “the Lord rested and took a breath”. He “took a breather”, and in this way, the scriptures use human language to make God relatable – like a parent lying down next to his restless, needy child. In the same way, it would be very wise for us who are limited and finite to weekly “take a breather” from all our routines, duties, and responsibilities to get refreshed physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The command of rest
Rest is so important that when the Lord gave his commands to Moses (known as the Mosaic law), he codified the creation principle of rest into the old covenant law. He mandated to the Jews that they had to take one day of rest, called the Sabbath, from their work (Exodus 20:8). Even the animals had to rest. God was so serious about this law that those who disobeyed it were to be put to death! Even in the very busiest times of the year (ploughing and harvest), the ancient Jews had to take a day off once a week (Exodus 34:21). The principle for us is that we don’t rest only when our work stops. In many ways, work never stops – there will always be demands (ploughing and harvest), needs to be met, and task lists screaming for our attention. So if we want to rest badly, wait till there are no demands, no needs, and no work to be done.
On this point, it is also essential to understand that while God completed his creation work, all his other work is ongoing. Jesus says that he and the father are always working (John 5:17). But the glaring difference between the Lord and us is that God has limitless wisdom, undiminished power and is not constrained to our limits of time and space. We are embarrassingly limited. God is an ongoing, all-consuming fire. We are little firecrackers whose impact and energy are gone within a moment. Our eternal, omnipotent Lord easily holds the universe together, but our frail frames need ongoing rest, sleep and recreation to continue being fruitful during our short lives here on earth.
Rest as a witness that God comes first
It was a marker to the pagan, idolatrous nations around Israel that God’s people were set apart. God reminds Israel to, “…keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.” (Exodus 31:13) The fact that they would take an entire day to cease from labour and trading, to rest and worship the unseen God, was a profound witness to the world.
We also see that the Lord commanded the land to rest one year out of seven (Leviticus 25). There were practical reasons God gave this command (to protect the soil from over-farming for one) – but more importantly, it was a test of faith for the Jews. Would they trust God to provide enough to last them through the Sabbath year?
Truett Kathy is a modern-day example of this. He was the Christian founder of the massively popular American fast-food chain, Chick-fil-A, who in 1946, decided not to open its doors on Sundays. Seventy-five years and thousands of restaurants later, they still hold this value as they encourage their employees to rest, go to church and spend time with family. Executives of the company have stated that the chain makes as much money in six days as its competitors do in seven. Truett Kathy chose, in faith, to stick to doing things God’s way – and this has been a testimony to his faith in Christ and a witness to God’s provision.
The heart of the Sabbath rest
Today, we relate to God through the new covenant, so we are not legally bound to the Sabbath in the same way that the Jews were. But the heart – and principle – of the Sabbath should reside within each one of us.
So how exactly do we go about this?
The creation account describes six days of work before rest. Starting with work is an excellent principle to follow in the natural world. Others rightly expect us to do something, to add value, to be productive. But the gospel turns this on its head. When we come to God, we must begin – not with work – but with rest and surrender. Before we do anything for God, we must confess our utter dependence upon his obedience to make us righteous (Romans 5:19). We can’t simply labour to have peace with God – it is a grace gift which must be received, not earned. The principle of finding rest in Christ is not an excuse to be lazy in our lives! We should be the most diligent and obedient people there are – understanding that being a Christian means to always live from a place of heartfelt trust, and leaning on what Jesus has done on our behalf at the cross.
Secondly, we embrace the heart of the Sabbath by the way we practice the creation principle of setting aside one day out of seven.
Followers of Jesus through the ages have traditionally taken Sundays as this day of rest. We know God commanded the Jews to take Friday evening to Saturday evening as their Sabbath day of worship and rest from the routine of work – so why then do Christians emphasize Sundays? It is because Jesus rose on a Sunday morning. It was resurrection day, the Lord’s Day, and so, the early followers of Jesus started setting aside Sundays to worship the risen Christ (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). Sundays then replaced Saturday. In many ways, the Sabbath was a day of expectation – looking forward to the coming Messiah, while the Lord’s Day (Sunday) is the day of fulfillment – celebrating our risen Lord.
Today, we would do well to use Sundays, the first day of the week in ancient calendars, to set the tone for the week ahead; to set aside time to worship with other believers, rethink our priorities and replenish ourselves spiritually, emotionally and physically – a day to play and pray. This is a day to break from our regular daily routines and duties, including household chores.
I don’t believe Sundays are more holy than other days (Romans 14:5), or that refreshment and worshipping with fellow believers can’t occur on any other day – especially if one must, at times, work on a Sunday. The point is that we should practice the creation principle of setting aside one day out of seven. If we don’t make time in our diaries to consider this, and allow others to hold us accountable for it, we run the risk of becoming blunt and diminished in our faith.
In closing, this theme of rest strikes at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
We have to believe that God wants us to finish well – but this is only possible if we make time, weekly, to be refreshed in God, with his people and individually. If we choose to ignore the principle of Sabbath rest, we choose to do so at our own peril.
 The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan
 NET Bible notes