Summary: Sabbath rest addresses our compulsive need to be busy by giving us a day for authentic enjoyment, by providing a vivid contrast with other days, and by giving us a glimpse of eternal rest.
God rested. Well, why not? After all, He had had a busy week, almost as busy as ours! Some of us have had weeks like that, when we’ve had to build the moon and the stars, separate the waters from the dry land, and bring forth swarms of living creatures, all in one week. Every parent knows what that’s like! So of course God rested.
God rested, but why can’t we? Why is it that we can’t really seem to rest? Why is it that we come to Labor Day, supposedly a time to celebrate our work and get one last break, but we feel pushed and pressured, exhausted and desperate? God rested, but why didn’t we rest? Why can’t we rest?
Is it because God got His work done, but we didn’t? The Scripture says that "God finished the work that he had done." What a great feeling it must be to finish a piece of work! Maybe we don’t rest because we don’t finish our work.
God rested, but why can’t we? Is it because we feel that our work is not good? That we just muddle through and never get it right? The Scripture says that "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." God was able to rest because He had done good work. But as for us, we see what we do, and all we can say is, "Good enough for government work!" We just can’t feel satisfied that we’ve done our best, and so we can’t rest. Is that it?
God rested, but why can’t we? Is it that we have not finished, or is it that our work is not good, or, deeper yet, is it that we don’t even know what our work is? We don’t even know if we have a work to do. I’m not talking about jobs; I’m talking about our life’s work, our purpose, our direction. I’m not talking about where the paycheck comes from; I’m talking about where energy and passion come from. You see, God the Creator could speak His "Let there be" with purpose and passion, but we do not even know why we are working! We do not remember what our purpose is! And therefore we cannot rest, deep down in our souls. Is that it?
God rested, but why can’t we? The answer lies in a single word: compulsive. Compulsive. We do not rest because, to one extent or another, we are compulsive. We suffer from the spiritual disease of compulsiveness. And so we do not rest. We do not have peace. And we forfeit much of our joy.
Let me quickly define terms. What do I mean by "compulsive"? What is a compulsive spiritual disease?
To be compulsive is to have to do something. To feel an inner drive that demands that we do something. Being compulsive means that inside me there is a feeling that if I don’t do this particular thing in this particular way, I will be a failure. I will be a bad person. To be compulsive means to feel driven to do something, whether or not it has any meaning.
When I was a boy, I got into the pattern, as kids will, of eating the foods I liked and leaving on my plate the ones I didn’t like. And then I would complain that I was full and couldn’t eat the unpleasant stuff. Well, my father devised a remedy for that; he made me take a bite out of each item in turn, starting up at the top of the plate and going around, clockwise, bite after bite, item after item, until it was all gone. So I learned to eat meat -potatoes-spinach-salad-drink-bread-meat -potatoes-spinach-salad-drink-bread-meat -potatoes-spinach-salad-drink-bread ... got the picture? Do you know I still do that? Fifty years later I still eat that way! And, yes, if I indulge in two bites of meat before I sentence myself to a bite of spinach, I feel guilty! You psychology folk make whatever you want to out of that, I just know it’s compulsive. It’s harmless, but it is also compulsive. Feeling as though you have to do a thing.
You take that to another level, however, and it’s not so harmless. Follow the compulsive approach out and it becomes something dangerous, a symptom of spiritual sickness.
Do you feel as though you have to work, or else you aren’t worth anything? Some folks price themselves on staying busy, never sitting down to relax, listen to music, take some time. What they are doing counts for less than the mere fact that they are doing it. You tell some compulsive people that they have to retire, and you throw them into a crisis, because, for them, work is life. Sometimes people literally don’t even survive retirement. They wither away and die because they feel devalued if they can’t work. The compulsion to stay busy, just doing, no matter what it is, is a spiritual sickness. It needs a remedy. It needs to be cured.