Summary: Rest is important. Here are four reasons why.
By and large, Americans don’t value rest and relaxation. On the contrary, we’ve made a virtue of unceasing labor; we brag about how busy we are, as if the hectic pace of our lives is proof that we’re important and significant. We feel guilty when we’re not working, and we’re suspicious of anyone else who removes their nose from the grindstone for too long. Take vacations, for example. In Europe , the standard is five or six weeks of time off per year. Sound good? In France, the whole country basically shuts down for the month of August, and everyone heads to the beach or the mountains. And while the number of public holidays in the U.S. is seven; in Europe it’s ten or eleven.
The only industrialized country in the world that takes less time off from work than we do is Japan. In fact, the situation there is probably worse; although they supposedly get two weeks of paid vacation a year, most don’t take even that. The Japanese work so hard that one of the most pressing health issues in Japan is "karoshi," or "death by overwork".
Why this discrepancy? Is it that the Europeans are lazy and unmotivated, while the Americans and Japanese are diligent and hardworking? Are we simply more virtuous than those slackers across the Atlantic? It would be tempting to take that view. But I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s more a cultural difference than a matter of character. The Europeans simply have a different attitude as to the proper balance between work and leisure. Someone has said that while Europeans work to live, Americans live to work. Now, I’ll admit this is a gross overgeneralization, but Americans tend to be fairly materialistic, measuring success in terms of wealth and possessions. And you do have to work long and hard to accumulate all that stuff. While Europeans tend to view things more holistically, stressing the importance of intangible wealth – things like culture, and beauty, and having the time to enjoy life. The result of all this is that America has the strongest economy in the world, one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, the most advanced medical and health system in the world – and along with it, one of the highest rates of stress-related illness in the world.
I say all this, not to praise Europe at America’s expense – because I do believe that America is the greatest country in the world – but just to show that the way we approach work and leisure is not the only way, and perhaps not the best way. Frankly, I want to shake up some of your assumptions and prepare you for a reassessment. Because, believe it or not, God is very interested in the topic of rest. To Him, rest is not just wasted time, time when we could be doing something useful and productive. No. Rest, properly understood, has value and worth and purpose. In fact, it’s essential to our physical and spiritual well-being. My purpose this morning is to help you examine the balance of work and rest in your life, and not only the quantity, but the quality of your rest, to see if it’s what you need; what you were designed for. And more importantly, whether the balance of work and rest that you are experiencing in your life is pleasing to God.
First, I’d like to establish that God himself rests. Anything that God does is by definition a good thing. No one would accuse God of being lazy or unproductive. Yet the Bible tells us clearly that both God the Father and God the Son took time for rest. In Genesis, the story of creation tells us that,
"By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." – Genesis 2:2-3
Why does the Bible tell us this? Because the balance of work and rest that we see in God’s creative activity is intended to be a model for us. Whether or not you believe that we should literally set aside the seventh day of every week as a formal day of rest, it certainly shows that we should follow a regular pattern of ceasing from our labors. It tells us that a lifestyle of uninterrupted labor, day after day, is not good for us, nor pleasing to the Lord. In other words, if God chose to rest, then we should as well. We should follow His example.
In the same way, we see that Jesus also rested. He often withdrew from people in order to spend time alone with God. As Luke tells us,