At Work & Theology 101

Work Is Not Your Life: Why Sabbath Rest Is Essential

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The way we’re working isn’t working….you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty.

So begins an article in the New York Times suggesting that the experience described above is common for workers, middle managers, and also top executives.

The authors, in conjunction with the Harvard Business Review, conducted a survey of more than 12,000 employees across a broad range of companies and industries.

The study found that employees are more satisfied and productive when four of their core needs are met:

  • Physical needs, met through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work
  • Emotional needs, fulfilled by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions
  • Mental needs, satisfied when people feel they have the opportunity to focus on their most important tasks, and define when—and where—they get their work done
  • Spiritual needs, met by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work

As Christians, we understand that work is rendered difficult because of the Fall (Gen. 3:17-19). As those who are redeemed by grace, we also understand that God has given us special tools to combat the curse lingering over work.

These tools help us address these four core—and sin-damaged—areas of need in our lives, regardless of whether our employer is or isn’t investing in these core needs on our behalf. Understanding and utilizing these four tools can change the way we view work.

  • In the physical area, God has given us the Sabbath
  • In the emotional area, God has given us work
  • In the mental area, God has given us the resurrection
  • In the spiritual area, God has given us calling

Today, I’d like to take a look at the Sabbath and how faithful observation of it can deliver us from feeling stressed, exhausted, and running on empty.

Recovering the Sabbath Starts with Recovering the Purpose of Work

For the Christian, life without work is meaningless, but work must never become the meaning of one’s life. Work is one of the primary means by which we fulfill our true purpose: to glorify God, serve the common good, and further God’s kingdom. God reminds us of this on the seventh day of creation.

At the end of the creation story we read:

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 (Gen. 2:2-3).

God rested not because he was tired, but because he had completed his work. God wanted to teach us that work is not an end in itself, which is why he instituted the Sabbath. He reiterates this idea again in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:8-11).

Today, culture teaches that work is an end in itself. It is what supplies identity and meaning to our lives by maximizing success and money through our labor. Therefore, our work is never done, and the constant drive to prove ourselves destroys our ability to find rest.

This distortion of the purpose of work cripples our chances of finding true joy and fulfillment in our work. All work degenerates into pure, self-centered ambition when divorced from God.

How then does the Sabbath deliver us from feeling stressed, exhausted, and running on empty?

The Sabbath Is More than a Sunday Afternoon Nap

One of the best explanations of the importance of the Sabbath to Christians today is found in an article written by Tim Keller a number of years ago. Keller suggests it is not the physical work that exhausts us, but “the work under the work” that creates our unshakable weariness.

The only thing that will silence the condemning voices driving so many of us to the brink of exhaustion is the biblical discipline of what Keller calls “Sabbath rest.” Correctly practicing the Sabbath brings about a new spiritual understanding of both work and the whole of our lives.

Keller writes,

The purpose of Sabbath is not simply to rejuvenate yourself in order to do more production, nor is it the pursuit of pleasure. The purpose of Sabbath is to enjoy your God, life in general, what you have accomplished in the world through his help, and the freedom you have in the gospel—the freedom from slavery to any material object or human expectation. The Sabbath is a sign of the hope that we have in the world to come.

The author of the book of Hebrews writes that we have to labor diligently to enter God’s rest (Heb. 4:11). We have to work hard at disconnecting from what we do the other six days to enjoy the peace and release God has designed for us on this holy day. Sabbath-keeping has to be intentional. Also, getting some distance from our work is both healthy for us and beneficial for our work.

Setting aside one day in seven to observe the Sabbath will begin to change the way we see our work and what it can and cannot accomplish. This is why Jesus can tell his disciples,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Trust in God’s provision for the whole of your life and enjoy the Sabbath rest he designed to rejuvenate you and your work.

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