Last week we went back to the very beginning: the story of creation in Genesis 1. We remembered how God created light and dark, heavens and earth, plants and animals – and us, human beings, made in God’s image.
But wait – there’s more! That’s just what happens on the first six days. The story of creation continues:
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done…” (Genesis 2:2).
God wasn’t done yet. God finishes the work of creation on the seventh day with something very important:
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Genesis 2:2).
Rest is the grand finale of creation. It’s the cherry on top of the ice cream, the bow on top of the present. Rest isn’t an afterthought; it’s the period that makes the sentence complete.
You’re smart people, so I bet you’re already connecting the dots: this “rest” God created on the seventh day is known as “Sabbath” in our Jewish and Christian traditions. Sabbath as in the fourth of the ten commandments: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Not only is rest the grand finale of creation, it made the top ten! It’s a big deal.
We all know that.
So we all faithfully observe a Sabbath every week.
Isn’t it weird that this is the one commandment most often broken? We know that stealing and murdering are wrong. We don’t go around bragging about telling lies or having affairs. We know these things are wrong. But keeping the Sabbath – it’s like a badge of honor to talk about how busy we are. I am so important, the world can’t stop turning without me! Other people might need a Sabbath, but not me; I charge onward.
Friends, I’m talking in the first person on purpose. I’m just as guilty as anyone. I’d like to blame the fact that my vocation complicates my Sabbath keeping. I love preaching but, as a pastor friend of mine once put it, it’s harder than it looks. I love it but it’s also work. So every Sunday, I work. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be faithful to the fourth commandment… but it’s just so complicated.
The truth is, you don’t have to be a pastor to struggle with rest. We 21st century Americans are not good at rest. Technology complicates it; our individualism and work ethic complicates it. We don’t know how to rest, and we feel guilty when we even try.
Thankfully, we can learn a lot about rest from watching God in Genesis 1 and 2.
Last week we talked about how we’re made in God’s image. Genesis 1 describes a God that creates, brings order, lives in rhythm, and shines light. We are made with these same qualities, and our best lives happen when we’re allowing those qualities to flourish.
Genesis 2 describes at God who rested. In the same way, our best lives happen when we rest like God did.
First, God rests in rhythm. Six days of working; one day of rest. Work is good – because we are made in God’s image, we like to create and bring order! But endless work is not good. We are designed for a 1-day-out-of-seven period of rest.
Second, rest is good whether we think we need it or not. Do you the everlasting, all-powerful God rested because God was tired? I don’t. God rested because rest is good. So God just stopped.
I’m hoping that on this Labor Day weekend we might be able to hear these first two points a little louder and clearer than usual. We are designed for a day of rest each week, and we don’t have to be utterly exhausted to justify a day of rest. We might be able to sustain a 7-day work week for a while… but eventually, that will wear us down and draw us away from God. We are made in God’s image, and so we need to rest like God did.
But what does it mean to rest?
Literally, it means to stop our work. The Hebrew word in Genesis 2 is (not coincidentally) sabat, which is a verb that means not just “to rest” but “to cease.” To Sabbath, we stop the work that defines the other six days.
The definition of “work” is different from one person to another. Someone who makes a living with hands-on work needs physical rest. My job as a pastor can be pretty sedentary; on a Sabbath day, I stop that work by making time for something physical, like a long hike. You’ll need to figure this out for yourself: what is my 6-day-a-week work? What do I need to stop?
The rest God created is not just the absence of work; it’s also holy. “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it” (Genesis 2:3). The kind of rest we need each week is close to God, holy ground. For me, worship is holy – so I like it if worship is a part of my Sabbath. Creation is holy – I like spending time outside. My family and close friends are holy – a shared meal feels close to God. God is in so many things, so it may not be what we do so much as how we do it – bringing an intention of embracing the holy in whatever we do.
This is why thanksgiving is so important to Sabbath. It was for God. Throughout Genesis 1 God gave a lot of thanks, calling everything God made “good” along the way. Then, when all was done, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Whatever our Sabbath practice might involve, thanksgiving will naturally keep us focused on God. Reflect on the past week; how has God been good? Write those things down in a journal, or better yet, share them with your family or friends, whoever is Sabbathing with you. Whenever your rest feels threatened, circle back to thanksgiving. Allow gratitude to chase away the stress and fear that compete with true rest.
Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, but it’s less a rule and more a gift. God gave it to us as a gift before we even needed Commandments to follow – right here in Genesis 2. One day out of every seven, whether we need it or not. A day to stop our regular work and draw close to the God who made all things good.
The story of creation isn’t complete without rest, and neither are our lives. Our work is good and meaningful – but without rest, holy rest, our work is only a grind. So explore what Sabbath might look like for you, and let it be the period that makes your sentence complete.