Rest … or else

Published 11:35 am Saturday, April 28, 2018

by Andrew Book

The idea of sabbath rest is deeply engrained in the Biblical story. The very first thing the first humans (who were created on day six) did was rest (Day seven of creation was set aside as sabbath for rest.)  Enshrined in the “big 10” instructions in the Old Testament, commonly called the 10 commandments, is the instruction to “remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10.) Jesus tackled the concept of sabbath regularly, facing down the religious leaders who wanted it to be a day for following legal guidelines about “rest” by telling them “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27.)

Jesus was not interested in calling us to “keep the sabbath” in the sense of setting aside a day to follow religious guidelines. Instead, Jesus recognized that God created the sabbath because we need it. God recognized that one day out of seven needs to be set aside for rest because God created us as people who need rest. Interestingly, God also called the people to allow the land to rest (lie fallow) one year out of seven. As best I understand, modern farming technique adopted similar processes a few millennia after God suggested it. The concept of a sabbath year was part of the “law” given in the book of Leviticus (see chapter 25,) but we have little indication in Scripture that anyone ever actually practiced the sabbath year by letting their crop land lie fallow. God seemed to anticipate this as well, and in an illuminating passage in Leviticus 26, God describes the consequences that flow from ignoring God’s instructions. Among the results of considering our own path to be better than God’s is that the people will be exiled from their land.

33 I will scatter you among the nations and bring out my sword against you. Your land will become desolate, and your cities will lie in ruins. 34 Then, at last, the land will enjoy its neglected Sabbath years as it lies desolate while you are in exile in the land of your enemies. Then the land will finally rest and enjoy the Sabbaths it missed. 35 As long as the land lies in ruins, it will enjoy the rest you never allowed it to take every seventh year while you lived in it (Leviticus 26:33.)

The land needs its sabbaths, and if the people are not going to give it to the land, then their actions will lead to the logical consequences: the land will get its sabbath rest another way-through the exile of the people who had been abusing it. I suspect that the dust bowl of the 1930s could be put in a similar category: where the land was not allowed to lie fallow, consequences for the land are apt to follow.

Now, by this point, I expect you are wondering where I am going with this (if you are still reading at all.) This column is not about farming techniques or crop rotation or fallow fields. For more on those topics, please see your friendly USDA representative. I am focused on living techniques, rest rotation and the need for fallow time in our lives. It turns out we are not different from the land around us.  Remember how Jesus said that the sabbath was created to meet our needs? The sabbath year was created to meet the land’s needs. In the same way the land has consequences when we fail to give it rest, so also do we have consequences when we fail to take our sabbath rest.

For the land, the consequences are things which create times of rest for the land. For people, the consequences of failing to rest are times of forced rest as well: a physical sickness that confines us to bed; a mental struggle where our encounter with depression or anxiety forces us to stop; a spiritual break where doing things for God loses its appeal; or a relational break where we realize we have neglected those people who matter most to us. If we fail to create time for sabbath rest, it is very likely that sabbath rest will be thrust upon us in a manner we will not like, because you and I were created to have times and seasons of rest in our lives. It is how we thrive, and without it we will eventually be forced to a stop.

My hope for you is that you will carve time for rest into your life. Treat it like a healthcare initiative, because it is. Rest is good for your body, soul, mind, relationships and so much more. Too often, we have treated the call to sabbath rest as an arbitrary law from God with no real value. The reality is profoundly different: When we live out of a place of rest we honor God and help ourselves to thrive. A true win-win, just as God created it to be!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or