I’m busy again this week.
I’m busy every week. That’s the nature of my job. I have a lot to do. Plan events, write classes, perform maintenance on the church bus, write this blog post, attend youth sporting events, talk to parents, find time to spend with my youth group.
And that’s just work stuff. I’ve also got a marriage to maintain, a dog to care for, a house to clean up, a yard to mow. Life is just busy.
I wish I could say that this busyness was seasonal. That I’m not this busy all the time. But actually, Fall is supposed to be my least busy season of the year.
And I’m not even the busiest person I know. I’m not even close. I probably don’t even crack the top 100. Everyone is busy. And people seem to take pride in their busyness.
I had a conversation with a friend recently who told me that she hadn’t had a single day where she wasn’t doing some kind of work in more than 2 months. She seemed quite proud of that achievement.
And I’ll admit to doing this as well. I want to sound busy, because if I’m constantly busy that means I’m necessary. I want people to think I’m doing important things. I want myself to think I’m doing important things. I want to be productive.
And our society trains us to be as productive as possible. We’re supposed to do as much as possible. Be as busy as possible. If you’re not busy, people might think you’re lazy.
As an indicator of our culture of busyness, consider that the average American worker is entitled to only 16 days of paid leave (including all holidays) each year, and takes only 9 of those days days off. And 61% of American workers say they do some work while they’re on vacation, which means that they’re not really taking those 9 days off either.¹
And that’s not good.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is going over the Ten Commandments for the Hebrew people again, and he says, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
This makes the Hebrew people the first (that I’m aware) to have a legally mandated day off, and they got that law before more common ones like, “Don’t murder.” And “Don’t commit adultery.” And Moses gives them a reason – because they used to be slaves. The Sabbath is a reminder for the Hebrews that they are no longer slaves. They are no longer defined by the work that they do. God rescued them from their life of slavery. From their life of constant busyness.
Which is actually kind of cool. God makes a distinction between life in Egypt and life out of Egypt. And outside of Egypt, you get a day off.
It goes even beyond that. God also instituted a Sabbath year. Every seventh year, the land was supposed to lie fallow. Nobody was supposed to grow crops in the land. They were supposed to rely on God to continue to provide for them, even as they couldn’t provide for themselves. It was a whole year in which they rested from their work and trusted that God would provide for them.
Which means that a major part of Israel’s economic system was built around rest.
And I think Sabbath is something that needs to be reclaimed by Christians today. Productivity is good and important, but without Sabbath, it can become an idol. Without time taken to intentionally rest in the trust of God, productivity is just another form of slavery.
If we pride ourselves on how busy we are, then we aren’t trusting in God to take care of us. If we don’t have time to slow down, then we are choosing slavery.
On multiple occasions after the Exodus from Egypt, the Hebrew people complain about what they left behind in Egypt. They reminisce about the food they had. They pine for the good old days when they were slaves. We read the stories and we laugh at how silly they were for not understanding that God was rescuing them. How could they not understand that rest with God was better than slavery in Egypt? And then we go to work for long hours, and then come home and work some more, and then we finish that and we try to find more ways to be productive. When we ignore God’s command for Sabbath, we are the Israelites who choose slavery over salvation.
When I got on vacation with my wife, by the time we get to day 3 or 4, it’s all I can do to not respond to all my emails, start writing my next class, or start planning that next youth event in my head. It’s not that I can’t afford to take a break. It’s that I don’t want to. I want to be productive. I need to be productive. It’s like I’ve been programmed to be constantly productive.
But constant productivity is the opposite of faith. If I’m constantly being productive, I’m not taking time to allow God to provide for me. If I can’t take time off to rest in the presence of God, I’m communicating that I’m self-sufficient. That I’m able to take care of myself.
And the nature of Christianity is that we aren’t self-sufficient.
God instituted the Sabbath with the Hebrew people to remind them that they aren’t slaves anymore. He gave them a day off to show them that he would take care of them. Sabbath is choosing the sufficiency of God instead of sufficiency of self.
So if we aren’t taking time to rest, that means we aren’t taking time to trust in God. Lack of Sabbath is a lack of faith.
Remember that you were slaves and the Lord your God redeemed you. To neglect Sabbath is to reject that redemption. It is impossible to trust in the provision of God without participating in Sabbath rest.
Because the Good News of the Gospel is that we aren’t slaves anymore. Not to Egypt. Not to Sin. Not to Productivity. We’re followers of God who is sufficient to take care of us.
Now look, I get it. Finding time to rest can be hard. Finding Sabbath moments can be a stressor in and of itself. It’s not easy to not work. It might be the need for that extra shift in order to pay the bills. It might be that there’s a deadline coming up, with another deadline coming along right behind it.
Maybe it’s not your job that’s keeping you so busy. Maybe it’s that project you’re working on at home, and you need to get it done. Maybe your church is looking for volunteers, and even though you volunteered last time, you’re afraid they won’t have enough volunteers without you, so you give up your day off to go help.
But Sabbath requires sacrifice. Taking time to rest might make it harder to pay the bills. It might make it difficult to get a promotion at work. It may mean getting a demotion or getting fired and having to look for a new job. It may mean that project doesn’t get done on time.
Sabbath is difficult. And it requires sacrifice. We just have to trust that the God who clothes the lilies of the field and who feeds the sparrow will also look after you (even if it’s not in the way you might choose to look after yourself). The God who created you and delivered you from slavery is capable of sustaining you in your rest.