“Come to Me, all 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 comfortable, and My burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28–30, NASB)
Rest strengthens. Rest calms. Rest works!
After decades of teaching graduate students leadership, I recently moved back to teaching religion to undergraduates. I soon discovered how poor sleep habits and high anxiety were robbing them of rest. I now talk more about self-care strategies in my courses, including discussing the rests Jesus brings us as part of the “abundant life” (John 10:10). As we face a new year, cultivating this rest ourselves and with others may make a difference in our wellbeing:
1.Moment by Moment Rest: Anxieties, fears, and depression rob minds and emotions of rest. This is especially prevalent in undergraduates. Although I refer them to the college counseling center, I also share my own story of how my thoughts, fixations, and brain patterns were calmed by consistent interaction with friends, family, music, medicines, and counselors. I encourage them to work at this rest as there is a system of “striving” to “enter this rest” that depends on calm and another type that does not (Hebrews 4:11). I also refer them to Dr. Pamela-Coburn Litvak, a neuroscientist from California, who has provided a useful webpage and book on this called Leaving the Shadowlands.
2.Daily/nightly sleep: Getting seven to nine hours of nightly sleep, and to bed before 10, has been shown to be vital for academic success and emotional stability. It is one of the things I tell students they can claim in Christ. Although I harangue a bit too much in my “in locus parentis” tone, students who take the challenge, report better creativity, innovation, efficiency, and positivity.
3.Weekly: A weekly Sabbath breaks us away from our schoolwork, our business, and our work cycles. My community of faith, Seventh-day Adventists, have often championed weekly rest and I have been a benefactor of my community’s messaging and practices. There has always been and continues to be a growing number of voices encouraging more Sabbath rest.1 From my experience, those willing to take the risk of a weekly Sabbath, are often richly blessed spiritually, mentally, and socially.
4.Monthly/Quarterly: Jesus periodically did retreats for himself and his disciples (see Luke 5:16 and Mark 6:30-32). These were personal or group times to renew, retool, and rejuvenate. These additional times of rest remind us of just how important rest was to Jesus. His practice mirrors similar practices in the Old Testament where people rested during spiritual feast days or festivals.
5.Yearly Rest: The holiest day and celebration for Jews was Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16 and 23:26–32) which happened one day a year and was a Sabbath, in and of itself, regardless of the day of the week it fell on. This rest was a reset, a time for lament and confession, and forgiveness.
6.Seventh-year Sabbaticals: Although these Sabbatical years were for the land (see Leviticus 25), they also were adapted to rescue workers from career ruts, strangling routines, and professional dead ends. If more people and organizations practiced these vocational renewals there would likely be more productivity and joy in work. But few people or organizations are willing to trust God with this rest.
7.Jubilees: Leviticus 25:11–12 speaks of massive reboots of social and economic order to be processed every forty-eight to fifty years. They were designed to bring sensitivity to the marginalized and were designed to foster more egalitarian processes and attitudes. As challenging as a Jubilee would have been and would be to our modern times, one can imagine how this rest would help undo much of the civil unrest, avarice, and economic abuse of modern capitalistic societies.2
8.Salvation. Probably the rest Christian’s most likely emphasize, for good reason, is the saving rest we have in Christ. We rest in Christ’s life and death and with Paul remember “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8–10).
9.Death: While these previous eight rests were designed to bring peace and joy to our lives, they prevent us from having to enter the final rest: death. John 11 and biblical views of death speak of death as a “sleep.” This is not to trivialize the pain of death but to frame it with the caring supervision of Christ. We do not need to fear death. We Christians don’t mourn like others (though we still morn) when we face death (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) because we trust Jesus’s agency to wake all of us in the final resurrection (see Revelation 20), when death itself and the grave are forever destroyed (v. 14).
10.New Earth/New Heavens: Once death is destroyed, we are promised a rest that will later be secured for the entire universe. John 14:1–3 and Revelation 20–22, speak of this time and space when all things are renewed and are at peace and rest, orchestrated by Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:28) and finalized in eternal bliss.
11.Existential. All these rests were designed to overlap and to bring a deep existential rest in God. From moment-by-moment experiences to the final restoration of earth and heaven, we can see a God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit working for our rest. This should breed, eventually and often slowly, in us a deep existential rest in God.
While there are many more rests that one could derive from scripture, that we and our students could claim for ourselves. one merits special mention as we enter a presidential election year:
12.Interpersonal/Political Rest. Leaders jostling for power, slinging claims and counterclaims, and vying for loyalty can breed unrest. The prophets, Jesus, and his followers all lived with similar political unrest and learned how to prioritize love, spreading the gospel, and healing amid these political conflicts. We can too. As we let Jesus calm our anxieties, get good sleep, take weekly rests, and access more of these rests, we will be empowered to bring peace, rest, and calm to tense spaces.
I believe all these rests are part of the Promise of Rest Christ makes in Matthew 11. They are also the rests maybe the writer of Hebrews 4:9–11 had in mind when saying: “There remains a [sabbatismos or rests] for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore, let’s make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience.” May God help us Rest more in 2024.
- Barton, Ruth Haley. Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. InterVarsity Press, 2022. See also Tonstad, Sigve K. The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day. Andrews University Press, 2009.
- For more on this see the Bible Project’s podcast on Jubilee: The Radical Year of Release: https://bibleproject.com/podcast/jubilee-radical-year-release/).