Work and Rest

According to one analysis, the average person will spend 13 years of his lifetime at the workplace. If you shift to waking hours, a person will spend a third of life at work. And this is just accounting for paid work, not accounting for work at home or volunteering. 

Today is Labor Day and I want to ask two questions: Why do we work? And how do we rest?

Why do we work?

We work because we are human, and God made us to work. Work itself is not a result of the Fall, and it will remain in the resurrection. Yes, work is frustrated and difficult because of sin (Gen 3:17-19), but Adam was working and keeping the Garden and tending to the animals well before he ate the forbidden fruit. 

God created us to work because he created us in his image. God is the maker of heaven and earth. He created a world that was, at first, formless and void. But he gave it shape—mountains and plains and ocean deeps. He gave it color—trees, flowers, and sunsets. He filled it with the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and everything that creeps on the earth; with gold, bdellium, and onyx; with men and women. 

Being made in his image, we imitate God in our work. We take what is shapeless and empty to form it and fill it. The carpenter turns a stack of lumber into a house. The housewife transforms a few cups of flour into homemade bread. The teacher fills her students’ minds with calculus. The HVAC man fills your home with cool air on a hot July afternoon. 

We see this pattern throughout Scripture: formless to formed, immature to mature, raw materials to glory. We go from shapeless, empty, and dark in Genesis 1 to a bejewelled city whose light comes from the glory of God in Revelation 21. As image-bearers, we take part in this transformation through our work. 

Work as Provision, Service, and Love

We must learn to see our work as an expression of God’s provision, service, and love to the world. When you pray for your daily bread (Matt 6:11), how does God answer? Well, he gives bakers, farmers, truck drivers, retail store shelf stockers, and everyone else used to get bread to the grocery store shelves. How does God provide security to a city? Lawmakers, police officers, and other government officials. As Martin Luther said, “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milk maids.” In your work, whatever it is so long as it’s not sinful, you are being the hands of God, a means by which God provides for and serves his world.1 

Work in the marketplace expresses love and is the Golden Rule set to economics. To bring a product to market, I must first put myself in the shoes of the customer to figure out his needs. Then, I must assume all the risk to meet that need, with no guarantee he will buy it. Of course, the marketplace is corrupted, but it is the corruption of a good thing. At its core is the Golden Rule and love. 

Our work also expresses particular love for our people, our families. We give ourselves to paid work to provide for our families and to generously give to those around us. But all work is not done in the marketplace. Much of our work is done for free. For example, my wife teaches our children, bakes our bread, and keeps our house. She is not paid directly for any of this. But work done for love is not any less valuable than work done for money. In fact, it may be more valuable. 

We could say the same for work done serving our church: long hours in a committee meeting, changing diapers in the nursery, hot and hectic nights at VBS, or making repairs to the church property. We do these things in imitation of God, who is productive and self-giving in his love. 

How do we rest?

Many of us do not rest until we crash. We work, work, work until we our bodies can’t keep up, and we get sick. Then we rest up for the next round of frantic work. Others of us do not work nearly enough and rest way too much. It’s a life of laziness and leisure that leads to unfulfilled desire (Prov 13:4). God offers us something better: rest as a rhythm of life. 

Sleep and sabbath are daily and weekly rhythms of rest. God has made us in such a way that we must sleep regularly. Our bodies will not function without the rest of sleep. Laying our heads upon our pillows is a nightly declaration of faith. God is God, and we are not. He is working, even when we are not. We can rest from our labors, and God will sustain us.

We should plan to get enough sleep, and a good rule of thumb to ensure this is to go to bed tired. That means we must work hard during the day. In this very practical physical way, rest follows our work and is a satisfying gift. 

In the Sabbath God gives us a weekly rhythm of rest. Six days shall you labor, the seventh is the Lord’s. Six days of work, one of rest. Many people have a negative view of keeping the Sabbath because they were taught about it in terms of negation—they were told they couldn’t do on Sunday all the things they wanted to do. Sabbath was a have to. At our house, we try to instill the attitude that the Sabbath is a get to not a have to. The mood of the Lord’s Day is celebratory.

This is how we do it. We kick off the Lord’s Day on Saturday night with a special family meal. The kids drink out of special glasses and the meal is often, though not always, a nicer meal. We don’t allow our kids to do any of their normal duties on Sunday. It’s funny, they’ve never complained about not having to empty the dishwasher, clean their room, or do schoolwork on a Sunday. We prioritize appearing before God in corporate worship. And when the kids ask for extra candy, my response is usually something like, “Sure, it’s the Lord’s Day! Why not?” We try to make Sundays a day different from the other six, devoted to worship, the church, and enjoying God’s good gifts.2 

The Physical Images the Spiritual

We learn from the Bible that the physical realm images, represents, or points to the spiritual realm. When we rest from our earthly work on the Sabbath, we are pointing to the larger spiritual reality of resting from our spiritual works. In Christ, we have entered eternal spiritual rest. We are secure. 

And when we work throughout the other six days, we are pointing to the larger spiritual reality of obedience and service to God. Whatever we do, we do it in the name of Jesus (Col 3:17). 

In this way, our work flows from our rest in the same way that our good works flow from our salvation (Eph 2:1-10). 

We appear before God in rest and worship on the Lord’s Day and then leave to serve him and our world through our various work the rest of the week. 

And in rhythm we get to do it again next week. 

1. See Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This paragraph is largely a summary of pages 58-61.
2. I realize some have jobs that fulfill what Christians have historically called “works of necessity,” and they must work some Sundays. Two examples that come to mind are firemen and nurses.

Rhett Burns has served Mountain Creek as associate pastor for missions, families, and children since 2018. Prior to that, he and his family lived and worked in Turkey.