Work, Technology, and Rest, Part 2
This material was presented in July 2020 in a Zoom lecture to Wee Tiong Howe’s Global Kingdom Leadership and Ministry Equipping Program, based in Singapore.
One of the things I love the most about today’s technology—summed up in my iPhone and its cybernetic connections—is that it allows me to work at any time. That should also be one of the things I hate about it. By its very nature, technology both shrinks time and swallows it up—making tasks much faster to complete with greater precision and excellence, but also extending the amount of work we can do while increasing our appetite for working. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, “Work and Technology,” technology can become our master, addicting us not only to work, but also to the thrills involved in constant access to diversions. Time seems to slide into the black hole of reading news updates, watching sports or binge-watching television, playing video games, and scrolling through social media—if not also into far darker places on the internet. As I will explain, these diversions may serve as an alternative to work, but they do not constitute rest as the Bible defines it.
For the workaholic, rest requires a great deal of discipline, especially when we love our work. Work gives us a sense of creaturely fulfillment, in as much as we are doing what God created us to do. It makes us feel powerful and righteous, godlike if not always godly. Work increases our financial well-being and enhances the security of our families. But it also has a dark side. Work can put us in a place of authority and adulation that we don’t experience in our families (who don’t have to show us the respect and praise and admiration that coworkers and especially employees often offer). Work separates us from family and friends, and even if families work together, they concentrate on the work, not each other. We can become addicted to the power and self-esteem we derive from work and come to believe too much in our worthiness and self-sufficiency, even sinking to the level of idolizing ourselves. Finally, work can increase our enchantment with this world, distracting us from consideration of the world to come (which for Christians, must always remain our deepest longing).
The medicine for all these ills is biblical rest. The Bible introduces the concept of rest directly on the heels of its first mention of work:
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. —Genesis 2:2–3 (NIV)
Even God, the primordial worker, took time to rest—blessing rest and making it holy. I have never heard a sermon on the holiness of rest, but the topic deserves a deep consideration that I will not fully explore here. Suffice it to say that holy rest is godlike and godly, a matter deserving protection and reverence. Those who neglect it or do not respect it will bring a curse on themselves in place of blessing. God took the concept of rest so seriously that we find it included among the Ten Commandments:
8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. —Exodus 20:8–11 (NIV)
Given the gravity of the other issues addressed by the Ten Commandments, it becomes obvious that Sabbath rest should receive greater attention than many Christians give it.
The book of Hebrews takes the meaning of rest a step further by using it as a metaphor of salvation and, in this world, a foretaste of heaven.
1 Therefore, since the promise of entering [God’s] rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. —Hebrews 4: 1–11 (NIV)
The concept of rest as a prolepsis or “early sample” of salvation and heaven should inform our view of rest substantially. Contrary to popular thinking, Biblical rest is not primarily about restoring our weakened, depleted bodies—though that is an undeniable and necessary benefit of rest. Certainly, God’s rest in Genesis 2 had nothing to do with restoring any depletion, since God enjoys infinite vigor. God’s rest, then, and by extension ours, involves something else. Perhaps a clue to what God achieved through rest comes in a previous verse, Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (NIV). God’s rest seemed to involve evaluation and enjoyment of the fruit of God’s labor. Similarly, our rest on earth should involve reflection on and enjoyment of our achievements. That certainly includes the enjoyment of food, fun, family, and friends, complete with reflection and communication of our appreciation of them all—not merely a day of late sleeping and lazy lolling.
If we think similarly about the Sabbath rest that we will enjoy in heaven, we might consider that heaven may consist—at least in part—in an evaluation of our earthly achievements in the light of God’s grace, enjoyment of family and friends who have shared that grace, and best of all, gratitude for God’s saving grace and the immediate presence of God in our midst that grace makes possible. Furthermore, salvation by grace implies rest from all “works” engaged in to redeem ourselves. The guilt which our salvation has assuaged will no longer drive us to prove ourselves, but rather, we will enjoy civilization not touched by sin nor marred by anxiety. Peace and perfect rest will have arrived at last.
Rest in this world offers merely a taste now of the eternal rest we will enjoy in heaven. Always merely temporary, rest in this world restores us so that we can return to work. Indeed, as anyone who has ever taken a great vacation and returned to work refreshed knows, great work flows out of great rest! If we do not take time to rest, our work can become rote, repetitive, stale, and dull. In order for work to fulfill its purpose, we must always remember the biblical purpose for our work—to serve and worship God. Indeed, achieving God’s rest is the ultimate goal of all our work.
If great rest leads to great work, the question arises as to whether, after some period of rest in heaven, we will return to work. Will we work in eternity? Will our eternal Sabbath rest of knowing God and enjoying God forever then constitute our work, shorn of the effects of sin and restored to the original work once performed in paradise? We don’t know a lot about heaven, but what we do know is that the curse will be broken. Our work will not be tainted by the Fall and sin. We will not grow weary. Work will not separate us from the fullness of God’s presence. (No matter how much we understand our work to be worship here, we still suffer from intermittent focus on God at best.) I believe we will have a purpose in heaven, but it will not be the purpose laid out in Genesis 1:28. There will be no more reproduction, no more migration and parting, and no more need to take dominion. We do not know how things “work” in heaven, nor how we will work.
In the meantime, rest brings us great benefit. Rest is Godly and godlike. It gives us the opportunity to spend time with God, with our families, and with friends, and to enjoy those things that bring fun and restore creativity to our hearts and minds. Mercifully, rest reminds us that we are more than our work.
Now, practically, I would like to share some guidelines on rest that a former professor and college president shared with me. Not everyone can achieve the following standards for rest time, but hitting these marks will certainly help ensure fresh minds and bodies to maximize our work time. While every worker needs rest time, executive leaders who bear the stress of organizational leadership need rest even more than other workers if they are to avoid burnout and depletion. According to my professor, Dr. Joseph Brosnan, every executive leader should set apart:
- One hour per day for yourself alone, plus time for family and friends. (I would add that the time should be technology free.)
- One day per week of pure rest (preferably technology free).
- One weekend per month.
- One week per quarter.
- One month per year.
- Three months every seventh year (sabbatical).
Taking time to ensure adequate rest and using that time regeneratively, in a way that engages and renews creativity, can lengthen careers and improve their productivity.
I pray that you will find rest for your body and your soul, making your work life sweeter and protecting you from the dangers of “workolatry” and workaholism. May God be God in your life and may you know God deeply through the right and biblical use of rest.