"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep."
It is good for a Christian to work hard. After all, most of us want to be good stewards of the opportunities, jobs, and ministries God has gifted us.
Yet Psalm 127 makes it clear that all our hard work must be paired with trust in God. We combine diligence in our work with diligence in faith to achieve the goal we want. In other words, if God's not building, it doesn't matter what we are building. If God's not working, it doesn't matter if we work 80 hour days. God is ultimately the one who will bring about the change or the victory or the breakthrough that we wish to see. He is the one who will do it.
Vocally, I'm sure almost every Christian I know would say that though they work hard, they ultimately trust God. My challenge for you today is this: do your actions demonstrate the trust you say you have?
Unwillingness to rest is one of the key signs of this lack of trust. Rest is a precious gift God gives to those He loves. Psalm 127 goes on to say, "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." We can rest because we know the one who never sleeps is still watching over us, our responsibilities, and the ones we care about as we sleep, turn off our phones, or take a break.
For some of us, rest feels like a sacrifice. And indeed it is. We are sacrificing control. When we rest, we are saying that we believe God is bigger than our current set of demands. We are saying that God is bigger than our job(s). We affirm that our God is big enough to handle a day off.
In fact, rest has been one of the defining marks of God's people from the beginning of time. God made the Sabbath holy so that rest would be worked into the rhythm of our lives. I love how the ESV commentary puts it: "The Sabbath commandment is a gift enabling God's people to live by faith. It requires them to rest from their labors as they trust the Lord for their future well-being."
You may be thinking "you don't understand the demands of my school, my job, my work load, my family situation, etc. I'm simply too busy to rest." Here's my pushback: Do you sit and scroll through your phone for more than ten minutes at a time? Do you have time to watch mindless entertainment like funny youtube videos or trash tv? Then you probably do have time to rest--it's just that we haven't made rest a rhythm of our hearts and our lives.
I would also ask: do you have time not to rest?
The effects of lack of rest deplete our relationships, productivity, and ability to thrive. For example, have you ever found yourself in a burn-out trap? You work really hard for days or weeks on end to complete a big event, project, assignment, etc. Then you are totally fried. You can hardly drag yourself off of your bed and just binge watch Netflix all day. You haven't rested for so long that when you finally get a free minute, you're practically a zombie. You're snappy with the people closest to you, or worse, you haven't called friends or family for weeks. I've been there--if we are being honest, I think a lot of us have been. For people living in a culture fixated on relaxation, many of us are shockingly rest-illiterate. We don't understand the value of rest. And we don't even understand what it actually looks like to rest.
Rest is taking time out of the normal rhythm of our work for celebration, exploration, relationships, gratitude, and family. Rest is recharging spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Rest looks different for everyone since we are all wired uniquely. Rest is about finding peace and contentedness in the midst of real life. Rest is not a place you go to, but a rhythm we learn to inhabit.
We live in a culture in which succeeding in a career is highly valued. Especially in high-powered industries, businesses, or schools, the "norms" of work-life balance can be so skewed that it is in vogue not to sleep, not to have time off, not to eat meals. But that is precisely the reason why Christians in these spaces must lead the way in establishing rest as a rhythm. It is one of the biggest ways we can be counter-cultural and show God's beautiful plan for the flourishing of human life. Think: will that extra hour studying or working really be productive at a certain point? Won't taking that hour to go on a walk, recharge, or re-focus on God serve you much better? When is the last time you had a good night's sleep or ate a healthy meal, or exercised, or took time to sit at the Lrod's ?
Even in ministry, the "work of God" feels like it has endless potential for expansion. There's always an opportunity to reach one more person, start one new initiative, or create one more event. Yet there is also the temptation to fall into the trap of "spiritual activity for activity's sake." Is it really activity that furthers where the ministry wants to go right now--your present goals and identity? Or is it the equivalent of busy work?
Another thing we may ask is, "Is it from the Lord?" What I mean is this: if we are working an 80-hour a week job, or completely anxious all the time, or in an industry devoid of any real interest or passion for us--is God really building something? Or am I simply following a career or education path that feels like the norm? Am I asking God to bless something when He directed me elsewhere in the first place?
Rest is trust, plain and simple. It takes courage to rest. When we say "I'm too busy" what we are really saying is "My life is too full to trust that God is faithful." When we do rest, what a beautiful gift we get to experience. What a meaningful way to honor God. What a marvelous example in a broken, dry, and sleep-deprived world. What an act of worship to trust that when we turn off notifications on our phone for 3 hours, the world will still be there on the other side.
Today I pray that we will all be encouraged to embrace true rest--whether for an hour or a day--as an act of trust in our faithful God.