The Spiritual Discipline of Sabbath Rest

The Spiritual Discipline of RestDid you know that rest is a spiritual discipline and vital for your walk as a Christian?

It can be hard to just stop and relax from time to time, but it’s also something that is so important for your spiritual life. Spiritual disciplines as a whole are meant to help you strive towards godliness with the strength of Christ (Philippians 4:13) and the aid of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). They are meant to help you learn how to train your flesh to come into the submission of Christ and your spirit, which is already made perfect when you accept Jesus as your savior.

Essentially spiritual disciplines, like rest, help you to grow stronger as a Christian and closer in your walk with God. They are essential for sanctification and cultivating a life that is God-centered and not me-centered.

I think this is why rest as a spiritual discipline can sometimes be hard to see as a selfless act. Because it feels like taking time for rest is a me-centered thing. And it certainly can be. But, when done correctly and with a God-focused mindset, it can actually be a ministry to our families, an act of worship to God, and a way to water our weary souls.

So let’s explore this some more. Let’s explore how Sabbath rest is an essential spiritual discipline to the Christian life.

In the beginning God created rest

Let’s start at the very beginning, when rest first entered the picture. And let’s explore why God created it to begin with. God created rest at the beginning of time:

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had madeAnd God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” – Genesis 2:2-3

Was God tired after creating everything? How many out there know that God didn’t need to rest and take a break? God doesn’t need sleep, and He doesn’t need rest. No, God established this Sabbath day of rest not for Himself, but rather for His brand new creation.

After everything was created, God knew that those things which are created need rest. He isn’t a created being so He doesn’t need rest, but the things He created do need it. And these include (but are not limited to): the land, animals, and of course people. All of these things would need rest, and God established one day every week that all of these things were to rest. He blessed this day and set it apart from all of the other days for man’s sake (and for His creation’s sake as a whole).

What happens when we don’t rest

So God established a special day that we should set aside to rest because He knew that rest would be so important and vital to our well-being.

But what happens when we forgo resting? What’s the big deal anyways?

Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced periods in your life when you have had a lack of physical rest. Whether when you were nursing a newborn baby or during a particularly rough season at work. During these times you didn’t get the physical rest that your body really needed. Do you remember how you felt during that period in your life?

Depending on the severity of your lack of rest you will probably remember one (or more) or these symptoms that accompanied your lack of rest:

  • Irritability
  • Distracted and unable to focus
  • Clumsy (sometimes to the point of being a danger to yourself and those around you)
  • A feeling of being drained and exhausted all the time
  • Headaches
  • Depression

It’s clinically proven that all of these things (and more) will happen if you don’t slow down, take a break, and get some sleep.

And speaking from a spiritual standpoint when we don’t get the physical rest we need, we aren’t as alert as we need to stay as Christians. The Bible says that we are to stay alert because the devil prowls around like a lion looking for those to devour (1 Peter 5:8). When we are lacking in sleep, we are often un-alert and more easily tempted into sin.

But what happens when don’t spiritually rest?

Physical rest is vital to the nourishment of our bodies. But did you know that spiritual rest is vital to the nourishment of our souls?

It can be a lot more difficult to detect if you are lacking in spiritual rest (versus physical rest). But there are symptoms that you can be on the look out for. Symptoms such as:

  • A feeling of God being far away
  • Thoughts of doubt seeping into your mind
  • Forgoing fellowship with Christian friends and family
  • Works of the flesh sneaking into your life (Galatians 5:19-21)
  • Not bearing the Fruits of the Spirit in your life (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Sin becoming more prevalent in your life
  • A diminishing (or non-existent) prayer life
  • Trouble opening and reading your Bible
  • Becoming less and less concerned for the things of God and more and more drawn to the things of the world

These are just a few of the symptoms you might find in your life if you are lacking spiritual rest. These are red flags that are telling you that you need to stop, slow down, set aside the distractions of the world, and spend some quiet time with God.

Physical Rest vs. Spiritual Rest

As we’ve already explored, there are two types of vital rest that you need to incorporate into your life: physical rest and spiritual rest. And while they are both different kinds of rests, they can most certainly be accomplished simultaneously (other than while sleeping of course).

When you take the time to slow down and spend with God, you are often times taking time to slow down and physically rest and be still for awhile.

However, physical rest doesn’t always have to be spiritual rest, and spiritual rest doesn’t always equate physical rest. Sometimes physical rest can look like enjoying a hobby you have put down for a long time, taking a mid-day nap, or taking an extra long shower or bubble bath. And there are times when spiritual rest looks like serving the poor and needy in your community, or driving an hour away to visit friends who really need some Christian fellowship at the moment.

So physical rest and spiritual rest are not always synonymous. However, they can definitely occur at the same time when both are needed at the same time.

Physical rest alone is not enough

I also want to stress that physical rest, in and of itself, is not enough. It’s fine to pursue physical rest on it’s own. However, a regular period of spiritual refreshment and rest is essential to living fully and closely to God.

Jesus tells us that we are to come to him when we are bogged down, and He will give us rest:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you restTake my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your soulsFor my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus speaks of finding rest for your soul, which is the kind of rest we can find in the refuge of God. And we need this regularly. No compromises. We need to unburden ourselves from the weight of the world on a regular basis by coming into the presence of God for a time. Because the world is so easy to get weighed down by. And physical rest is not the kind of rest that Jesus was referring to in this passage.

So remember, it’s okay to exercise physical rest and spiritual rest separately. But both are essential and necessary to your walk as a Christian.

How can rest help me grow closer to God?

As we’ve discussed earlier, rest as a spiritual discipline can help you to grow closer to God. But let’s explore some of the reasons why that is.

Rest is an opportunity to reset. It’s a way to refresh (physically and/or spiritually).

When we don’t rest, we tend to be weary, bogged down, unable to concentrate, and irritable (among other things). We are in no mindset to minister to our families or others, and we are certainly not in the mindset to worship God.

We can also easily become caught up in the things that have no eternal significance and they can quickly take priority over our relationship with God.

Just like how fasting can discipline you to give up something that can be distracting, resting can force you to give up something that can be distracting too. Sometimes we don’t want to rest. We enjoy the busyness and the go-go-go. We enjoy the distractions of busy work and we have trouble putting it down. We get to a place where we’ve almost made an idol of the busyness when we push God aside to pursue it.

So taking time to rest, both physically and spiritually is an opportunity to put your flesh under the thumb of your spirit. The Bible says that the spirit and the flesh of a believer war against each other.

“For the sinful nature has its desire which is opposed to the Spirit, and the [desire of the] Spirit opposes the sinful nature; for these [two, the sinful nature and the Spirit] are in direct opposition to each other [continually in conflict], so that you [as believers] do not [always] do whatever [good things] you want to do.” – Galatians 5:17 (AMP)

Which is why it’s vital to your spirit’s walk with God to bring your flesh under control. And spiritual disciplines like rest are here to help you do that. Practicing rest as part of your regular disciplines can help you to re-focus and remember who is the number one priority in your life: God.

When does rest become laziness?

I want to make it clear that rest does not mean laziness. Rest does not mean putting off your responsibilities indefinitely. In fact, proper rest should equip you to combat laziness because it’s about setting aside a time to get the rest you need in order to be ready to get back to work after your rest is complete.

But how can you tell if you are practicing the spiritual discipline of Sabbath rest or if you are just being lazy?

That’s a good question! Because if you embrace rest to the point of laziness then it is no longer something that is good for your body or your soul.

Have you ever had a day (maybe it was LONG before you had kids) where you actually slept too long? Maybe it was a day that you were sick or maybe it was when you were a teenager. But if you’ve ever had one of those days where you literally slept for more than 10-12 hours, then you know what I mean when I say that it’s possible to get too much sleep.

Because when you wake up from that kind of sleep, you don’t feel refreshed at all. In fact, you feel absolutely disgusting. You still feel tired (somehow) and you feel sore and groggy. And no matter what you do, your whole rest of the day is a foggy blur of tired achiness.

To a smaller degree, the same goes for recognizing when rest is becoming laziness. If rest is no longer feeling refreshing, then there’s something wrong. If you’re putting things off that need to be done for an extended period of time or if you’re feeling guilty for neglecting your family, your home, or one of your other priorities, then you might not be in the sphere of rest as a spiritual discipline anymore and you might just be entering into the zone of laziness.  It’s all about having a balance.

The best time (and how often to) rest

Ensuring that you aren’t going overboard with your resting can be difficult if you get into a bad habit.

But this is one reason why I’m a huge advocate for, and why our family observes, the Biblically-established Sabbath. God intentionally set aside the seventh day (Saturday) for rest from the beginning of creation. And while it’s not a bad thing to rest and worship God on any other day (we still have a Sunday church that we go to for fellowship), having this one day specifically set aside (no matter what) to rest both physically and spiritually is essential to getting the right amount (and right kind) of rest without entering the realm of laziness.

Taking one day each week to dedicate to physical and spiritual rest will not make you lazy. In fact, it will allow you to refresh and revive yourself for the coming week so you can work harder and smarter throughout the week.

While week long vacations are nice, having a regularly scheduled day of rest each week is of the upmost importance both physically and for your spiritual walk with God.

It’s so important that it’s even the fourth commandment God gives us in the Bible:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” – Exodus 20:8-11

So God has not only established the day of Sabbath rest, but He has commanded that we observe it. Jesus tells us in John 14:15 that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. And since Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and our Creator (see John 1:1-3) then that means that ALL of the commandments all throughout the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation) are from Jesus and that transgressing them is a sin (see 1 John 3:4).

But as we’ve talked about throughout this article, the commandment to observe God’s Sabbath isn’t meant to be a burden, but rather a gift from God. It’s a necessary part of our walks as Christians: something we need in order to properly function both physically and spiritually.

Practical tips to discipline yourself to rest

As with any spiritual discipline, establishing the discipline of Sabbath rest in your life takes time and practice. You might have times where you backslide and find you haven’t taken time to rest in months (or even years). But it’s never too late to begin establishing (or re-establishing) the discipline of rest into your life.

And I’d like to share with you some practical tips that you can try to help you practice both physical and spiritual rest.

  • Set aside one day each week to stop everything and just spend time with God and your family.
  • Force yourself to rest from certain things for a given time throughout the week (like fasting from them) (i.e. your phone or Facebook)
  • Take time each day to physically rest (even if it’s only 5 minutes) from the hustle and bustle.
  • Crank up the worship music, sing along and worship God freely.
  • After the kids go to bed make a cup of tea or coffee and relax on the couch with a book or a movie.
  • Get up before the kids wake up to take time to pray and read the Bible each day.
  • Take routine vacations with your family and your husband alone.
  • Practice spending one day (or any given time) meditating on the things of God (a scripture, concept, story, etc.) and put aside the thoughts of the world for that day.
  • Improve upon and discipline yourself in your prayer life (our handy Prayer Journal can help!)

There are many more things you could do. But the absolute best way to practice rest is to regularly include it in your everyday life. I’m of the personal mindset that there’s no sense in trying to improve upon what God established for rest, and so the best kind of practice you can have is to observe the Biblically-mandated Sabbath day of rest.

God created Sabbath rest FOR YOU, all you have to do is accept His gift…

From the very beginning God established rest with YOU in mind. He knew that you would need times to slow down physically. He knew that you would get bogged down with the things of the world and that you would need Him for refuge. He knew that you would need rest: both physical and spiritual.

All you have to do is accept that precious gift.

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