I grew up in an environment where work was highly valued. Some of my earliest memories are toiling in dust and sweat amidst vibrant rose bushes and small cedars. At that nursery, I discovered the delight and joy of hard work. To roll up one’s sleeves—those close to me rewarded and celebrated those who would “get’er done.” As I baked in the summer heat, a passion for a good day’s work was birthed.
It was only years later that the shadow side of this aptitude became apparent. Work took center stage, nudging the ability to rest—to unplug and be still—to the periphery.
Pastoral ministry did nothing to spare me from this inclination. Instead, as life became more complex, as I tethered myself to an iPhone, as connections and opportunities grew, the notion of rest became exceedingly elusive.
When friends would ask how I was doing, my instinctive answer became “very busy,” as though my full plate were a badge of honor. The truth is it was my Achilles heel. I found myself aligning better with Martha, “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” rather than her sister Mary “who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:38–42).
USMB Confession of Faith Article 16: Work, Rest and the Lord’s Day
We believe that God’s act of creation is the model for human activity. While sin has corrupted work and rest, redeemed people are called to restore labor and rest to their proper place.
As creatures made in the image of God, Christians imitate the Creator by working faithfully as they are able. They are to use their abilities and resources to glorify God and to serve others. Because they bear the name of Christ, all believers are called to work honestly and diligently and to treat others with respect and dignity.
As God rested on the seventh day, people are called to observe regular times of rest. Rest is an act of thankfulness for what God has provided. It is an act of trust, reminding humans that it is not their work but God who sustains them. Rest is an act of hope, anticipating the future rest assured by the resurrection of Jesus.
The Lord’s Day
Following the New Testament example, believers gather to commemorate the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week. On the Lord’s Day, believers joyfully devote themselves to worship, instruction in the Word, prayer, breaking of bread, fellowship and service. They limit their labor to work of necessity and deeds of mercy.
Genesis 1:26—2:3; Genesis 2:15; Genesis 3:14-19; Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 5:12- 15; Psalm 46:10; Psalm 95:6-11; Ecclesiastes 3:13; Mark 2:23—3:6; Luke 24:1-36; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 20:7; Romans 14:50; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 2:16-17; Colossians 3:22—4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10; Hebrews 4:1-10; Hebrews 10:23-25; Revelation 1:10.
Not surprisingly, Article 16 of our Confession of Faith causes me to pause. It reminds me that our labor, our leisure and a day of rest and worship are complementary gifts from our gracious Father.
The opening paragraph of this article states: “We believe that God’s act of creation is the model for human activity. While sin has corrupted work and rest, redeemed people are called to restore labor and rest to their proper place.”
How does one engage in this restorative activity in a culture bent on 24/7 work? How does one silence the relentless noise and clutter that is drowning out our desperate need for silence?
Our Confession invites us to reconsider the practice of Sabbath (the Lord’s day).
In his book 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, Matthew Sleeth says, “Just a short while ago, almost everything in society stopped one day a week. Gas stations, banks and grocery stores locked their doors at night and on Sundays. No more.
We are no longer a society that goes to sleep at night or conducts business six days a week. Now we go 24/7…what got taken away is rest…. Subtracting a day of rest each week has had a profound effect on our lives.”
I have come to believe that if we truly desire to maintain and grow healthy and vital spiritual lives, we will need to rediscover the essence of Sabbath.
Twin perspectives on rest
The Old Testament provides us with twin perspectives on why God focused so strongly on Sabbath rest, writes Mark Buchanan in The Rest of God.
Sabbath is positioned as a return to Eden. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…. 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).
For six days, God created and worked, and it was very good. Then at pinnacle of the week, God deliberately stopped. God rested and pronounced the day “holy.” The all-powerful Creator who did not need to rest chose to make a full stop and set a day apart.
Sabbath is viewed as a refusal to go back to Egypt. The parallel Deuteronomy account says: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12,15).
The One who liberated his people from slavery exhorts them not to look back. The command to stop, rest and trust weekly is an invitation to live in freedom from the bondage and oppression of Egypt.
- What does a Sabbath day look like for us?
- How might we regain a new sense of a holy day?
- Are we living in freedom and trust or turning back to the bondage of work and self-reliance?
Jesus’ invitation might just be what we need today: “Come to me, all you 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” (Matthew 11:28–29).
I encourage you to read Article 16 of the Confession of Faith and the related Scripture references with your family or study group. Consider the questions above about how we approach the Lord’s Day.
This essay was first published in the Dec. 1, 2018 issue of MB Herald as part of an ongoing series on the MB Confession of Faith.
Ed Willms is executive director of the Ontario Conference of MB Churches. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.