Rest is Not a Reward for Productivity

It’s a new year and now is the time we hear a lot about “A new year, a new you!” The holiday season in the West is focused on activities, concerts, parties and getting as much done as one can to prepare for guests or to be out of the office. All this preparation is important to us for various reasons. For some, it can be a desire to celebrate the season with others. For others, there can be a desire to impress others or be perceived a certain way by hosting these activities, leading them, or landing that final contract before the year is out.

However, it’s not just the holiday season that drives a sense of hyper productivity in our culture.

We know that many Americans often don’t use all their vacation days and that there is much office and cultural influence on our output to either keep a job, earn that promotion or cultural pressures to be a “good Mom.” With such an emphasis on “Be your Best Self,” “Top 5 Ways to be More Productive at Work,” or “Get your Home Organized with these 3 Simple Steps,” the emphasis here is on producing more or striving. This can make it difficult to embrace the concept of rest.

Those of us serving in ministry can find it even harder to embrace rest because we think, “if I don’t do it, who will?” No matter what your profession, or how you spend your days, people were not created to go, go, go. We need intentional rest. Planned rest. Rest that is not dependent on whether we have achieved a certain level of productivity thus making us qualify for rest. Rest isn’t earned by how much we do. It’s meant to be a regular part of our daily rhythms. We are designed for rest. When we refuse rest, we sin against God who created us to rest (Exodus 20:8).

For Christians, we believe that God is the Creator of rest (Genesis 2:1-2). God created a day just for rest. This Sabbath day is a time for us to stop working and reflect on our productivity of the week. It allows us to delight in the fruit of our labors and see God’s hand in it all. In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer writes,

“Because the Sabbath isn’t just a twenty-four-hour time slot in your weekly schedule; it’s a spirit of restfulness that goes with you throughout your week. A way of living with “ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace and prayer. A way of working from rest, not for rest, with nothing to prove. A way of bearing fruit from abiding, not ambition” (172).

A Sabbath day for rest also shows us that we were created with limitations and that those limitations serve as a protection from self-reliance and burn out. Limitations are a good thing. Our Creator God modeled rest for us in the beginning and desires this for His creation as well. A Sabbath also tells us that God created us for more than work, although works are part of His plan for us (Ephesians 2:10).  It is also a day of worship to our God, a day set apart for Him to be kept holy (Exodus 20:8). When we see rest as “unproductive” or not necessary, we fail to view the God-created, God-commanded concept of rest with spiritual eyes. Rest is productivity for your whole being.

Another purpose of rest is to show us that our value is not in our output and productivity. We have value because we are created in God’s image. Rest is not a reward. With God, we do not have to earn our worth. Our worth comes from Him. As Christians we need to see ourselves rightly to counter the world’s message of doing more to be worthy of rest (Matthew 6:26; 10:31; 12:12; John 3:16). We are in the Beloved and there is no amount of productivity or lack thereof, that can diminish our worth and eligibility for rest. You are also not useless because you are resting. Choosing rest and Sabbath-keeping causes me to live the other six days of the week differently in preparation for the Sabbath (Brueggman qtd in Comer, 2019). It frees me from the burden of constant work.

There is another type of rest that is not just from labor but spiritual rest.

Our souls find rest in God when we experience communion with Him. This comes from a growing relationship with God in which we experience refreshment from time in His Word, with other believers, in prayer, worship and service. Spiritual rest can also occur amidst hardships. Our suffering is the opportunity to invite God into our suffering. It’s not that He isn’t there, but have we invited Him into our suffering journey, or we have allowed distance to come between us because we do not like what is happening. Christ says, “Come to me all who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus too was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. This rest doesn’t necessarily mean a change of circumstance or difficulty but of soul rest. Soul rest is trusting God not just when life is easy, but when it’s hard and we can’t see or understand what is going on but by His Holy Spirit are able to trust Him with our unknowns and “not yets.” Soul rest is the peace that passes all understanding because we know that in all things God is working for the good of those who love Him (Philippians 4:6; Romans 8:28). This soul rest is the fruit of a growing relationship with God; it is supernatural. Rest is soul care.

So where do you tend to lean when it comes to rest?

Is it something you will get to? Do you feel like you must earn rest? Or are you able to yield yourself to your Creator and His design for you to have regular rest each week to bask in Him and the labors of the week? How are you being challenged to grow in soul care through rest in 2023?

Questions for reflection for Sabbath keeping:

  1. What work are you most proud of this week?
  2. What work did not go as well as you had hoped this week?
  3. How did you see God’s hand in your work this week?
  4. What work did you most enjoy this week?
  • Natalie
    January 15, 2023

    Thank you for this post. It was a comforting (and much needed) reminder this morning

    • RobinBarnes
      January 15, 2023

      You’re welcome! I’m glad this was encouraging.