So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:3 (NRSV)

Very early on in the Bible, we are told that God rests from his work. Realising that his creation was good and complete, he took a day off. This is no trivial day off. It later got enshrined into patterns of living, through the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.

This commandment is twofold: firstly, to make the seventh day of the week separate from the other days of the week. The Sabbath is special and dedicated to the Lord; and as such should be different from the rest of the week. This means a cessation of work-related activities. And this is the second part of this commandment to observe the Sabbath: it is a day of rest.


Photo: Oliver Kendal, reused under CC license

In this context, rest is not about recharging your batteries for the week ahead. It is not a question of having some time off with the aim to regain energy. We do that every night when we sleep. Rest, here, is God-oriented rest. In keeping with Genesis 2, it flows from the satisfaction from the work carried out through the week before and from the work carried out by God.

I think that, generally, the importance of dedicating one day of the week (whether it is the Saturday, the Sunday, or any other day) is something that we get. But what we don’t get is what resting is about. We tend to fill our Sundays with dedication to God; with worship and involvement in a variety of church activities. It can feel like the perfect time to get on with our Bible reading, or with our prayers, etc.

Yet I see two issues with that attitude: firstly, it can compartmentalise our God-time to that one day of rest in the week. If we do that, then we are not taking on a Christian identity; or at least not one that pervades through our whole being. Secondly, it is not rest: it is not a cessation of busyness. For some people who are very involved in the church, Sundays are actually their busiest day (and I’m not talking about clergy who take another Sabbath day). If that’s our case, we are not resting: we are simply replacing one flurry of activity with another.

If we do that, how can we expect to be able listen to the still small voice? We make sure our lives are as busy as they can be – possibly to stop ourselves from hearing it. Possibly to stop ourselves from hearing and taking in those words we don’t feel ready to hear, or worthy to receive: You are loved.

Now, I’m not suggesting we stop volunteering in church altogether. But we must be careful that our Sundays (or whichever other day we choose) is a day of rest, rather than a day filled with a different kind of activity (and this should mean that, on a day of rest, we don’t even look at, or think of, any to-do list). This, in turn, implies two things:

a) that we must be selective in how we fill up our time. Let’s not sign up to too many rotas, so that most Sundays are, at least, restful.

b) use daily patterns of worship and study, so that we don’t have to do it all on our day of “rest”.

Then will we know a life that is healthy – not just on the Sabbath, but also for the rest of the week.