We Need Restorative Rest

Jonathan Noyes

In a culture defined by never-ending news feeds and social media at our fingertips, where do we go for rest? Vacations? I don’t know about you, but when I return from a vacation, I’m often more exhausted than when I left. That’s because true rest isn’t found on exotic beaches or mountain retreats. It’s found in Christ. Here’s what I mean by that.

In Luke 6, we encounter two events having to do with Sabbath rest. In the first, Jesus and his disciples are walking through fields of grain. As they go, they pluck the grain, rub it between their fingers, and eat it. This elicits a harsh rebuke from the Pharisees. They claim picking grain and eating it is a violation of the Sabbath command. Jesus responds emphatically, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).

In the very next verse, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on another Sabbath day. Knowing the Pharisees are again watching him, he calls forward a man who has a physical handicap, a shriveled hand. With all eyes on him, Jesus says, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” Looking right at the Pharisees, Jesus then says to the man, “Stretch out your hand,” and the man’s hand is restored (Luke 6:6–10).

Both events infuriated the Pharisees while teaching us a very important lesson about Sabbath rest. Sabbath means rest for the restless and unburdening the burdened. The entire purpose of the Sabbath is restoration. Jesus could have waited to heal this man, but he didn’t. Instead, he restored the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. Likewise, Jesus restores us as we find rest in him. Through his resurrection, Jesus became the truer and better Sabbath, allowing us to forever cease laboring to attain God’s favor and to rest in his mercy and grace. With this in mind, here are three thoughts to consider as we pursue restorative Sabbath rest in our own lives.

First, a bow that’s never unstrung cannot kill dragons. During the seventh century, the longbow became a formative weapon. However, if you wanted your longbow to last, you would have to take the string off the bow, releasing the tension, and let it rest after the battle was over. If the bow was left in tension all the time, it would become deformed and unable to shoot arrows. The unending tension weakened the bow. The same is true of us. Unless we are regularly unstrung, the tension of our lives will weaken us to the point where we will no longer be able to slay dragons. We must have the tension of our lives unwound through rest. When we rest, we’re then able to be more effective in battle. When we go without rest, not only are we unable to slay dragons, but every lizard becomes a dragon, which brings us to the next thought.

Second, little issues begin to look bigger than they are when we’re constantly bombarded with information. In Jesus’ day people were crushed by a Sabbath made overbearing by the Pharisees. We, too, have become crushed, but in a different way. We’ve fallen under the weight of an under-Sabbathed life by being “on” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is one of the reasons the church has become so ineffective in the culture war. Not only are we exhausted, but we’re also distracted by every little thing because every little thing becomes magnified in a world dominated by social media and the 24-hour news cycle. You can’t see and think straight without rest. In the process, we’ve exchanged one kind of slavery for another. This brings us to our third and final thought.

Third, we are enslaved to our technology by always being connected. The desperate need of our day is for a regular digital Sabbath. We are hyper-connected and are perpetually “on,” always feeling the need to work, answer emails, reply to texts, and post to our Instagram. But we weren’t created to be “on” all the time. Part of the health of a Sabbath is the “ceasing from” so that we might attend to other things that get drowned out by our connection addiction. Entire aspects of our humanity are withering because we’re neglecting them in favor of swiping and scrolling through curated social media pages. In his book The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch offers wonderful advice: “We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, turn off your devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.”

These are just three thoughts about Sabbath rest, but in the end, ultimate rest is found in Jesus, not in vacations or material objects. Christ has already done everything for us. Just like the man with the withered hand, you have been restored by Jesus—maybe not through physical healing, but through something even better. Because of his sacrifice on the cross, we can rest.