Our witness in a sleepless society
By Bruce Clemenger. Reprinted with permission from Faith Today. Subscribe to read more of Bruce's columns.
Summer is a time to enjoy the warm weather, perhaps time away from work or classes, time when we can create a lighter work schedule or take a vacation. Certainly it’s an opportunity to change daily schedules and exhale on stressors.
Resting is a significant challenge because we live in a hasty 24/7 society without boundaries, surrounded by cities, individuals and relationships that never sleep. Weekly societal common pause days are a distant memory for one generation and utopian for those who never knew them.
The millennial technologies that promised efficiency, convenience and carefree time have come with a price tag. Technological capabilities vie for our attention and soak us with more obligations derived from excessive information and demands. Our minds and hearts become heavy and vulnerable in a sea of endless needs, real or perceived.
We are enveloped in a technological mindset that places its faith in technology to solve social ills, and looks to ever more technologies to solve the tyranny it creates. Anyone who has led or is leading understands the struggle for biblical rest in this context.
What then is biblical rest? Putting down devices? Yes, putting aside tools is necessary to rest, but rest is more than opting out or getting more sleep. In the biblical world view, rest is designed as a time to become rejuvenated through a God-ward focus.
Rest as rejuvenation comes only from God. God set the precedent for rest at creation. The Bible reveals the creator of the universe to be a God of mercy who does not give us what we deserve, a God of compassion who extends grace to those who turn toward God, and a God of lovingkindness. Knowing this God is a humbling experience that opens us to find renewed insights about ourselves and others.
And, if we can imagine it, this freedom found in love insists we unapologetically rest.
Biblical rest, including times of prayer and Scripture reading, translates into a guilt-free zone liberated from the impossible demands of the sleepless 24/7 world. There is joy in the experience of biblical rest when we direct our attention in awe and wonder to God, who so wondrously created all things. Look up! Biblical rest is a quiet symphony that sings to our soul and renews us.
So what is our biblical framework for rest? While the fourth commandment emphasizes the expectation of rest, the first three provide a framework and clear a path for it.
In the first commandment we see the blessing of one God who alone is worthy of our entire attention and devotion. We are not required to serve the demands of many gods, be they of nations, networks or ideologies. Manoeuvring among a variety of deities and their respective demands becomes foreign. It is actually restful knowing we have only one God to worship and serve.
In the second commandment we are forbidden to make images of God. Making idols involves taking something God created and worshipping it as a surrogate of God. This is a distortion of the order and symmetry of God’s creation, and redirects our focus from the creator to creatures or to things we’ve made. Souls suffer, communities suffer. We find rest in marvelling in God’s creation and worshipping only God.
The third commandment specifies we are not to take God’s name in vain. There is meaning in us that we did not create. Being created in God’s image is the source of our value. Being vain means worthless or empty – which of course is not true of God, but amazingly also untrue of us, the humanity God created. God’s image bearers are commanded not to denigrate God, which would also denigrate us. Such confusion is blasphemous and cannot coexist with rest. Vain tidings confuse the good news of the first three commands.
The Sabbath is rest before and toward God. It is more than putting all else in its place. We can experience all creation singing praises to God, and hear how God sings to us in the language of glorious redeeming, just and renewing love (Psalms 95–100). Beloved, rest … in Me, the One true God above all other 24/7s! This rest is more than a vacation, it is a mindset transformed out of the darkness created by many false gods.
Biblical rest is a quiet symphony that sings to our soul and renews us.
This framework for rest prompts us to consider what ideologies or idols might be absorbing our souls instead of God and the wonder of the created world. What is our source of identity, security or satisfaction? It is easy to preach a brand of leadership that speaks to performance, all imperative to task. However, leadership which has vitality is leadership that practises biblical rest. We need it to lead well as we serve.
Our individual and collective witness to the sleepless gods is biblical rest. We rest in God and we practise Sabbath rest. For this is the will of our merciful and compassionate God. Enter into God’s rest!
Author: Bruce J. Clemenger