There have been a handful of times in my life when I’ve been dog tired, that strange exhaustion where the brain starts to systematically shut down and the world spins. A few of those times were during college (thank you 40-page Greek exegetical paper). But oddly enough, a few of those times were after finishing up my last degree: a result of my own negligence. There have been times I could have prevented such fatigue, but I didn't understand the importance of rest.
In his new book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller writes masterfully about the significance of our work. Consistent with my ever-growing expectations, Keller once again hit a home run. It’s a book that—much like everything he's written—should be read by everyone.
In the final chapter “New Power for Work,” I expected Keller to give examples of how he stays so productive—where he found the time to pastor a thriving Manhattan congregation and write nine significant books in the last five years. Perhaps he requires less sleep, has discovered a new energy drink (that won’t kill you) or has never heard of television. Surprisingly, Keller’s productivity chapter turns to the power of deep rest. Rest, what does rest have to do with work?
Keller discusses two types of rest: resting from the work of our hands and resting in the finished work of Christ. Both are crucial to our productivity. First, Keller reminds us that taking a Sabbath (mentioned in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15) is not only for believers, but part of the created nature of us all. The idea of taking a regular rest is something that started during God’s creation, when God himself rested on the seventh day. There is a work and rest rhythm that is built into our very human nature.
Keller describes rest as an act of trust:
“To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward,” (p. 236).
Those times when we feel there aren’t enough hours in the week are times when we must remember God has given us enough time to do the work He’s called us to and get the rest we need. Another great point is that rest can come in many ways. It may come by consciously trusting God to provide all we need to do our work, or it may come through the ministry of other believers. Time resting doesn’t necessarily have to be "alone time," but may come to us through the encouragement and support of our Christian friends and loved ones.
Keller also emphasizes the sweetness of resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ:
“In fact, the very definition of a Christian is someone who not only admires Jesus, emulates Jesus, and obeys Jesus, but who “rests in the finished work of Christ” instead of his or her own … a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ. When the work under the work has been satisfied by the Son, all that’s left for us to do is to serve the work we’ve been given by the Father,” (p. 238).
It is incredibly freeing to learn we don’t need to work to save our own souls. We only need to trust God to provide for our needs and prayerfully seek to use the gifts and opportunities He has given. We can let go of desires to be rich, powerful or successful in this world. God calls His people to a diversity of work, but extends a collective rest, a rest rooted in His own creation.
I now realize those times of deep exhaustion were times I was ignoring my physical, mental and spiritual need for rest. I was trying to do more than God required at the time. I wasn’t enjoying the gift of rest He offers and was running myself down. In our day of busyness, those who are most productive will be those who learn to rest well and rest often.