Godward Rest

by | Aug 9, 2023 | Articles

Rest—to many of us—is a foreign concept or else one encased in guilt. Whether it is a mother of a newborn baby, the owner of a new start-up business or a diligent student who has traded in many hours of rest for study, most of us have busy lives that we are trying to juggle in order to make ends meet.

It seems like teenagers are the only ones who have mastered the art of complete and constant relaxation. Teenagers and road workers! The majority of us can do with some serious help when it comes to physical rest. Our desperate need for annual leave is evidence against us.

God the Father and Jesus, His Son, have much to say regarding rest. As does the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures which He breathed out.

A Biblical concept that you have undoubtedly heard somewhere along the line is “Shabbat” or “Sabbath.” Sabbath is like the original mannequin challenge.


The Sabbath is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment consisting of no work, but rather much gathering for praying, study of the Scriptures and feasting.


(Exodus 31:12-17 NRSV)  12 The LORD said to Moses: 13 You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”


So the Sabbath is not merely “doing nothing.” It is abstaining from all normal/daily activities. But, it is meant to be Godward rest. Sabbath without God-focus is like a starvation diet instead of a fast. It has physical benefits, it has “an outward form of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

It is not God’s created order to be grumpy, anxious, stressed and depressed. These traits have become common place, but it isn’t God’s design nor desire for His creation.

Our unbalanced, overworked and out-of-order lives have produced physical illness, mental illness and extremist actions from binge drinking to psychotic tendencies. The signs of disorder are ever present. Can you rest guilt-free? How clean is your car?

In Exodus 31 God commands a day of Godward rest because:

  1. It exalts Him as Creator. It gives us cause to celebrate at His provision and reminds us of our rightful place as His beloved creatures.
  2. The snake’s age-old divisive plan is still to get us to question God’s intention behind His commands and to desire to be elevated above Creature to Creator.

The ratio is 6:1 – six days of work and 1 of Godward rest. Scripture
does not condone or praise the sluggard and the lazy, but it does also heavily rebuke non-rest. God wants you to remember His and your rightful place: You are not God. Look what He made in 7 days! (Relax, non-young earth creationists.)


(Deuteronomy 5:12 NRSV) 12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day


Tim Keller says:

God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave – to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Jesus’ message is that we all have a master. We are either slaves to obedience or slaves to sin. Slaves to God or slaves to wealth. And He also says that:

(Matthew 6:24 NRSV) 24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Wealth is not evil, but it makes a seductive and heartless master, forcing you to choose between serving God or money. King Solomon drives home this point:

(Psalms 127:1-2 NRSV):0 A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved

When God isn’t in His rightful place as King in our lives, rising early and sleeping late only produces provision that is sown and gathered with great anxiety.


A. There is personal withdrawing to be alone with God:

Matthew 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,

Mark 1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

Luke 5:15 But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases

  • Communicating with God through prayer and fasting.
  • Praising Him through singing and music.
  • Discovering His ways through Scripture reading.

B. And personal withdrawing is balanced with corporate gathering:

The early Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:42-43)

Church gatherings, like Sunday meetings, home groups, corporate prayer meetings are not “acceptance tasks”. They are moments where:

  • The created order is restored and where,
  • The chains of bondage to wealth and selfish ambition are broken.

Godward rest is anything practical that nurtures intimacy with God. Biblical rest in not just in what you do or don’t do, it’s in where you go:

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus has sent His Holy Spirit – the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith and self-control. Our lives don’t look like His because we aren’t great at walking by His Spirit.

If you’re externally stressed, tired and overworked, the chances are that:

  • Internally there are areas in which you are trying to be God and you need the rightful created order restored, or
  • You’re in places of bondage trying to prove yourself or chase a need that nothing, but Jesus can fulfill.

Until you cling to the Spirit of God to guide you and daily find your peace and rest in Him your physical rest will do nothing, but while hours away. Your zoning out in front of your favorite series or tv show will give a moment’s rest, but will be an outward form of godliness, but denying its power. All forms of Godless rest will be like placing a plaster on a festering wound.

Not only do we all have the privilege of a full day off from normal activities, but we get to have supernatural daily and moment-by-moment rest as we commune with and walk in the Spirit.

If you will be lead by God’s Spirit of peace, you will find weekly Godward “off days” a bonus to your daily sabbaths with Him.

If you have not surrendered your life to Jesus, your striving for acceptance, wealth and purpose will never find you peace. You will forever eat the bread of anxious toil.

For all of us Jesus followers, establish habitual personal withdrawing alone to the Son of God as well as gathering together to find true rest.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”