04 Nov 2013

Learning the Importance of Rest

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Joel serves as the president of Abundant Life and regularly leads worship. 

“Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you.” Exodus 31:14

The command to obey the Sabbath sticks out like a rusty nail near the middle of the Ten Commandments, often unnoticed, but with the potential to send the unwary passer-by on a trip to the emergency room. No other biblical command causes as much confusion or misunderstanding to modern, American audiences. “Aren’t we under the new covenant, and freed by grace?” “Are you saying we should have ‘Sabbath elevators’ like Orthodox Jews?” “Isn’t trying to obey the Sabbath just legalism?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer probably would have called this equivocation what it really is: disobedience. In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he notes that often people make God’s commands out to be uncertain, and susceptible to different interpretations. “Moral doubts and difficulties have crept in. The command, suggests the Serpent, needs to be explained and interpreted… Doubt and reflection take the place of spontaneous obedience.” These words may sounds harsh, but I write them speaking from experience, as one who has rebelled against God over and over by refusing to rest. I recognize that each person’s walk with Christ is different, and that my personal struggles may not resonate with people who don’t have the proclivity to work themselves to death. But I share my experiences in the hopes that some may be inspired to look at their own lives, and ask, “Who am I really serving with my work?

As a musician, I largely have the ability to dictate my own hours for work. Almost every day, I get to decide how many students to teach or how many gigs to accept, knowing that each one could increase my prestige as an artist, further my name in the music world, and bring me more financial security and luxury. And far too often, I have chosen to forego resting, instead working as much as possible in an effort to prove my worth and build up my “kingdom”. Despite experiencing steep consequences as a result of my transgressions, including repetitive-stress injuries and the breakdown of my personal relationships, I have repeatedly refused to yield to God in this area, stubbornly insisting that I know what’s best for my life.

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It wasn’t until I started to understand the nature of man’s desire to overwork that I was able to slowly come to terms with this problem, and a recent sermon by Navy Chaplain David Kim helped to clarify this issue for me. In his message Pastor David first emphasized that God’s command to obey the Sabbath comes from His desire to emphasize His holiness. God is separate from the world and perfect, and we are to be set apart as well, and noticeably different from non-Christians. Our identity is to be God’s holy people, and these commandments help root us in that identity. When we abstain from work, living amongst a population that is in danger of working itself to death, we testify to the truth that there is more to live for than the security and prestige that work can bring.

Another important aspect of our identity as Christians is our freedom from slavery. Just as the Jews were freed from Egyptian tyranny in the Exodus so that they could worship God, when I Sabbath I remind myself that I am free from my addiction to endless productivity and prestige. Pastor David mentioned that If we are unable to take a break, it means we are a slave to our work. As I reflected on these words, I realized how different my life was than what was commanded by God. Instead of having six days of work and one day of rest, I had seven days of work.

Pastor David also stressed that the Lord’s Sabbath was made for our own benefit, to keep us from working ourselves into oblivion. I reflected on how well God knows the character of mankind; truly, His commands are made with our best interest at heart.

I must admit that undoing my bad habits in this area has been a long struggle. Daily, I have to remind myself that, although work beckons to me with offers of security, value, and the feeling of being known, all of those things have already been offered to me through Christ. In a world where people constantly choose work over family, work over community, and work over serving, let’s remember that taking a Sabbath means choosing God over work.

Listen to the sermon that inspired Joel

Identifying Rest by Reverend David Kim

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