January 9, 2011

Pastor Joe Wittwer


#2—So you can rest



I found online one advertising agency’s pick for the top ten advertising slogans of the last century! Let’s see if they picked really memorable slogans; I’ll say the slogan, you name the product. Here they are, counting down from #10.

  1. Where’s the beef? (Wendy’s)

  1. When it rains it pours (Morton Salt)

  1. Does she … or doesn’t she? (Clairol)

  1. Breakfast of champions (Wheaties)

  1. Good to the last drop (Maxwell House)

  1. We try harder (Avis)

  1. Tastes great, less filling (Miller Lite)

  1. The pause that refreshes (Coca-Cola)

  1. Just do it (Nike)

  1. Diamonds are forever (DeBeers). Or James Bond!

Today, we are going to talk about “the pause that refreshes” and it is not Coca Cola! God calls us to hit the pause button regularly in order to rest.


ILL: A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, making small talk to put his subjects at ease. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl.

“Tired,” she said.

Where do you think she got that? “I am going to be tired. I know that because all the grown ups I know are tired.”

In 1983, Tim Hansel wrote a book entitled, When I Relax, I Feel Guilty. How many of you relate to that? We live in a driven culture where our worth is measured by our productivity. We often feel that we can’t stop, we can’t pause, we must keep on producing; and if we do stop, we feel guilty. “I should be doing something productive!”

ILL: It is very hard for me to do nothing. I have so much to do (my running to-do list usually has over 50 things on it) that I feel guilty when I do nothing; so even when I’m doing “nothing,” I am usually doing something. I multi-task—I do something while I do nothing! If I watch TV, I’m reading stuff I need to get read; or my computer is open on my lap and I’m answering emails or working on a project. It’s hard to do nothing!

But we need to do nothing sometimes. In the introduction sentence, I wrote: “Pausing to rest may seem like another thing to do, another thing to add to your already too busy schedule. But it is not another doing; it is an undoing.” When was the last time you did nothing for a few hours?

You all know the saying, “Cleanliness is next to…godliness.” Hansel says that we act like “fatigue is next to godliness.” Or busyness is next to godliness. We wear it like a badge of value and importance. “I’m so busy…I must be important!” I just told you how busy I was—over 50 things on my to-do list!

In the midst of our 24-7 world, God wants us to pause to rest. Let’s read Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, this time from The Message.

Matthew 11:28–30 (The Message) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I love that phrase: “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” That’s what we’re going to talk about today: learning to live with rhythm, the unforced rhythms of grace.

This week and next we’re going to talk about the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means “to cease, to desist, to stop.” Pause. The Sabbath is a weekly pause. Every seventh day, we stop working, we rest and we worship God. As we’ll read in a moment, God commanded that we work six days and then rest one. God commands us to pause to rest, which leads to our first point.


1. Pause to rest because God wants you to.

God wants you to rest. Somebody say, “Woohoo!” Does God want you to work? Yes—work is a gift from God, and we’re to work six days a week. But lots of us forget that rest is a gift from God too; He wants us to rest and to be refreshed. Let’s review our two Scripture texts for this series:

Mark 6:31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

In the midst of the busyness, Jesus hit the pause button and said, “Let’s get some rest.” They had worked hard and were very busy; now it was time for a guilt-free break. Jesus wanted them to rest.

Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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 promised to give us rest, that in Him we will find rest for our souls. If you are constantly weary and burdened, you are probably doing more than Jesus asks of you. Come to Jesus—His yoke is easy, His burden is light, He gives rest for our souls. God wants you to rest.

Of all the Scripture that teaches that God wants us to rest, none is more clear or compelling than the Scripture on the Sabbath. There are many references to the Sabbath; we’ll look at just a few of them

Genesis 2:2–3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

These are the final words of the first account of creation. In Genesis 1, God creates the universe, and the climax of God’s creative activity is when he makes human beings in His own image. After finishing creation, God declares it “very good,” and then what does He do? He rests. Here at the very beginning of the Bible, God makes a day of rest. God Himself worked, then rested; and God builds right into the fabric of the universe the rhythm of work and rest. In some way I don’t understand, this rhythm of work and rest is part of God’s nature. I said I don’t understand it because other parts of the Bible says that God is always working and that He never slumbers or sleeps. I believe that is true. And I believe that God worked then rested, and made that day of rest holy to commemorate His own rest. If we are made in God’s image, then this rhythm of work and rest that we see in God may be built into our nature; and when we refuse to rest, we may be violating the image of God within us.

This rhythm of work and rest is part of the God’s created order. You see it all around us. Everything works then rests. When we refuse to pause to rest, we are violating the way we were created. In fact, this is part of our problem: our unwillingness to pause and rest is due in part to a refusal to acknowledge and accept our human limitations. God wants you to rest.

Notice one other thing: God sets this day apart for rest before we have done any work! Before we have done anything, He says, “Take a break. Rest.” The day of rest starts at creation, not at the giving of the law ages later…which is our next Scripture.

Exodus 20:8–11 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Here’s the back-story. The Israelites have suffered for 400 years in slavery in Egypt. God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Moses led them to Mt. Sinai, where God made a covenant with Israel. The covenant contained laws that were to govern Israel’s life as individuals and as a nation. The first laws given in the covenant, and the most important, were the Ten Commandments—the Top Ten. This is one of those top ten laws: keep the Sabbath. And notice the reason why in verse 11: “For in six days the Lord created…but He rested on the seventh. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Keep the Sabbath; keep the “stop-day”; pause to rest. Why? It’s grounded in creation; it’s the way God made us; it’s what God did and we’re to imitate God.

The Sabbath became one of the most important laws for a Jew; in fact, it became one of the central elements of the covenant.

Exodus 31:16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.

I point this out because Christians debate whether we have to keep the Sabbath since it is part of the Jewish Law and we are no longer under the Old Covenant; we have a new covenant with God. Your Bible is divided into Old and New Testaments. A testament is a covenant. The Old Covenant was God’s covenant with Israel. But Jesus made a new covenant with us; we are no longer under the old covenant, we are under the new covenant. So we don’t keep the Sabbath as a covenant obligation—we’re not under the old covenant. But we keep the Sabbath because God created me to live with this rhythm—to work and rest—and it’s good.

ILL: Let’s say you come to work for me, and we write up an employment contract. It spells out what you are expected to do, and what I will do for you in return. In your contract, I require you to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I also require, since we’re a church, that you take one day a week to rest, that you come to church on Sunday, and that you read your Bible each day. (We don’t do this—this is just an illustration.) I want you to do these because they are good for you, so I build them into the contract. And you do them.

After a year, we sit down to negotiate a new contract. And I drop the requirements for resting one day, coming to church on Sunday and reading your Bible each day. I tell you that I hope you will keep doing them because they are good for you, but you are no longer required to do these as part of your contractual agreement. You have a new contract. Will you do those things? Yes, but not because you have to, but because you want to. You know that they are good for you.

This is an imperfect illustration, but it gets at the idea that we are no longer required by the new covenant to keep the Sabbath. But if you understand that God created you with this rhythm of work and rest, and that He wants you to live by that rhythm, why wouldn’t you?

Don’t think of the Sabbath as a legalistic obligation; think of it as a gift, and avoid like the plague any legalistic notions. Think of it as a snow day! Isn’t it fun when we get a big dump of snow and everything stops? You can’t go to work or school. It’s a free day, a bonus day, a do-nothing day, a pause and catch your breath day. It’s a gift. Think of the Sabbath as a weekly snow day!

ILL: Over the Christmas break, Laina and I were visiting with our neighbors, who had the week off and were enjoying it with their kids. One of them said to us, “This is my favorite week of the year. We’re all home with nothing to do.”

That’s a Sabbath. A pause to rest. But here’s the really good news: God wants to give you a day like that every week! Imagine that! Imagine taking your favorite week of the year, and enjoying every seventh day! That’s how to think of the Sabbath! Not as a legalistic burden, but a gift, a joy, your favorite day. And do you know why it’s your favorite? Because you were made for this. You were made to work and then rest—and the rest is delightful!

Pause to rest because God wants you to. It’s His gift to you…enjoy it.


2. Pause to rest because it’s good for you.

Here’s a second reason you should pause to rest: not only because God wants you to, but because it’s good for you.

Exodus 20:11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Lord blessed the Sabbath day. It says the same thing in Genesis 2:3, “God blessed the seventh day.” There is something blessed about the Sabbath, about pausing to rest. When you take a Sabbath, you step into a blessed day, you enter a blessing. Think about that word “bless”. When something is blessed, it is good, is beneficial. God meant for the Sabbath to be good for you, to be a blessing, not an obligation. A little farther on in Exodus it says:

Exodus 23:12 Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.

Notice the purpose: don’t work so that you may rest and “be refreshed.” I love this! God wants you to be refreshed! This is “the pause that refreshes.” Do you wake up Monday morning refreshed and ready to go? Do you start your week fresh? “How are you today?” “I’m fresh!” Or do you start frazzled and exhausted? God wants to bless you and refresh you—pause to rest because it’s good for you!

Notice too that in Israel, the Sabbath was for everyone: slaves, aliens, ox, donkeys—everyone and everything gets to rest and be refreshed. It’s not just that hubby gets to take a day off while momma slaves in the kitchen—everyone gets to rest.

ILL: Here’s a great story. Maria Brunner lives in Poing, Germany. Maria’s husband is unemployed, so she supports their three young children by cleaning other people’s houses. Even without a job, her husband managed to run up a bunch of unpaid parking tickets—nearly $5,000 worth! Mr. Brunner kept the tickets a secret from his wife, but as the owner of the vehicle, she is responsible. So the police tracked her down. Maria cannot pay the fine, and unless her husband can come up with the money, she will spend three months in jail.

Maria’s reaction? ” As long as I get food and a hot shower every day, I don’t mind being sent to jail. I can finally get some rest and relaxation.”

Police reported that when they went to arrest Maria, “she seemed really happy to see us and repeatedly thanked us for arresting her.” While most people taken into custody hide their heads in shame, Maria “smiled and waved as she was driven off to jail.” Woohoo! I’m going to jail!

(John Beukema, Western Springs, Illinois; sources: “Family of the Week,” www.timesonline.co.uk (5-15-05); “I’m Ready; Let’s Go.”)

That’s a lady who needed a Sabbath! The Sabbath is for everyone. In Israel, everyone hit the pause button; everyone rested. We’ve lost this. It used to be that Sunday was a day of rest, a Sabbath, in our country. Stores closed, activities ceased; you went to church, or you stayed home; everyone rested. Slowly, business and busyness starting encroaching on that, and now we’ve lost it altogether. Sunday is just another day—as busy as any other day, or busier. We’ve become a 24-7 culture. Are there benefits? Sure—we make more money and buy more stuff; we play more games and go more places. But there is a cost too. We are paying a price for the pace we keep.

ILL: In The Twenty Four Hour Society: Understanding Human Limits in a World that Never Stops, Martin Moore-Ede says our most notorious industrial accidents in recent years—Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the fatal navigational error of Korean Air Lines 007—all occurred in the middle of the night. When the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian A300 airbus killing all 290 people aboard, fatigue-stressed operators in the high-tech Combat Information Center on the carrier misinterpreted radar data and repeatedly told their captain the jet was descending as if to attack when in fact the airliner remained on a normal flight path. In the Challenger space shuttle disaster, key NASA officials made the ill-fated decision to go ahead with the launch after working twenty hours straight and getting only two to three hours of sleep the night before. Their error in judgment cost the lives of seven astronauts and nearly killed the U.S. space program.

We ignore our need for rest and renewal at the peril of others and ourselves.

Gary Yates, Roanoke, Virginia; references Martin Moore-Ede, The Twenty Four Hour Society: Understanding Human Limits in a World that Never Stops (Circadian Information, 1993)

We are paying a price for our non-stop lifestyle. It’s costing us big time! Pause to rest because it’s good for you. It’s the pause that refreshes. One more Scripture:

Mark 2:23–28 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God did this for you; God made the Sabbath for your benefit, to bless you, to refresh you. It’s a gift! Never think of the Sabbath as an obligation, but a gift for your benefit. Pause to rest because it’s good for you.


3. Pause to rest because you can.

What do I mean by this? It will become clear when we read this next Scripture:

Deuteronomy 5:12–15 Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has 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. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

The Ten Commandments, like most of the Old Covenant Law, are repeated in Deuteronomy. The word “Deuteronomy” means “the second law”; it is not a second law different from the first, but the same law that was given in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers is given again by Moses. Why? Because 40 years had past; everyone who was present at the giving of the law 40 years earlier had died. This second generation was about to enter the Promised Land and the covenant needed to be renewed. So the Ten Commandments are repeated here. But there is one significant addition to the Sabbath law here in Deuteronomy. It is the last verse:

Deuteronomy 5:15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Remember to keep the Sabbath. Why? Because you can! You used to be slaves. You worked seven days a week. You had no choice. But God has set you free! And now you don’t have to slave any more. God has set you free and now you can rest! So rest…because you can!

In Exodus 20, they were told to keep the Sabbath because of creation—God rested and built this rhythm into creation. In Deuteronomy 5, they were told to keep the Sabbath because of redemption—God had saved and redeemed them and set them free.

You might be thinking, “Well this doesn’t apply to me. I haven’t been a slave.” Really? I think we may be enslaved more than we know. If you can’t say no to something, it is your master. If you are saying, “I can’t pause to rest,” then something has enslaved you. Think about what keeps us from pausing to rest, from taking a true Sabbath. Let’s list the reasons why we don’t rest.

  • I’ve just got too much to do. Are you a slave to your work, to your schedule, to your own expectations and commitments?

  • I’ve got deadlines to meet. Are you a slave to your deadlines?

  • I really want to buy this new car, so I’m working double shifts. Are you a slave to your desires?

  • What will people think of me? Are you a slave to other’s opinions of you?

  • I feel guilty when I relax. Are you a slave to your own guilt?

  • It’s not just our own busy schedules; our kids have all these activities. Are you a slave to your kids’ activities? What if you just told the coach or the piano teacher, “We’re taking a snow day. We won’t be there.” The coach might say, “But it’s not snowing.” And you could say, “Nope, but I’m free to live like it is!” Woohoo!

Friends, we’re not in Egypt any more! We’ve been redeemed! We’re not slaves; Christ has set us free. He set you free to live your life for God, and God says, “Stop! Pause to rest…because you can!”

What if you took one day this week and had a snow day—a Sabbath. Unplug: turn off your phone and computer. Sleep in. Make love (if you’re married). Play with the kids (this happens if you’ve made love). Read a book, watch a movie, play a game, take a walk, enjoy your favorite food, take a long nap. Because you can!