Drawn from Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee, and The Rest of God, by Mark Buchannan. Key Scriptures: Genesis 1-3, Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, John 15:1-17
Summary: God desires that our lives bear fruit. We must live in the rhythm of life God intended for us in order to be productive. We need to learn to start from a place of resting and abiding in God and move toward fruitful productivity and return to rest and abide.
Beginning with Genesis 1, we see a pattern in the language of each day of creation: “there was evening, there was morning, the first day…” There was a daily rhythm. Notice that the day begins at evening. Think through what happened in the evening before the days of artificial light – gathering around a fire for a meal, telling stories, being with family – afterward sleep. The day begins with rest. Fruitful work follows. That is the pattern of scripture. From this we can find a key principle: We rest before we work. That is a daily rhythm.
The pendulum begins with Rest! We rest before our work. God intended us to work six days and rest on the seventh. One could argue that sounds like resting from work. The scripture even says God rested (or more accurately, “ceased”) from all his work (Genesis 2:2). But the rhythm of rest before work was already established. For before the first day, God was enjoying the love and uninterrupted fellowship found in the trinity before creating all things. Out of the overflow of his love, God created everything, and it was good!
This is important. Resting is not necessarily inactivity. We need to think about how we’re wired as individuals. What is it that restores life and our capacity to love? There is a very helpful phrase from Mark Buchanan that captures what Sabbath rest is about: “Embrace life. Refrain from what is necessary.”
What are the things you have to do? During Sabbath abiding times, try not to do those things. What are the things that bring life? Do that on the Sabbath. Develop a rhythm of time set aside for embracing life and refraining from what is necessary – a rhythm for each day and for each week. And you will find new energy and productivity for your work. Also, plan quarterly and annual Sabbath times. That roughly follows the pattern that Jesus lived.
On the other side of the pendulum is productivity. Work is good. God designed us to be fruitful and productive. Work is not part of the curse. Adam and Eve worked in the garden before the fall. We are designed for intentional activity. In the new heaven and new earth, we can expect to find fully redeemed work.
In the creation account of Genesis 1, human beings were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. We were made to work. So it is natural that unemployment is a problem. It leads people to feel usefulness is lost, as though they are no longer being fully human. And retirement is not about entering into inactivity, either. People who become inactive after retirement often struggle, become self-centered, and some even die quickly. No amount of golf or fishing can take the place of being fruitful. In God’s Kingdom, if we are capable of being fruitful then fruitfulness is expected. The strength of this expectation is captured in II Thessalonians 3: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat…” “And as for you, brothers and sister, do not grow weary in doing good!” We can expect to have productive work to do when we enjoy “a new heaven and a new earth.” Work itself became cursed in the fall but it is being redeemed as God’s Kingdom advances.
On the First Coast, many of us try to work all the time. 24-7 lifestyles can turn us into human “doings” rather than human “beings.” We can feel like slaves. Many of us need to learn a rhythm for life that includes rest. The command to keep the Sabbath shows up twice. In Exodus 20, the children of Israel are commanded to keep the Sabbath because that was the pattern of creation – six days of work and one day of rest. Therefore that day was set apart and holy. In Deuteronomy 5, the emphasis is different. The commandment says to keep the Sabbath because they were no longer slaves in Egypt. As slaves, they had to “do” work all the time. As free people, they could rest and take time and simply “be.” And so can we!
Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-17. We can learn a lot about what it means to find a rhythm of rest and productivity by looking at this passage. In first century vineyard practices, when a vine was planted, the branches would be cut back and prevented from bearing grapes for the first three years. If fruit tried to grow it was cut off, because the vines were not yet strong enough to support the load of the fruit. (Are we okay with this kind of delay?) The disciples had been with Jesus probably three years. They were about to be productive. Each year afterward, as the vine would begin to grow, the vine keeper would prune the extra branches so that more energy would flow into producing fruit. (Are we willing to accept seasons of non-productivity after seasons of bearing fruit?) After the branch produced fruit, it would be cut back and pruned again. (In our lives, what needs to be cut back?)
Jesus makes several things clear in this passage. 1) Fruitfulness – building his Kingdom with our lives – is not optional. 2) In order to be productive, we can expect to be “pruned”. Ouch! 3) If we don’t learn to abide with Jesus, we’ll accomplish nothing. This ties in with the Covenant Triangle. Our Identity as God’s kids precedes our obedience. God wants us to know him better.
There is much good news here. It is good that Jesus desires to produce wonderful things in us and through us. But even better, Jesus ultimately wants to be with us far more. He created us for relationship with him. We would be crazy to miss that just to get a few more things done.
- We are to work from our rest, not rest from our work.
- Rest is not optional if we are to walk in the lifestyle of a disciple.
- We cannot bear fruit is we do not spend time abiding.
- Aren’t we supposed to be pressing forth with all our energy to do the work of the kingdom? In a word, no.
- We find grace in being who God made us to be.
How Jesus Rested in this Rhythm of Life
- Resting through extended times of retreat (Mark 1:12-13)
- Regular daily times of quiet resting with the Lord (Mark 1:35-39)
- Teaching the disciples to rest (Mark 6:30-32)
- Jesus alone at the lake before teaching – Mark 2:13
- Jesus withdraws with his disciples – Mark 3:7
- Jesus goes to the mountainside and calls his disciples – Mark 3:13
- Jesus leaves the crowds and gets into the boat – Mark 4:35
- Jesus at the lake/hillside – Mark 5:1
- Jesus crosses the lake to the other side – Mark 5:21
- Jesus sends the disciples ahead, dismisses the crowd and goes to the mountain to pray – Mark 6:45-46
Questions for Reflection:
- What’s easier? Working or resting?
- How’s your rhythm of life? What do you need to do about it?
- How can legalism about Sabbath keeping be avoided?
- Rest tends to be harder for people in our culture. What are cultures that get it right? Do you know of cultures that don’t emphasize fruitfulness? Try to avoid judgment, but how might they be getting it wrong?
- How do you see this teaching connecting with the Triangles?
- Is there someone who does the Rhythm of Life well that you could learn from? To whom can you pass it on?
What do you think God may be saying to you? What will