Today I am having a day off. An entire day off! I wrote this article before today so, yes, I really am taking the entire day off. If I keep to my plan, my phone will be off as well. The truth is, every part of my being, and many who are close to me, have been telling me, in one way or another, “Doug, give it a rest.” I am obeying.
Sometimes we experience seasons of unremitting demands and lots of ditches into which various oxen stumble. And it becomes nigh impossible to take a break. We cannot very well ignore the ox in the ditch, even though we are bone tired. But eventually we need to give it a rest, or we will prove of little use to those who need us.
For several weeks, I have been unable to have a day off. And the reasons have been largely, though not totally, outside of my control. The nature of church life sometimes demands attention to duties that don’t always line up with my schedule. And that’s okay. We all face this—not just pastors. A broken world sometimes breaks our plans. But to let this continue is not wise, and neither is it biblical. God often reveals in His Word that we need to “give it a rest.” We should obey.
Someone recently rebuked me with a helpful reminder of the nineteenth-century saintly Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who died just two months shy of his thirtieth birthday. He probably accomplished more in one decade of formal ministry than most of us will in several decades. This gives some justification to his early demise. But, while not ignoring God’s sovereign taking of his life, nevertheless it would appear that this man contributed to his early death because he refused to give heed to admonitions to “give it a rest.” In fact, he acknowledged this just before his death when he lamented, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.”
I want to publicly confess my lack of wisdom. My horse is fifty-six years old and I am determined to take better care of it. I want, God willing, to be able to deliver the message of God’s Word for a few more decades. And while acknowledging God’s sovereignty, I also want to acknowledge my responsibility to obey His rules. And one of those rules is to give it a rest.
I am persuaded that the fourth commandment remains God’s gift to us. One day a week we are to give it a rest. We are to take a break from our normal course of profit-producing labours and to rest physically, as well as in other ways.
One of the best biblical defences of the ongoing validity of the fourth commandment is found in the book On The First Day Of The Week by Iain Campbell. Personally, I find his argument irrefutable. We are commanded to rest one day a week. As we do so, we are blessed; if we fail to do so, we will pay a price—and often a heavy one.
Yet, at the same time, we need to realise that giving it a biblical rest is no guarantee of a long lasting “horse” (to use M’Cheyne’s image). A case in point is the aforementioned Iain Campbell. He was scheduled to deliver God’s message at this year’s Skogheim Conference in KZN. But two weeks ago, on 28 January, he died of a heart attack. He was only 53. Though he faithfully taught and practiced the Sabbath principle, God took him home. Clearly, long life is not the guaranteed reason we are to give it a rest. Rather, productivity for God’s glory is.
Though Mr Campbell fell far short of three scores year and ten, nevertheless he lived a very fruitful life. The purpose of weekly rest is so that we are refreshed for fruitful labour to the glory of God—for whatever length of time He allots us on this earth.
We need to keep this principle before us, not only for our own good, but also for the good of others.
After a recent Sunday morning service, I overheard two wonderful church members discussing their plans. One of them said that they were going to stop at the store before going to the restaurant. I thought to myself (with a log sticking out of my eye), “Give it a rest.”
Now, methinks that I can hear the shouts, “Legalist!” But not so fast; in fact, please, give it a rest and hear me out.
My wife is a friendly shopper. I have often heard her on a Saturday at the shops wish the cashiers a good weekend. She will say something like, “I’m going to church tomorrow; how about you?” More times than not they respond, “I have to work tomorrow.” My wife does not rebuke them; rather, she will say something like, “It’s a shame that the store is open on Sundays and that you have to work.” She’s right. But our economy operates on the principle of supply and demand. Unfortunately, too many professing Christians, and too many real Christians, demand that the stores and restaurants remain open on Sunday. The consequence is that people who need a God-centred rest don’t get one. If we loved our neighbours as ourselves, we would happily and practically tell them to “give it a rest’; we would stop demanding their labours on a day when we are resting from ours.
If you are still reading, let me simply conclude with an appeal to learn to give it a rest. Thank God for the weekly Sabbath and make the most of it.
Speaking personally, I hope that I have learned my lesson. In fact, I think that I have learned it so well that not only am I taking today off, I may take a sabbatical tomorrow as well.