We should be careful about using the word “need” for things God does not call a need. Things can be advantageous or beneficial without being a need. Yes, the Bible talks about rest, and even God Himself rested on the seventh day.
It seems like most of the time the Bible talks about “rest” it is referring to heaven either literally or allegorically. This idea of pursuing rest or needing a vacation has some truth to it, but in a leisure-soaked society, it is useful to filter them through the scriptures with some questions.
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1 – Am I spending and being spent for the Gospel?
Being spent for the gospel was one of Paul’s goals (2 Corinthians 2:15). He said he did it gladly. Paul was a guy who was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten with whips, hunted, and abandoned over and over. Was he looking for rest? No, he was seeking to give every ounce of his being over to the cause of Christ, and he was joyful in doing it.
A lot of people I meet who “need” a break are spending and being spent chasing the middle-class, white, American dream of a nice house, two or more cars, educational achievement, soccer camps, and whatever else they see on TV or Amazon Prime.
People like this don’t “need” rest in any biblical sense of the word. God calls them to use that same level of ambition to pursue Jesus before they can claim any biblical basis for rest.
2 – Am I seeking refreshment in the ways God has provided?
John 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. The basic idea is that Jesus is supposed to be the vine that provides us with nourishment, life, and purpose. The way to access that rest is to abide in or remain connected to Him.
Many people are exhausted because they are not abiding in Jesus, and I’d suggest a more biblical approach would be that they spend time with John 15 before they spend time on Expedia looking for a vacation or Amazon looking for a new hobby.
Or consider Hebrews 12:3: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Here, the author of Hebrews says that one key to avoid becoming tired (i.e., needing a rest) is to actively consider what Jesus endured for us as fuel and motivation for further gospel-centered action on our part.
The verse before this says that Jesus “endured” dying on the cross for the joy He got from it. It’s hard for me to reconcile this with the “need” for resting from things like a job in an air-conditioned office, caring for kids who love you, or even building up the body of Christ.
3 – Is the rest I am seeking drawing me closer to Jesus or my creature comforts?
I’ve heard many people talk about how Jesus took time by Himself to rest and that is certainly true. The overwhelming evidence of the New Testament is that when Jesus did this, it was to be alone with His Father. For example in John 6:15, we read “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Here Jesus got away not because He was focusing on Himself but because His Father’s mission was His focus. In Luke 6, Jesus spends the entire night alone praying before calling the Apostles. His “me time” deprived Himself of sleep before He deprived others of His presence. Even in the well-known Psalm 23, David enjoyed the green pastures and still waters, but he enjoyed the God who provided them much more.
4 – What happens when my rest is interrupted?
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Gospels, and one thing that is impossible to miss is that Jesus almost never rested. Even when people notice how much He “needed” rest and made provision for Him, it is often interrupted. So in Mark 6, we see the convincing appeals from the people who believed Jesus needed rest and they shuffle Him off in a boat.
How will Jesus respond when His rest is interrupted? We find out when the crowd runs along the shore to intercept Him again at the other end. Is He going to pout or retaliate or whine about not getting His “me time?” No, He sees this crowd as so hopeless and lost that He gives up any idea of rest because of the great compassion He has for them. Rather than rest, He teaches them late into the night and then organizes the biggest buffet in history feeding something like 20,000 people.
5 – Am I letting God determine the right rest?
One of the concerns I have when talking with people about rest is that there is a particular type of rest that some uniformly apply to everybody including all moms of young kids or overworked employees or pastors and their families. Many prescriptions for “needed” rest are simply not available to a large number of God’s children due to practical or financial limitations.
So even if there is some benefit to a vacation on the beach, or getting away to a Christian conference, or taking a long weekend with no work responsibilities, it just isn’t right to declare one particular type of rest like this as a need.
Besides, even if the Bible does say rest can be a good thing, it never gets very precise about how you should do it. It never says “what you need is a ______.” God seems to know the right kind of rest and can supernaturally intervene to provide it. This “biblical ambiguity” becomes a matter of putting our faith to work. Do I believe God will provide everything I need or not? Do I trust Him to select the best rest for me or not?
6 – If I believe in rest, what am I doing to make it possible for others?
One area where I consistently see brothers and sisters with some expendable income fail to live out their beliefs about rest is in the shortage of those who work hard to make rest available for others. If it is biblical to pursue rest, it is incumbent on the body of Christ to help others attain it to the degree we do.
Are you willing to move into a low-income community to be available to poor people who “need” a rest for a few hours or a few days but have no reliable options locally?
If people do “need” rest, the one another commands of the New Testament require you to find ways to make that rest possible for those in your local gathering who have barriers you don’t.
For example, a husband looking after the well-being of his wife is a great way husbands can love their wives as Christ loves His church. But doing that well means you will study your wife to see what it would look like to care for her in particular.
Based on the marriage counseling I’ve done, many stay-at-home moms would prefer a regular 30 – 60-minute break when their husband gets home from work more than a single four-hour block of time once per week.
For many men, this will be harder than simply footing the bill for a vacation or scheduling a spa day. Whatever solution you come to, it is something that a married couple should discuss together and come to a biblically informed conclusion.
And while you are having that discussion, talk about how you can provide rest to moms with young kids who may be divorced, abandoned, or widowed and have no husband to help them or brothers and sisters of limited means.