A Theory on Rest

How does Tim Keller conclude his book on work? With a section on rest, in a chapter called “New Power for Work.” Brilliant. Perfect.

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Byron Borger leads us in discussing Part Three: The Gospel and Work.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

“Spring Break” comes too late for my liking, so every year we take a week off in the winter. A winter break helps to avert the annual spring almost-burnout I used to experience.

Every Febrary or March, we spend a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’s the ideal vacation spot: free lodging; the boys get grandparent time (one highlight is getting to do the horse-poop chores with Grandpa); I get to cook without having to do dishes; and they live near The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of my favorite cross-country skiing places. On top of that, Ouray with its Hot Springs pool is only forty minutes away.

On day four of vacation I awoke in my in-laws’ guest bed, always warm with heavy blankets. The grandfather clock ding-donged seven o’clock in the morning. Grandma was making sourdough waffles (I could tell just by the sounds) while our boys played with Lincoln Logs and Legos (again, I could tell by the sounds). Yet in spite of these things, my spirit felt stressed.

This was not supposed to happen. More than halfway through my longed-for winter break, I still felt an inner unrest and stress. Why this restlessness in an ideal setting for rest?

I first went to what is probably the most commonly quoted New Testament passage on rest for the weary:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

This seems counterintuitive. Jesus said to take His burden and yoke, and then I will find rest? The result of a burden is rest?

Still in mental process, I noticed that my copy of the New American Standard Bible gives a footnote indicating that Jesus was quoting “and you will find rest for your souls” from Jeremiah 6:16.

Thus says the LORD,
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you shall find rest for your souls.”

The promise is that I will find rest for my soul if I walk in the right and good way. That is, obedience results in soul-rest. And Jesus’ said His yoke is easy, His burden light. “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

This explains the paradox that taking Jesus’ burden results in rest (from Matthew 11) and that walking results in rest (from Jeremiah 6:16).

I do notice that neither of these passages gives a formula or recipe for rest. Jesus didn’t say, “To get rest, take my burden” but “Take my burden, and you will find rest.” The Lord, through Jeremiah, didn’t say, “To get rest, walk in the good way” but “Walk in the good way, and you shall find rest.” The difference is a world of difference.

If I make rest a goal that I need to work for, then the rest will never come. If I simply follow Jesus without worrying about rest at all, true rest will follow—because the work was already finished.

In chapter 12, Keller brilliantly speaks of “the rest under the rest.”

The very definition of a Christian is someone who not only admires Jesus, emulates Jesus, and obeys Jesus, but who “rests in the finished work of Christ” instead of his or her own. Remember, God was able to rest in Genesis 2, verses 1-3 only because his creative work was finished. And a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ.

– Keller, page 238

Just as our insecurity and desire to chase away (work away) our insignificance is “the work under the work,” driving us to prove ourselves through performance and turning work into an idol, so redemption is “the rest under the rest” which makes healthy work satisfying and true rest possible.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book about Sabbath:

Exodus 20 ties the observance of a Sabbath day to God’s creation. . . . Sabbath is therefore a celebration of our design. (235)

Deuteronomy 5 goes on to tie the observance of Sabbath to God’s redemption. Verse 15 says, “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.” . . . Anyone who cannot obey God’s command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. . . . Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. (236)

We are also to think of Sabbath as an act of trust. . . . To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward. (236)

And, to finish off our book club on this book, I’ll share my favorite song about rest. The words are straight out of Matthew 11:28-30. (You’ll find rest just listening!)


2 thoughts on “A Theory on Rest

  1. Oh, I love that song, Monica. The rest under the rest…I love that. You’re right, ending the book this way is brilliance. Too many times I forget that I know the end of the story…and that I can rest in that knowledge. Lovely to have you along for this discussion!

    • Those two phrases of Keller’s, “the work under the work” and “the rest under the rest,” helped me see things more clearly. They get me down to the core issues and motivations that can make or break me. :)

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