In the beginning, God - rested

ITBGLast week I talked with you about work – I wanted you to understand how work is good and is part of God’s original design for us. Indeed, you can’t give an idea much more gravitas than ascribing it to God in the very first verse of the bible.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

We can all be in
Work – maybe not paid employment but we can all join in with some aspect of God’s creative call, contributing to the common good. I know people who are physically ill but able to make an encouraging phone call, others who are retired but offer companionship. I know people who have been made redundant who have found ways to serve their community whilst looking for a job. I know parents who give up careers in order to raise a child - which is perhaps the most important work you can do.

FTCWIf you are a full-time Christian and if you are in work – that makes you a FTCW.

There is much more to say about this but I am going to skip to Genesis 2:2&3 to look at how, In the beginning, God – went to work - but then rested too.

We often talk about the Sabbath day or a Day of Rest. When I talk about it I mean a day, (24 hours), set aside as different from the rest of the week.
·         Some of you have this sorted – you have your Sabbath day – or maybe you get two, a whole weekend perhaps?
·         For others it isn’t much of a problem - you think - because you are not terribly busy.
·         For some, you know you have a challenge here – for one reason or another you never take a Day of Rest.

Even if not a problem for you I hope this helps you understand why the idea of a Day of Rest is important.

My Sabbath Journey

I started well and then faded and am making a comeback.

I grew up in a Christian household where we tried to honour the Day of Rest. My parents both worked incredibly hard – I have inherited a disability which manifests itself as a hard-work gene. But I always understood that Sunday was meant to be a day of rest. It didn’t always feel like that as I was usually taken to church twice and watched my parents serve at church and then having lots of people around the house.

Over time I realised that Saturday was more restful – I played rugby and went out with my friends – although I often had homework to do too.

Eventually I fell into a pattern during my sixth form and by the time I went to university I had a few rules – I never studied or worked after 10.00pm at night (didn’t always do much before 10pm) and I never studied on a Sunday - even when I had an exam on the Monday (in marked contrast to the artistic members of my family).

When I left university I worked for a firm of accountants and an insurance company for a couple of years and then set up in business on my own. I was not in a good place spiritually at this time but was still pretty hard-wired not to work on a Sunday.

I then got rescued by God and Alison & I joined the SW London Vineyard. It was just starting and grew rapidly over the next few years and I found myself very busy in the life of the church – on many days and including Sundays.

I gave lip-service to the idea of a day off each week but with two young children, running my own business and giving many hours to the church the Day of Rest became a figment of my imagination.

We then came to Leeds, I was still running a growing business and we planted the Vineyard here.

iStock waffle syrupAs the business grew and the church grew you can imagine that my workload spread like syrup into each compartment of waffle of my life.

After a while my week was theoretically 5 days for the business and 1 day for the church. What was actually happening was that I worked all week in the business with interruptions from church and then my evenings and weekends were taken up with the Vineyard.

I claimed that I would take a day off every now and again but it wasn’t really happening.

I didn’t feel I could say to my colleagues and clients in the business that I wasn’t working on a particular day. And I needed the money.

Sundays were obviously very busy – in those days I did the set up and preached and sometimes led worship too. And then Saturdays were needed for preparation for Sunday and pastoral work with people.

During this time John Wright (J&D are our overseers) got boringly repetitive in prodding me on this each time I talked with him. I had all the excuses – but I didn’t have a day of rest.

Eventually, I felt convicted enough and God gave me enough insight to make a big decision. It meant taking a risk with all sorts of things – my business, my income, the church’s income.

6 years ago my business partner agreed that I could reduce to 3 days a week. That affected my income of course. The church trustees increased my contract to work 3 days for the church. Thursday was my day off. And I have done that ever since. That’s is why you won’t get me on the phone on a Thursday and why I don’t often get to emails until Friday.

I now feel at peace with myself on this issue, I think I am honouring Genesis 2:2. God has provided sufficient finance to enable us to manage on reduced business hours. I can’t prove it but I think I would have expired by now if I hadn’t taken that step of obedience.

I have given this some thought. Genesis, once again, has a lot to say. Because,

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. 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.

The word for work is the ordinary word for human work. Startling description of the creation of the universe – making it clear that work is part of God’s essence and expression.

There are three references to work and resting. Means that he desisted from work. He was working, and then he stopped. The phrase also alludes to the 4
th commandment – keeping the Sabbath Day holy - Exodus 20:8.

This makes the Sabbath principle as old as creation itself. Part of paradise - not something that needs to be redeemed.

Blessing usually reserved for animate things – people or crops etc. Unusual for a “day” to be blessed.

It means that those who observe the Sabbath will enjoy a blessing on their lives – there is fruit and blessing from honouring the Sabbath day. When God blesses land it produces good crops, when God blesses the seventh day he produces fruit in the lives of those who keep it special.

God designates the day as holy. Only God is holy so the holiness comes from him and reflects his essence. The seventh day was the first thing in scripture to be declared holy, belonging to God alone.

Alongside three references to God resting from ordinary work, we have this very special designation of the seventh day as holy. The sacredness of the Sabbath is thus heavily emphasised.

Conclusion: Genesis tells us, in parable form, that God created the universe in 6 days and rested on the 7th. We understand therefore that having a day of rest each week is a good thing. What does that mean to us?

What Does A Sabbath Day Look Like?

What is a day of rest? A Sabbath day? Is it when you don’t do your paid work? Is it when you do absolutely nothing? Is it when you go to the synagogue or church? Is it when we try and close the shops and factories and stay at home? Are you allowed to play sport, do shift work, watch TV?

Older ones amongst us may remember when the Sabbath was always a Sunday, nearly everything closed down, you didn’t play any sport or indulge in any entertainment, went to church twice and may not even have been allowed to listen to the news on the radio. My father turned down an invitation to play cricket for English Universities because the matches were on a Sunday. He let his big break, in the sport of his passion, go by.

Now a Sunday is often not very different from any other day – not just in our society but for many of us. In fact for those of you on the set up or refreshment or kids or worship teams – it may be nothing like a day of rest.

Overarching Principle on Rules in the bible

Jesus, lived in the heritage of the 10 commandments, including no. 4, and never negated it. However, he did change the frame of reference for those who lived within a legalistic mindset. He would heal the sick on the Sabbath or even let his disciples snack on ears of wheat. When questioned he said,

“The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27.

Another time he said,

“The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:8.

Here is a good way of understanding this:

the command to keep the seventh day holy is not God placing a restriction
on you but God revealing himself to you.

It is not God saying, “If you behave like this you will be OK” but, “This is what I am like, copy me.”

And what does he do? 
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 

Some reasons we shouldn't use for setting aside a day of rest:

1.       So that we can collapse in exhaustion and recover. The Sabbath isn’t meant to be respite care. God wasn’t tired, needing a bit of a nap. You don’t need to feel guilty doing nothing for a day.
2.       When we have finished everything that needs to be done. God had finished one bit of work, but as we see later in the chapter, there is more work to be done and God continues to work and create forever. So the reason for the rest wasn’t that he had finished everything but that he had done something. Work is good and part of who you are but it must take its rightful place – you don’t earn your Day of Rest by working, it’s not a reward.
3.       For superstitious reasons, to keep on the right side of God. Genesis describes this in a way which is opposite to other religions with their lunar cycles and days when special behaviour was required to pacify malevolent gods. No this is a good day, not one to fear - one which has been designed and put carefully in place by the creator.

Do you know what the prescribed punishment for not keeping the Sabbath day was? Death.

One way or another, it is pretty clear in scripture that this is important. In the beginning, God created the universe and then rested. He blessed this day and made it holy. The 10 commandments include one that is to keep this day holy. The punishment is severe.

We do set aside a day of rest because we are designed to rest. We are made in his image, his likeness and he is like that. He takes a day of rest and the bible makes it clear that we are meant to do the same and that it is a weekly event.

We are to build a day of rest into our weekly lifestyle because we are made in his image. It is an inspired way of living that comes from the likeness of God himself. This is the way we are made, from the beginning.

It is about being holy – set apart. If your work is raising your children this makes it more complicated but I think you can work it out. In our culture it is mainly about not doing our normal work. I suggest the following broad guidelines – not because they are rules but because they allow us to experience something of God’s likeness and his blessing:


1.       A minimum of 24 hours when you don’t do what you usually do. For most of us that means turning off our work email and not taking work telephone calls. Not checking the work website. Not taking files home with you or opening the laptop.
2.       Once a week – I know this is difficult with some work patterns but get as close as you can – or change your job.
3.       Set some time aside for prayer, bible reading and reflection (if you don’t already do this every day anyway).
4.       Deal with home/family things – your finances, seeing relatives.
5.       Recreation – whatever replenishes you.

Not as a pure recovery from tiredness, not just when you have done everything that needs doing or out of fear of punishment but proactively setting 24 hours aside once a week to rest, allow God to bless you and enjoy a non-work time.

I have made all the excuses myself. I am a driven worker type with lots to do – and I love my work and I need the money. But none of our excuses wash. Not to take a day of rest is a breach of the way God made you. You miss out on the mysterious and awesome blessing that he gave the seventh day, making it holy.


He made you in his image, his likeness and he loves you. You are incredibly special and designed to work but also to rest.
My challenge to some of you is to join in with the work that he has called us all to do as he works himself.
My challenge to others is to stop working once a week for at least 24 hours and rest!

In the beginning, God – rested

As you understand his love for you, that you are made in his likeness and image, may you find fulfilment in your work and blessing in your rest.

David Flowers, 03/03/2013
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