The Humility of Rest

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I felt so exhausted I just couldn’t go on. I was in undergrad, buried under the weight of 18 credit hours, a job, a Greek TA position, intramural sports, a mentorship group at a student fellowship, and church. I felt like Atlas the Titan each week, bearing the weight of the world and trying to survive the onslaught of crushing responsibilities. I knew I had to change something, so in desperation I decided to try taking one day each week to Sabbath.

Although there is debate about whether Christians should follow the Sabbath today, I think almost everybody can affirm the importance of rest. Despite that admission, precious few of us actually rest well. In this article, I want to walk through a couple of moments of practicing a Sabbath to give us a reference point to think more generally about the concept of rest. In particular, I want draw attention to how the themes of arrogance, humility, and rest relate together.

When it came to taking a Sabbath, I really didn’t want to take a day off, but my fatigue left me no other option. As I began to think about my hesitancy for resting, I realized that one main reason I didn’t want to take a break was because I thought I could handle the rigors of working seven days a week. Turns out, my pride drove me into the ground. I was so hesitant to take a break because I lacked the humility to recognize my own weaknesses.

But that’s not the only place where pride insidiously wormed its way into my thoughts about work. I had a hard time taking a break because I thought my work was so important. After all, I was a Greek TA! I had to slave away in the library because those papers I was working on mattered. And, to some extent, that was true. But, I had become so enamored with the significance of my work that I began to live as if the world would stop if I stopped working. I had elevated my own position so much that I felt like I had to keep working as if the world depended on it. If that’s not pride, then I don’t know what is.

And if you let that thought go unchecked, then arrogance continues to fester. When you become so enamored with yourself, you have to maintain that image to yourself. Pretty soon, your world stops if you stop working because you cannot live without deriving value from your work.

Pride makes for a brutal taskmaster, but humility holds out the offer of rest.

In the place of pride, I had to develop humility in order to recognize that I am subject to creaturely limitations like sleep. I had to realize that my work only matters because the Lord is pleased to use my labors. I think Paul’s observations on evangelism and discipleship help here: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). A humility that recognizes the creatureliness of your work will help you close the laptop and put away the books. If you don’t get to your all-important task, I’m pretty sure the world will still go on.

But right as I was learning that lesson, I ran straight into another challenge: finals week. In my head, I knew that God’s plan for rest was good. But the unending torrent of term papers and looming shadow of exams made trusting the order for creation God had set up difficult. I wanted to pridefully buck the order that God himself had set. Instead, the proper response is to humbly trust in the Lord’s plan and provision that he will take care of tomorrow’s concerns.

I’m still trying to untangle the depths to which my arrogance has continued to permeate my labor. Even in thinking through this blog article, I was reminded of the appeal to keep working to make myself look better in the eyes of others. If I could just get a higher grade or be better prepared for classroom discussion, maybe I would win favor in the eyes of my professor. If I put a little more work into my sermon applications, then perhaps my pastor and everybody else in the congregation would see how spiritual I am.

Pride makes for a brutal taskmaster, but humility holds out the offer of rest. Instead of trying to make your labor about you, humbly serving the Lord through your work will allow you to get off the unending treadmill of pleasing people.

I tell my story not to make this article a confession booth but to provide a warning. Of course, godly motives can drive you to labor hard in serving the Lord. But among those godly desires, pride often lays quietly in the shadows, carefully camouflaged like a snake in the grass.

What actually motivates your work? Might pride be hiding somewhere in your heart? I’d encourage you to join me in seeking to put off that pride and put on the humility of Christ. And then, go take a nap.

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Jacob Haley

Dancer Fellow

Jacob serves in the Center for Faith and Culture as the Dancer Fellow while pursuing an Advanced M.Div at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. If Jacob isn’t tucked away in the library, you can find him running, rock climbing, or playing chess.

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