“Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” Psalm 95: 10-11.
What are God's ways? In the Old Testament, the ten commandments summarized what it meant to love God and love your neighbor. The odd part about many of these commandments is that they seem pretty obvious to modern-day Americans – don't lie or steal. And, if you're a Christian, the first two about only worshiping God and not making any idols also seem pretty obvious. But what about taking a day of rest? What about the fourth commandment? Taking one day in seven to rest, to do nothing productive, goes against everything we know.
The theme of rest is central to the Old Testament. Going all the way back to Genesis, the idea of a promised place of rest and peace is repeated over and over. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all wandered through the desert without a permanent home. Then came the Exodus, and God led the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert. After Mount Sinai, the next stop was supposed to be the promised land of rest. But instead of entering it, they doubted God. They saw that the land was already inhabited by powerful armies living in fortified cities. Thinking their own military was far too weak to conquer the promised land, they doubted God, complained against him, and turned away from him. Psalm 95 tells us the outcome: God's did not let them enter his rest.
Again in the New Testament, rest is a central theme. Jesus offers us rest. He promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He promises to provide all we need for both life in this world and that to come. But I doubt these promises daily, thinking “There's so much I have to do at home and at work, how can I be a success unless I work really really hard all the time? Will God really provide everything I need when I feel so stretched thin at home and at work?” In my life, the fourth commandment usually feels like a burden. “How do I have time to spend a whole day worshiping God and not working when I'm already so far behind?”
That's the point of the commandment, or at least part of it. Taking a day off from my day-to-day grind forces me to remember that God is in control and it forces me to remember who I am. The point of being a Christian is not to work really hard all the time and be an incredible success. We're called to rest and trust in God. As God says in Isaiah 30:15 “For thus said Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' But you were unwilling...”. God's call to us every week is to remember him and to rest in him. Instead of being a burden, the fourth commandment reminds us to stop burdening ourselves with all the cares and troubles of this world and focus on God, our redeemer and our strength.