The Gift We’re Required to Take: REST!

“There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.” Leviticus 23:3

Recently I borrowed the book Marathon: The Ultimate Training and Racing Guide by Hal Higdon (1993) from the library and began to read it. I don’t know that I’ll ever run even a half marathon (maybe!), but I do enjoy running and thought the book might offer some tips on best practices for increasing endurance and steering clear of injury.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve found from this accomplished author is to rest. Throughout his book, Higdon (1993) gives reasons why rest is so critical and tells readers that it is “a commonly overlooked component of any successful training program” (p. 84) and is “more important than most runners know” (p. 13). He says when studying why people failed in the sport, “often it was because they trained too hard and were too unwilling to take days off.” In fact, he says “Knowing when to back off and take a complete day off – or even more – is one of the secrets of marathon success. It is not easy, since the traditional work ethic that has made many people successes suggests that more is better.”  (Higdon, 1993, pp.48-49).

I was surprised to hear that rest is so critical to success even for athletes. Hal Higdon (1993) noted that many of us feel like we need to keep going and pushing ourselves and that we don’t want to give ourselves a break for many reasons, including not wanting to lose conditioning that we’ve accomplished, enjoying the sport and wanting to keep going, and even training with friends who we don’t want to miss.

But, rest is a must. Otherwise we might become “over-trained” and experience injury, sickness such as the common cold, increased pulse rate, sleep problems, a diminished sex drive, a fear of training, sore muscles and the feeling of heavy legs as we try to keep going with our workouts (Higdon, 1993, pp.75-77).

God, who created our bodies, knows our need for rest and wrote to us about it long before Hal Higdon was even born. When He set apart the Israelite nation as His own (and we became adopted into this family through the blood of Jesus), He gave them commandments to live by. He promised to be their God and take care of them if they would follow His rules. Among the many things He told them, He had a “top 10” list that we know as the Ten Commandments. The fourth says “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11. This law was so important to Him that He ordered that anyone who did any work on it should be put to death (Exodus 31:15 and Exodus 35:2).

Just because later in the Bible Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath day doesn’t mean that we are given free reign to do anything we want on God’s holy day, I don’t think. Instead we should humbly ask God what His desire is for us. I think He still desires to give us the GIFT of rest. Truly, it is a gift to take off from the requirements and stresses of life and just find rest in the Lord.

Last month (I believe it was April 20), I felt sore even on my way to the gym on a Saturday morning. My life was also feeling hectic with many papers to grade and an overly loaded busy schedule. We literally had something planned every night of the week between sports and my teaching multiple classes, etc. But, even with tight muscles and a feeling of fatigue, I didn’t listen to my body or my stress level – I wasn’t about to miss my favorite class! A little over half way through, I pulled my calf muscle where it attaches to the Achilles tendon. I was in so much pain I literally picked up my stuff and limped out of the room before the next song started. 😦

The next morning I read the following verse and knew how much I needed this Word from the Lord: “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint” Jeremiah 31:25. I needed rest. If I wasn’t going to give it to myself, my body was going to take it. I didn’t go to the gym at all the following week and instead took that time to finish the grading I needed to get done before the end of the semester. I finally felt like I could breathe again when my schedule relaxed a bit and I wasn’t pushing myself in every area of life. God used the opportunity to refresh me!

I’m feeling better for the most part and working out again, and I’m trying to recover to be back at a peak performance level. But, I need to remember even now that God has given us a gift that He also notes is a requirement for our lives. My reading has progressed to Ezekiel, and in Ezekiel 20:11 God tells us that the Sabbath day is a sign between God and us (a covenant sign) so that we recognize that it’s God who makes us holy. Ezekiel 20:20 says “Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”

Last night on Facebook I read that a group of local moms were getting together this morning for a 6-mile run. I’ve been reading a book on marathon training and thought a longer run with new friends sounded like fun! I picked out my outfit (even washing my favorite pair of pants) and got my sneakers ready, even though I knew it was Sunday and all week I’ve pushed my body hard in classes and running, telling myself that Sunday would be my day of rest. I told myself that this was a chance to meet some new folks and go on a course that I hadn’t tried yet. And I love running, so it wasn’t really “working” on the Sabbath was it?

Even though my husband and I stayed up past 11 pm last night, I set my alarm for 5 am. I was up at 4:45 when he woke up and opened our window before falling back to sleep. Perfect! As I listened to the birds happily singing, I was rearing to go. But, when I put both feet out of the bed, I noticed how tight BOTH my Achilles tendons were feeling. My knees were also sore. And, even my back was feeling a little tight. Hmmm…what to do. I had told these gals I might meet them. Was I feeling lazy and just wanting to go back to bed? I was torn. I decided to keep moving and did my devotions first, as I normally do. I prayed after reading the Bible and asked God for His input. And all I could think was “This is a Sabbath day of rest.”

I desperately wanted to go, but instead I went online and told them I needed to rest instead. I was wide awake, but I made myself lay back down for another hour before my kids woke up. And when I turned on the radio that morning, a sermon from LCBC was just beginning and it was on “PRESSURE” – Pastor David Ashcraft noted that we live at a point where we don’t give ourselves any wiggle room, whether it’s with our busy schedules, our finances, or in life in general. He talked about how we are constantly feeling stressed and that wasn’t the way God designed us to live. In fact, He gave us the gift of the Sabbath day of rest. And He required that we honor it. On six days we can work hard, but on the seventh we are to rest. We are also not to glean to the edges, which he likened to living life with no wiggle room.

Without going into too much detail since this post is already long enough (feel free to go online and listen to the podcast -highly worth your time!), the sermon spoke to me as we were getting ready for our day. I want to live life to the fullest and not miss anything. But sometimes intentionally giving things up IS living life to the fullest. When we live the way God intended us to, we automatically have a day of rest built into our schedules. It’s not just a day of rest, it’s a holy day of rest. It’s a sign between us and God that acknowledges that it’s Him who makes us holy. We can’t be everything we want to be on our own. It’s God who makes us who we are, and we say that we trust Him when He promises to take care of us when we submit to His authority and will.

It’s hard for me to take a day off, I’ll admit. But, I want to seek God and honor Him with my choices. So, I plan on seeking His will in this area. Even highly trained athletes need rest; God designed our bodies and our minds to have time to rest and seek Him. Let’s be refreshed today with this gift we’re required to take!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your gift of rest. Thank You for giving it to us as a sign of Your love for us, a sign of Your covenant where You promise to be our God and take care of us if we’ll obey Your commands. We trust You and believe Your Word is true. We desire to honor You with our choices and our lives. May we not neglect this important commandment You’ve given us; instead may we seek to do Your will on the Sabbath. Thank You for giving us the bodies we have and allowing us to run and have fun and live life to the fullest. Thank You also for refreshing us and satisfying us when we feel weary. What would our lives be without You? I shudder at the thought. Please forgive our sin and help us obey Your Word. May we live to please You and not ourselves. We love You and Your Word. Thank You again for the benefit of rest that You offer us. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

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