Do we have to earn rest?

I’ve never been very good at resting. I’ve made it my goal to use every minute of my time well, so I specialized in becoming more efficient (so I could do more). I constantly told myself that I had to finish whatever project I set myself before I could rest. Rest became a reward for a job well done.

Is that a true assumption? Does the Bible teach that we have to earn our rest (or rest when we’re dead)?

The motivation to do my best and use my time well is not bad, but I went way overboard. Looking back, I think you could describe most of my life as “burning the candle at both ends.” And I’d had a season of burnout and a season of severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to prove it. (You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. I didn’t.)

As a result, God’s been teaching me a LOT about the importance of rest. And I’m still learning. Here are some of the key points I’ve learned so far.

1. Work is not bad. Neither is rest. Both were part of God’s perfect creation.

Check this out.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Gen. 2:15 NIV

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen. 2:2-3 NIV

This was part of God’s perfect creation, before the Fall. What changed because of the Fall of humankind into sin? Work became hard.

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

Gen. 3:17b-19 NIV

2. Since the Fall, humankind has abused both work and rest.

There seems to be a pattern since the Fall of taking God’s good gifts and twisting them into sinful extremes. Work and rest are no exceptions.

Extreme work becomes slavery, workaholism, and greed.

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.” Ex. 1:11-14 NIV

“That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people:You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, “Let us go and sacrifice to our God.” Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.” Ex. 5:6-9 NIV


Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:15-21 NIV

Extreme rest becomes laziness. In some Bible translations, a lazy person is called a sluggard. I love that view of a slug sitting there, never doing anything. It’s a perfect picture of laziness.

“Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.” Prov. 10:4-5 NIV

“Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.” Prov. 20:4 NIV

“How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. A troublemaker and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth,” Prov. 6:9-12 NIV

3. The biblical model is to balance working hard and resting well to the glory of God.

First, when it’s time to work, we should work hard to the glory of God.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” Col. 3:23 NIV

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Eph. 5:15-17 NIV

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'” 1 Thess 3:6-10 NIV

Second, do not neglect times of rest. This also glorifies God.

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 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… 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.” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 NIV

What I love about that is the reason given for taking time to rest. It’s not because we’ve earned it. It’s not because it’s culturally accepted. We rest because it’s a reminder that God pulled us out of abusive views of work and into His perfect rest. We rest because it is a gift of God from the beginning of creation. We rest because it’s a reminder that we can’t do everything. It’s not up to us to keep the world running. That’s the Lord’s job. Our job is to faithfully do what He’s called us to do with the gifts He’s given us. It’s time to take a break from the “rat race.”

“After He [Jesus] had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” Matt 14:23 NIV

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 15:16 NIV

“Come to me [Jesus], all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” Matt. 11:28-30 NIV

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Heb. 4:9-11 NIV

There is a tendency in some circles to hyper-spiritualize those last two verses to mean something like “you can rest when you’re dead and in heaven.” I don’t think that’s what they mean since Jesus regularly took time away from his busy 3 years of ministry to rest and spend time with the Father.

This has been a very brief sketch of some of the things I’ve been learning. If you’d like a list of the books I’ve been reading on the subject, let me know in the comments below.

Regardless, that leads us to a very important question:

How would your life change if you took rest seriously?

It doesn’t have to be a structured day off each week. To be honest, that was too much for me when I started this journey.

  • If you’re not spending time in prayer and Bible reading each day, start there. Where can you carve out 5 minutes each day to spend with the Father?
  • If you’re feeling convicted, set aside time to rest. You don’t have to sit around doing nothing. Do what you enjoy!
  • If you’re new to rest, find something active to do that you enjoy (that’s not work-related). Cultivate a hobby. Play with your kids. Read a book. Whatever recharges you.
  • If you’re feeling worn out or burned out, it may just be giving yourself permission to stop and do nothing.

Whatever you do, invite the Lord into your rest. Ask Him to fill you anew with His Spirit and to give you rest. Take some time to step back from your everyday worries and seek the Lord’s face. Learn how to sit in silence before Him and just listen.

The busier you are, the more you’ll have to plan ahead.

Biblical rest doesn’t just happen. It’s counter-cultural. You’ll have to say “no” to some good things in order to say “yes” to better things (like a healthy practice of work and rest).

Start by asking the Lord to show you what you need to do. Then look at your day/week/month. Carve out time to spend with the Lord and to spend with your family. It will be well worth the effort!

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Nancy Ruth

Nancy Ruth is the Co-Founder and Primary Content Creator at Parent Road Ministries. Learn more at

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