Rest and relaxation are important parts of life that are often overlooked in our busy modern world. As Christians, it’s important that we properly balance work, service, and rest as the Bible instructs. Here we’ll take a comprehensive look at what the Bible says about rest, relaxation, and taking time off from our labors.
In today’s go-go-go world, taking time for rest and relaxation often gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. We fill our schedules with work, family commitments, church activities, and more until we’re running on fumes. Meanwhile, stress and burnout are on the rise.
But God did not design us to live this way. The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of rest and making time for leisure and recreation. Setting aside regular times of rest is vital for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Let’s explore the biblical foundations for rest and relaxation.
- God instituted a day of rest on the 7th day of creation as a gift for all humanity
- Jesus practiced rest and leisure during His earthly ministry as an example to us
- We are called to work hard but also to enjoy the fruits of our labor
- God commands rest periods like the Sabbath and festivals to renew our spirits
- Rest helps us refocus on God and practice trust in His provision
- Overwork can lead to burnout, poor health, and weakened spiritual life
- Recreation and hobbies refresh us and give balance to life
- True rest comes from salvation by grace through faith in Christ
Now, let’s dive deeper into each of these key biblical principles about rest and relaxation.
The Gift of Rest in Creation
The very first mention of rest in the Bible comes at the end of the creation account. After six days of work creating the heavens, earth, and everything in them, God rested on the seventh day.
“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.” (Genesis 2:2-3)
This first Sabbath day established a pattern for humanity to follow – six days of work followed by one day of rest and rejuvenation. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word shabbath meaning to cease or stop working.
God did not rest because He was tired or needed a break. The all-powerful Creator did not need to take a timeout! Rather, this first Sabbath demonstrates an important spiritual truth – life is not all about work. We need to regularly pause, reflect, worship, and refocus ourselves on God.
The Sabbath is a gift for all people. By resting from labor one day a week, we remember that God is ultimately the provider of everything in our lives. We can stop striving and trust Him to sustain us.
The Sabbath Rest
The commandment to observe the Sabbath day is embedded in the very core of the Ten Commandments:
“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.” (Exodus 20:8-10)
Notice this commandment begins with the word “remember.” God knew how easily we would forget the importance of rest!
The principle of Sabbath applied not just to individuals, but even to the land itself:
“For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:3-4)
Just as a weekly Sabbath brought physical refreshment, this sabbatical year brought renewal to the land.
The Old Testament prophets lamented how poorly Israel observed the Sabbath. They neglected rest, while greedily pursuing commerce and profit on the day consecrated for God. As a result, their spirits withered. God pleaded with them through Isaiah:
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Sabbath rest leads to joy in the Lord. What a wonderful promise!
Jesus Modeled Rest
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, the religious leaders had burdened the Sabbath with dozens of extra rules and regulations. But Jesus cut through all the red tape when He declared, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, God designed the Sabbath to bless people, not burden them.
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus regularly retreating to rest and pray, especially after periods of intensive ministry.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
If the Son of God needed time alone with His Heavenly Father, how much more do we!
Jesus taught that ironically, His yoke is easy and His burden is light compared to the crushing religious demands of the Pharisees (Matthew 11:28-30). Walking in step with Jesus brings soul rest.
Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor
Taking time for leisure and recreation is not lazy or unspiritual – it’s biblical! Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “Everyone should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their labor—it is the gift of God.”
God wants us to enjoy the satisfying fruits of our work. Our labor is meant to provide not only for basic needs, but also for times of celebration, leisure, and rejoicing.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 offers this somber warning about overwork:
“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”
If we refuse to take time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, wealth and success will never satisfy! Learning contentment is a gift from God.
Rest from Overwork
With all the biblical emphasis on diligent work, it’s easy for high-achieving Christians to become overworked. But the Bible warns against this.
After the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, Moses was leading alone. His father-in-law Jethro saw how exhausted Moses was from handling all the people’s disputes. He advised Moses to delegate responsibility before he wore out entirely (Exodus 18:13-26). Even great leaders need rest!
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 4:6 warns, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” Quantity of work does not impress God. He wants us to work wisely and rest generously.
In Psalm 127:2, we read, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.” God can provide for us easily in moments when we strive for years. Resting in Him demonstrates trust and love.
Rest for Body, Mind and Spirit
Why is rest so vital for followers of Christ? Because humans are made of body, mind and spirit. Just as our physical bodies require sleep to recharge, so our minds and spirits need renewal as well.
Times of rest, relaxation and recreation calm our thoughts from anxious striving. They allow space to refocus on God and the truths of Scripture. As we rest joyfully in the Lord, He renews our inner being.
Even ministry leaders with great spiritual gifts need times of refreshment, as the story of Elijah illustrates. After Elijah’s dramatic victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, he sank into fear, exhaustion and depression. God sent him on a forty-day journey to Horeb where He ministered gently to Elijah, speaking not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:1-18). Elijah found renewal in quiet time away with God.
Just as God comforted Elijah, Jesus invites all who are weary to find rest in Him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Christ offers true soul rest that the world can never provide. His rest renews our strength to continue serving Him.
The Gift of Recreation
Recreation literally means “re-creation” – being restored and refreshed. The Bible mentions many occasions of feasting, celebration, singing, and dancing as the Israelites celebrated God’s goodness. For example, David danced freely as the Ark of the Covenant entered Jerusalem, rejoicing in God (2 Samuel 6:12-15).
While drunkenness and gluttony are strongly condemned, we regularly see the joy and refreshment of shared meals in Scripture. Ecclesiastes 9:7 encourages, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
God wired our brains to need diversions from daily tasks. When we take a break from routine to play a sport, enjoy a hobby, or connect with friends, we return to work recharged. God wants us to enjoy the good gifts He’s given like food, recreation, and relationships.
True Rest in Christ
As important as physical rest is, Jesus Christ offers us something greater – spiritual rest for our souls. The ultimate rest comes from being reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins.
When Adam and Eve sinned, humanity was alienated from God. Sin damages and divides every part of human life leading to exhaustion and despair. No earthly vacation can revive a soul weighed down by guilt.
Only through trusting in the salvation purchased by Jesus Christ on the cross can we be spiritually restored.
“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.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)
Just as God entered His rest after Creation, we enter God’s eternal rest by trusting in Jesus’ finished work, not our own effort. Salvation is a free gift of grace.
Knowing our sins are fully forgiven and we are seen as righteous in Christ gives peace and joy beyond any earthly pleasure.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
This rest in Christ frees us from the crushing weight of religious duty. Observing spiritual disciplines like Sabbath becomes a joy rather than an obligation.
So for weary souls, Jesus offers true spiritual rest. His light burdens refresh rather than crush our spirits. His wisdom guides us into a balanced life of work and rest.
Only in Christ do we find eternal rest, as God intended for humanity. This rest overflows into joyful presence of God that renews us day by day.
Applying Biblical Rest and Relaxation
We’ve explored the strong biblical foundations for prioritizing rest in our daily lives. Now let’s discuss some practical applications. How can we put these principles into practice?
Rest Requires Planning
With our busy schedules, rest won’t just happen automatically. We need to be intentional. Start by evaluating your current life rhythms. Are you working non-stop? Do you collapse into bed exhausted each night? Are weekends filled with more work and errands?
Combat busyness creep by establishing healthy boundaries. For example, set a standard workday that ends by dinner. Turn off email notifications on your phone during non-work hours. Limit taking work home on evenings and weekends.
Schedule time off on your calendar just like other appointments. Plan weekend days focused purely on refreshment or fun with family. Take regular vacations, even if just brief getaways. Don’t let breaks be an afterthought.
God modeled the rhythm of work and rest from Creation. Let’s follow His pattern and priority.
Observe a Weekly Sabbath
One of the best ways to practice regular rest is observing a Sabbath day each week. While Sunday has become the traditional day of Christian worship and rest, choose another day if it better fits your context.
Be creative about how you spend your Sabbath. The goal is rejuvenation through a change of pace, not just following rules. Consider these Sabbath activities:
- Attend worship services
- Read the Bible, pray, and meditate
- Take a nap or sleep in
- Enjoy a long walk outdoors
- Share a special meal
- Play games with family or friends
- Listen to or play uplifting music
- Read an inspirational book
- Observe the beauty of God’s creation
Guard against the temptation to catch up on work, chores, and errands on your Sabbath. Let go of productive activities for one day as an act of faith in God’s provision. If you struggle with guilt over not working, confess this to God. Receive His grace to rest as a free gift.
If your job requires working on Sundays, choose another day. Just be consistent about your chosen Sabbath. Honor it as God’s gift for your wellbeing. Consider how observing a weekly Sabbath deepens your spiritual life.
Practice Saying No
A healthy life in Christ requires the discipline to say no. Every commitment takes time and energy. We can’t do everything and make space for rest too.
When asked to take on another responsibility, pause and prayerfully consider before you say yes. Ask God for discernment about what is truly essential versus what is only good. “The good is the enemy of the best.”
Saying no can feel selfish, but stewarding your time and energy wisely is actually selfless. It ensures you don’t get overextended and have the margin to serve others out of your overflow.
Set realistic limits on your involvement at church too. Affirm those serving in different roles. Delegate responsibility instead of monopolizing ministry yourself. ‘Availability’ is not the same as God’s calling for your life. Follow God’s priorities for you, not people’s expectations.
Recharge with Recreation
Build breaks for play, creativity and hobbies into your regular routine. Do activities totally unrelated to work or household obligations. Give your brain a change of scenery.
Recreation looks different for everyone. Make time for the activities and people that bring you joy:
- Get moving with exercise like swimming, running, cycling.
- Tap into your creative side with arts, crafts, or music.
- Tinker on woodworking or auto projects.
- Play trivia or board games with friends.
- Read fiction books or watch movies.
- Enjoy nature through camping, hiking, stargazing.
Don’t feel like you need to produce something during recreation. The goal is simply reviving your spirit, not more production. Follow desires for joy and adventure God built into you.
Be wary of escapism though. Avoid using excessive recreation to numb pain or avoid problems. Moderation brings health.
Plan Real Vacations
Vacations provide extended periods of rest and restoration. But many people let years go by without significant time away. We feel too busy, or work never slows down enough. By never taking vacation, we rob ourselves of God’s gift of rest.
Plan ahead by putting vacations on your calendar first before filling it up with other commitments. Save up financially so you can enjoy time away without added money stress.
If your employer provides vacation days, use them as part of your total compensation package. You deserve time away, so don’t feel guilty about taking it. Serving in different seasons of life may limit vacation time, but find small breaks that still allow renewal.
Jesus modeled withdrawing to rest after intense ministry. Let yourself fully disengage so you return with renewed passion. Vacations provide space to play, enjoy relationships, and explore God’s beauty in ways we miss in daily life.
Find Rest in Christ
Most importantly, remember that striving for outward rest will not succeed unless your soul is at rest in Jesus. No amount of vacation days can bring peace if we are still carrying the burden of sin and self-effort.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus urges in Matthew 11:28. His rest frees us from endlessly chasing religious duty and performance. Instead we trust in God’s grace and the salvation freely given through Christ.
Many people run themselves into exhaustion trying to earn God’s favor rather than receiving His rest. Salvation is not something we achieve; it’s a gift we accept by faith. Let Jesus’ finished work on the cross be enough.
As you learn to abide in Christ, obeying God becomes an overflow of love rather than crushing obligation. Sabbath and recreation become sources of joy rather than guilt. Let His “easy yoke” refresh you. As you walk closely with Jesus, He will gently guide you into the life rhythms that are best for flourishing.
So rest well, weary friend. Take Jesus’ invitation to heart: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In Christ alone we find eternal rest for our souls.
God is not a cosmic killjoy. He desires His children to experience joyful, balanced lives that regularly integrate dedicated work and generous rest.
Throughout Scripture, we see God instituting Sabbath rest as a gift for renewing body, mind and spirit. Jesus modeled rhythms of hard work followed by times of withdrawal for prayer and renewal. He invites all who are weary and heavy laden to find soul rest in Him.
As our culture moves further into 24/7 busyness, observing true Sabbath rest becomes both more countercultural and more essential. Rest pushes back against society’s messages that our worth comes from productivity alone. It forces us to stop striving, and acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.
By building regular times of recreation, vacation, and Sabbath rest into our schedules, we live out biblical values of work and rest. We proclaim that our worth comes not from what we accomplish, but from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ. We affirm that life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.
If guilt over “unproductive time” keeps you trapped on the hamster wheel of busyness, relax into God’s grace. Bring your hangups honestly before God. Study what Scripture truly says about rest – you may be surprised. Try experimenting with small changes like a device Sabbath or saying no to less essential commitments.
Rather than a burdensome obligation, Sabbath rest is a gift for delighting in God’s provision. Build these islands of rest into the rhythm of your days and weeks. Protect and prioritize Sabbath not just for your own flourishing, but as a witness of trust in God’s sovereignty.
Then you too can join in the Psalmist’s declaration:
“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10) Amen!