Why Sabbath Rest?

Consider this: How can sleep help you grow spiritually? Read on for something to think about.


Most of us are probably more familiar with the New Testament (NT) than the Old Testament (OT). This makes sense: since Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) we have tended to focus on Him and His teachings and His followers’ teachings to the near complete exclusion of the many good things in the OT. But if we read the NT without knowing the OT, we really miss out on 1) a lot of the important details that are left unsaid between Jesus and the Pharisees but that would help us get what’s going on; and, more importantly 2) the long, common thread that runs from the OT to the NT of how God has always wanted His people to live.

         Some of these things are pretty obvious, like when Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and Leviticus 19:18, “… you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But what about when Jesus starts talking about the Sabbath? He argues with the Pharisees in Matthew 12 about how to keep the Sabbath properly, by which Jesus means it is always right to do good on the Sabbath. But I think there is another time when Jesus subtly hints at the Sabbath that I know I have missed in the past. When Jesus sends out the disciples for their first ministry trips on their own in Matthew 11, He says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:29, ESV). When Jesus talks about “rest” in these verses, he is setting up a contrast against what the Pharisees taught about Sabbath “rest” in the following verses in Matthew 12. This promise of “rest for your souls” comes from Jeremiah 6:16, where God’s people are told to seek after God’s way and there they will find “rest for their souls.”

         Rest in these verses means something like peace, a time of refreshing or renewal, a time of recovery from the difficulties of life or a time to peacefully enjoy the good things God has blessed us with. This last one, enjoying God’s good blessings, is one reason why God instituted Sabbath rest at the beginning of creation (Genesis 2:3) and then later commanded it for the Israelites (Exodus 20:8-11). This May seem strange to us, but practically it makes perfect sense: it’s almost impossible to fully appreciate good things when we’re caught up in the rat race of day to day life. That’s why intentionally setting aside time for this is still a good thing.

         So, one question I have started to ask myself is,

How can I take Sabbath rest more seriously in my own life?

One way is this: Get plenty of sleep. You may be thinking, What on earth does this have to do with spiritual growth? Everything, actually. Imagine this scenario: you get in bed tired, then you decide “I’m just gonna check my email, or Facebook, or whatever real quickly,” then suddenly you realize 30 minutes have gone by and you aren’t as tired as you were when you got in bed. Why is that?

         Well, studies a few years ago showed that our phones emit a significant amount of blue light that makes the brain remain active, and the effects are enhanced when that light is the only light we see – like a phone in a dark room. A couple years ago smart phone manufacturers began introducing a color shifting mode on phones that attempts to remove as much of that blue light as possible (on iPhones, which is what I’ve had for a few years now, this is called Night Shift mode – I’m sure Android, etc. have something comparable). Even with this blue light reducing measure, looking at your phone in a dark room will typically stimulate your brain into activity. It’s also true that our social inhibitions often get lower the more tired we are, which can increase the likelihood that late at night you might wander somewhere on the internet you shouldn’t be.

         Without getting into too much science, since that’s way out of my league, blue light waves are short and short light waves are high intensity. Light in general suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone that prepares the body for sleep. Blue light is better at suppressing melatonin more than other types of light. Darkness, on the other hand, is the primary stimulus for the release of melatonin, which prepares the entire body for sleep. Melatonin suppresses the release of cortisol, a stress hormone which prepares the body for action. Every cell in your body has melatonin receptors which means every cell needs melatonin to function. At a fundamental level, we are designed down to our very cells to need sleep, to need restorative rest. Why do we need sleep, rest, time to recover from the day’s difficulty? Because recovery is the mechanism by which we get stronger: when our body has time to take into account what we encountered one day and build itself up to meet the challenges of the next day. There is a reason rest been commanded all the way from Genesis: as my friend and exercise science professor Justin says,

“Sabbath rest is written on our DNA.”

         Without resting in God’s goodness and good blessings—and isn’t a good night’s rest a blessing!—we will drive ourselves into the ground and miss out on being more joyful, we will be less aware of what’s going on around us in our lives, our families’ lives, communities, etc. and miss out on opportunities to bless others, to meet moments with grace and challenges with God’s strength. As strange as it may seem, consistently getting a good night’s rest may be the spiritual discipline you’ve been looking for all along.


– Kevin

One Response to “Why Sabbath Rest?”

  1. Nice tips! I have been seeking for things like that for a while currently. Thanks!

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