The branch of the vine does not worry, and toil, and rush here to seek for sunshine, and there to find rain. No; it rests in union and communion with the vine; and at the right time, and in the right way, is the right fruit found on it. Let us so abide in the Lord Jesus. –Hudson Taylor, missionary to inland China
While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. They placed him in custody because it had not been decided what should be done to him. Then the Lord told Moses, “The man is to be put to death. The entire community is to stone him outside the camp.” So the entire community brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord had commanded Moses. Numbers 15:32-36 (HCSB)
Let’s be honest—there were some terribly unpleasant (and probably confusing) aspects of the ancient Israelite’s journey through the wilderness. We know that honoring the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments, but the judgment meted out on this poor soul who picked up a few sticks appears, at first glance, to be extreme and unfair.
Three important considerations must be taken into account. First, with the giving of the Ten Commandments, the nation of Israel found itself under a standard of law. Law breeds judgment, and so harsh penalties became the norm. Second, the force of this man’s punishment communicates the life and death importance of living in accordance with God’s design. Finally, this is another example of an Old Testament type foreshadowing a greater New Testament truth.
The Old Covenant Sabbath day provides a powerful picture of the New Covenant plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Letting go of our compulsive need to measure up to various standards of perfection frees us from impossible burdens, bringing much-needed rest to our souls. The warning is strikingly clear: any person who attempts to work for his or her salvation will face the penalty of eternal death—an existence devoid of rest.
Under the New Covenant, keeping a physical Sabbath day each week is no longer a legalistic requirement for God’s people, yet the principle overflows with wisdom. Too often, we see non-stop work as virtuous—especially when our labors are in service to God. But if we use the term workaholic, the connotation changes drastically. Effective labor for God can only be achieved as we spend time with our Father, resting in His presence and drawing upon His divine strength.
We Need Rest
All too often, our wilderness seasons are complicated by a failure to obey Biblical patterns of rest. God designed our world with a natural order of days, years, seasons, etc. Both mind and body need cycles of labor and rest to function properly, with our need for Sabbath rest serving as a powerful reminder of our human limitations. We cannot do whatever we want whenever we want. In other words, we are not gods. Thus, it should come as no surprise that some essential elements of spiritual rest profoundly affect not only our souls but our physical bodies as well.
Sleep is the most obvious type of rest and, of course, one of the most necessary. Life is demanding enough within itself, but a preoccupation with media will deceptively steal our sleep and contribute to an underlying sense of weariness. In addition, today’s advances in technology often mean that we live in a constant state of distraction, which in turn creates a cumulative feeling of stress. Periodically turning off the TV, computer, or phone may do wonders in helping to renew both mind and body. Even when physically exhausted, Jesus often retreated for times of prayer to commune with His heavenly Father. During these invaluable times, Jesus drew strength from His Father and received guidance for His journey on earth.
Several other types of rest can help us to more effectively navigate a wilderness journey, ensuring that our hearts don’t become dry and barren. Any plan for rest, however, must be tailored to meet our individual needs and personalities. Getting out on the water to fish, for example, might have a very different effect for a pastor than for a professional fisherman. Mulling around the garden may be therapeutic to some, but a burdensome chore to others. To a stay-at-home mother with five kids, simply leaving the house alone for a few hours can do wonders. I suggest you find which types of rest benefit you most and to pursue those avenues.
It seems odd that we should have to labor to enter into rest, but intentionality is essential as many necessary forms of rest do not come naturally. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Learn to wisely abide in God’s provision of rest and you may just find yourself flying!
This post is drawn from Chapter Thirty-One of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers