September 12, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Genesis 2:1-3 (NRSV)
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
If you are not quite sure what to do on a day of rest from work, God’s example of finishing the work by resting offers pertinent guidance. Find a time when you are resting to reflect on the work you have done recently. Take a delight in its goodness. Recognize ways in which your work is also part of a fallen world. Offer your work to the Lord in worship. Remember that God is sovereign even over your work.
Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest
In the first chapter of Genesis, God works. God creates the heavens and the earth and all that fills them. Then, on the seventh day, God “rested . . . from all the work he had done” (2:2). This would appear to paint a fairly simple picture of God’s work: six days of work, one day of rest.
But there’s a curious phrase in Genesis 2:2: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done.” Wait a minute! Didn’t God rest on the seventh day? Didn’t God choose not to work? In what sense did God “finish” God’s work on the seventh day? Doesn’t this suggest that somehow God was still working?
The Hebrew verb translated as “finished” means “to complete, bring to an end, finish a thing, accomplish, fulfill” (BDB, kalah). So, by resting on the seventh day, in some sense God completed the work of the first six days. But how?
Genesis doesn’t answer this question explicitly. It doesn’t say, “God finished the work on the seventh day in this way . . . .” So we are left to speculate on how, in resting, God finished the work of creation?
Years ago, when I was mulling over this question, I read what some Jewish rabbis had said throughout the centuries. (I don’t remember exactly where I found this.) They had proposed that what God did on the seventh day was to gaze upon the work of the first six days, delighting in and reflecting upon it. Workers often do that sort of thing. I expect you know what this is like. Remember a time when you finished some major project. After you were done with the work, you thought about what you had accomplished and what you had experienced in the process. You gazed upon the results of your labor and felt glad. Perhaps this is what God was doing on the seventh day, finishing the work through reflection and admiration.
When we observe the sabbath, we don’t keep doing more work. But this doesn’t mean we forget completely about the work we have done. Rather, during our time of rest, we remember our work. We enjoy what we have done well. We learn from what we have done not so well. The seventh day can be a time of observation, reflection, and gratitude. Because we are done with the work itself, we have an opportunity to look upon our work and consider its meaning. In this way, we also can finish our work as we rest.
For those of us who tend to fill our lives with more work than we can handle, God’s reflective resting encourages and challenges us not to work so hard that we are unable to rest. We mustn’t let the quantity of our work take away time for rest in which we consider our work, talk to God about it, and see what God might teach us about our work. In times of rest, we can appreciate the larger meaning of our work and how it fits into the purposes of God. We might also recognize that our busyness is dulling our sensitivity to the Spirit of God. In times of rest from work, we can realize just how much we need rest if we want to be the people God has created and redeemed us to be.
If you are not quite sure what to do on a day of rest from work, God’s example in Genesis 2 offers pertinent guidance. Find a time when you are resting to reflect on the work you have done recently. Take a delight in its goodness. Recognize ways in which your work is also part of a fallen world. Offer your work to the Lord in worship. Remember that God is sovereign even over your work.
Perhaps during your rest from work it’s a good time once again to give yourself and your work more fully to God. In this regard, I often use a brief prayer from Saint Ignatius: “Grant, Lord, that all my intentions, actions, and operations be directed purely to your praise and your service. Amen.”
What do you imagine God doing on the seventh day as God rested?
Can you remember a time in your life when, after working hard, you rested in a way that felt restorative? If so, what was that like for you? What did you do during your time of rest?
What helps you to think about your work and its deeper meaning?
Sometime soon, set aside time for rest from work. During this time, reflect on your work and its meaning. Talk to God about your work. See if God has anything to say to you through the Spirit.
Gracious God, Genesis says that you finished your work on the seventh day, even though in a way you had already completed the work of creation. It seems likely that you were finishing your work by looking upon it, delighting in its very-goodness (1:31).
Help me, Lord, to rest regularly. Teach me how to use my times of rest for reflection. Show me things about my work that I am missing. May I see ways in which my work is good and ways in which it falls short. Help me to understand how my work contributes to your work in the world.
As I rest from work, may I also offer my work to you as worship. Whether I’m gathered with my church or on my own, may I present my work and myself as a worker to you. May you be glorified in what I have done. Amen.
Banner image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God Creates and Equips People to Work (Genesis 1:26-2:25).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.