Thousands of books offer advice on how to prioritize, simplify, and get work done. And yet, long before the experts hit the scene with their Rolodex, DayTimers, and Gantt Charts was our God. He modeled how to complete the work, and once the work is completed, how to rest.
If we follow Exodus 20:9-10, we see God’s process for work: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” God’s instruction is to do “your” work, so first we identify the right work to do. Then we labor for six days, which requires dividing the project into tasks sufficient for each day. Next, we must complete the work, undistracted by the weights and sin around us. Which leads to the final step: rest.
Step 1: Identify Your Work
Part of the commandment to keep the Sabbath is God’s instruction to complete “your” work. That means we need to know what work is ours. He knows us better than we know ourselves. By relying on his direction through prayer and Bible study, we can take the first step to being productive: Identify the right work.
More than once, I’ve jumped into a project before I knew if it lined up with God’s purpose; the right goal is to build God’s kingdom. God tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). I can waste a lifetime chasing my dreams and seeking my kingdom rather than his, but what a loss that would be.
Before jumping into a project—at home, on the job, or in ministry—we need to know what God is calling us to do for his kingdom. Distinguishing God’s will from my agenda is not easy. I may be praying, “Lord, show me your will,” but what I’m secretly asking is, “Lord, show me what will make me happy.” Instead of trying to figure out what will make me most comfortable, I need to ask the Lord what will move his kingdom forward. Recognizing God’s calling requires spending time with him, away from distractions, praying like Jesus prayed: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Step 2: Divide Your Work
Sometimes a project is so overwhelming, we don’t know where to start. Other times, we underestimate its complexity. Faced with the daunting responsibility of feeding a crowd, Jesus had a plan and knew what steps he would take to complete the task:
Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:5-6)
In the Bible, we see a pattern of dividing the work to accomplish one day’s work at a time. Jesus took three years to complete his earthly ministry. God took six days to complete the work of creation. Beginning with the creation of day and night on day one, and ending with the creation of man on day six, God did one day’s work each day, and in the right order. He worked consistently until the work was completed.
Jesus could have miraculously fed the 5,000 instantaneously with manna like God had done in the past, but he didn’t. He had a plan to feed the crowd by distributing a young boy’s loaves and fish and then gathering up all that was left.
Managing our workflow means recognizing the tasks needed to complete a complex project and then doing one day’s work at a time. Worrying about tomorrow’s work will paralyze us, but God’s Word tells us that one day at a time is sufficient (Matthew 6:34).
Step 3: Complete Your Work
As a society, we’ve gotten used to skipping from one activity to the next. Some people insist they can multitask, but I’ve learned I don’t do that very well. I need to remove distractions so I can focus on the work in front of me.
In Hebrews, we’re told to lay aside the distractions and sins that would slow us down from accomplishing the task God has set before us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Jesus worked consistently, and he worked hard. He was able to complete more work than we could record in a book (see John 21:25). God completed his work of creation, and each day he “saw that it was good” (Genesis 3:10).
Likewise, we need to finish our work.
Step 4: Rest
Rest is not simply sleeping, nor is it relaxing on a vacation. Rest is something we can only enjoy when we complete the task set before us by God.
In his sermon series Give Yourself a Break, Pastor Colin defines rest as completion. Many of us have a problem resting because we haven’t finished our work. If we fail to use our time wisely during the workweek, resting when we should be working, we’ll find we have work to do when we should be resting.
Rest comes when we complete our work.
As believers, not only can we enjoy physical and mental rest, but we have the privilege of enjoying another rest, and that is the “Sabbath rest” for our souls.
God the Father entered into a Sabbath rest when he completed the work of creation in six days. Jesus also finished his work when he died on the cross and resurrected three days later. Because of Christ’s finished work, we are invited to enter into a spiritual Sabbath rest ourselves:
o then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)
This “Sabbath rest” is a gift to believers who trust Christ’s finished work on their behalf, and we anticipate it as we complete our work and rest well right now.