The Work/Rest Balance

As toil can be all-consuming, so idleness is self-cannibalising.” – William Brown

I don’t know if it’s just me but I’ve often wondered about where the ideal work/rest balance lies. When I was a teenager, I used to think it was my right to do whatever I wanted the entire weekend, and I would always feel a twinge of resentment when I had to spend half my Saturday working around the house. I thought I should have gotten two days for rest… but I now question where that idea actually came from? It’s certainly not from the Bible as far as I can see. Later on, during busy periods of my life, I’d find myself studying or working entire weekends… and again, I wondered about the balance, “Is this just normal? Or am I operating outside of God’s design for life?”. Does God have a specific timetable we can use for work and rest… is there any guidance he offers us? Here are some principles I have found helpful:

  1. Work is Good

In our culture we have different attitudes towards work. Some of us (and I think I thought like this as a teenager) think that work is bad. That it’s a drag. That it’s a necessary evil to get money to do the good things in life. You might think like that, but that’s not how the Bible views work. To prove this all I need to point to is Genesis 1-2. Before sin entered the world God gave us a vocation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15), we had good and meaningful and satisfying work to do. Work is fundamentally good, although since sin entered the world it can be frustrating and difficult at times (Genesis 3:17-19).

  1. Rest is Good

The opposite attitude is adopted by those of us who tend towards workaholism. For us, work has become more than just good, it has become god. We might not ever actually say “Rest is bad”, but what does our schedule say? Time is valuable, and where we spend it shows where our values actually lie. If your time is never spent resting, then work may well be a god (an idol) for you. Again, in the first chapters of Genesis we learn that rest is good (Genesis 2:2-3). Of course, there are seasons and periods in life where we might run harder for a little while. But this cannot go on forever without eventually dehumanising ourselves and neglecting to follow God’s design for work and rest. Rest is good.

  1. Six Days for Work and One Day for Rest

So, how do we put these two ideas (that work and rest are both good) together? When it comes to work/rest balance, I always find the six days for work and one day for rest rhythm in the Bible a helpful example (Genesis 1:1–2:3). The command to observe the Sabbath is probably not binding on Christians anymore (see Romans 14:5 & Colossians 2:16-17). But, at the very least it’s a great idea with Biblical foundations. It certainly proves my teenage opinion about two days for rest wrong! Where I can, I love to try and order my week this way. Six days for work and one day for, well, not normal work! It still feels like work chasing around my 18-month-old at times but it’s part of what rest looks like for me these days… taking a break from normal work to spend time with family and with God, enjoying the good gifts he has given us. Maybe it’s impossible right now for you to take one day off to break from your normal work. If that’s you, can I suggest building your rest rhythms in elsewhere. Perhaps, whenever it gets dark each night you make it a rule to stop what you are doing and rest by reading God’s Word, turning off the noise, dimming the lights, spending time in prayer and doing something that reenergises you. Perhaps, you might like to establish even just a small 10-minute rhythm of prayerful quietness after you finish work each day. The Sabbath might not be a binding command anymore, but the Bible is clear that both work and rest are good, and we are fools if we neglect either work or rest. As Ecclesiastes 4 puts it, we are to take one handful of work, and one handful of rest:

The fool folds his arms

and consumes his own flesh.

Better one handful with rest

than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:5-6 CSB)

Grace and peace,