How do we rest without succumbing to laziness?
Rest is a gift from God, one we can joyfully receive with thanks. But like it does with most gifts, sin tempts us to misuse it. Instead of enjoying rest the way we were designed to, we’re tempted to overindulge and drift into laziness. We can feel the difference between watching a movie at the end of a productive day and watching a movie at the end of an aimless one. As image-bearers of God, we were created to work, and our faithfulness to that calling is vital to our enjoyment of rest.
But even among those who work hard, the temptation to laziness lingers. I consider my life fairly busy—I homeschool my kids, attend grad school, and work part-time as a writer. At the same time, I’m undeniably bent toward laziness. I can procrastinate and binge TV shows and mindlessly scroll social media like anyone else.
Here are four principles that have helped me grow in discerning the difference between rest and laziness.
Principle #1: Rest Should Have a Rhythm
God never grows tired or weary or worn out. But by resting on the seventh day, he knit rest into the fabric of creation (Gen. 2:2–3). It’s because our Creator rested first that we’re called to recognize the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-10)—Sabbath rest isn’t only a practice to imitate but a gift to receive (Ex. 16:29; Mark 2:27). It’s meant to bless us. To give us a break from our toil so we can realign our hearts to behold our God.
Additionally, our daily need for rest shows us our finitude and dependence. As day turns to night, we’re reminded that rest must be a rhythm in our lives. We need sleep. And that’s not all. We need food. We need fellowship. Breaking from work to break bread together is a rhythm that nourishes both our bodies and our souls.
God isn’t a taskmaster, and life isn’t meant to be comprised of a constant checklist of things to get done. He’s made us to enjoy his creation and one another.
Principle #2: Rest Should Refresh
When I mindlessly scroll social media, or half-watch a show while I’m sort-of-kind-of being productive, I never feel refreshed afterward. Usually, I’m left with a sinking feeling about the time I wasted, wishing I’d either actually rested or actually worked.
If our “rest” makes us feel less motivated, less inspired, and less inclined to get back to work, it’s probably a signal we’ve succumbed to laziness. Laziness has a way of perpetuating itself. Rest should be refreshing. Whether it’s our brains or our bodies that are most tired, rest reenergizes us for the work God’s called us to do.
My kids play soccer. When they’re winded from running around, they take breaks on the sideline to recover. They sit, drink cold water, and joke around with teammates. These breaks rejuvenate them, readying them to get back in the game. If they gorged themselves on ice cream instead, they’d be slow and lethargic when they got back on the field, and the whole purpose of going to the sidelines would backfire.
Likewise, we need to discern what kind of rest refreshes us, enabling us to fulfill our work and responsibilities. And those details will vary from person to person. I love reading and going for long walks alone. Maybe you feel refreshed after gardening, playing cards, sharing coffee with a friend, or doing a crossword puzzle. Even things like movies and video games—when enjoyed in moderation—can be refreshing gifts to us!
Principle #3: Rest Should Reorient
Another important fruit of rest is the reorienting of our hearts. Indulging in laziness has a spiritual effect. We become less sensitive to the Spirit and more numb to temptation. Idleness is a subtle segue into sin and tempts us to grow callous toward God.
Rest, however, reorients us. It reminds us that though work is important, it’s not all there is. We were made to know, love, and enjoy relationship with God. He doesn’t value us based on our productivity. We can slow down and sit at his feet. We can put aside our tasks to commune with him as we explore creation. We can prioritize time with others, making memories and sharing laughter as we were created to do.
Principle #4: Rest Bears Good Fruit
While laziness is the indulgence of self, rest is enjoyed for the glory of God and the good of others. Our problem doesn’t always lie in what we’re doing but in how we’re doing it. So consider the fruit—laziness yields selfishness; rest readies us for service. Laziness procrastinates and avoids our responsibilities, rest reenergizes us to undertake those responsibilities.
As we pray for the Holy Spirit’s help, he’ll enable us to enjoy the gift of rest without succumbing to laziness. And since we won’t always have an accurate gauge of our own hearts and practices, we should humbly seek the counsel of others as well. Often, those closest to us will have insight on whether we need to slow down and rest or repent of laziness and sloth. Whatever we do, we can make it our aim to please God.
Author’s note: this article was first published at The Gospel Coalition