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“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
So goes the unfortunate saying that is the basis of several songs and a movie. It refers to the idea that we have so much to do that we don’t have time to rest or even sleep, but will leave this until we’ve passed away.
Sadly, this is the attitude that many of us have when it comes to work. It’s particularly true for creatives who are passionate about their creations, or feel compelled to work to be recognised.
In the novel and its movie adaptation, The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway’s character Andrea “Andy” Sachs gets a job as a personal assistant to Miranda Priestly (portrayed by Meryl Streep). Miranda is the scary workaholic editor-in-chief of a highly successful fashion magazine. Over time, Andy becomes a workaholic herself and begins dressing in the trendiest outfits available to her. She deceives herself into thinking that if she works really hard and puts in the hours, this will eventually pay off and be a springboard to the more creative career she actually wants out of life: to become a journalist.
She discovers that despite all her hard work and striving, she is never satisfied. However, because of the pressure of the job, Andy feels that she can never rest. She can’t keep in touch with her friends and serve her boss simultaneously, so she abandons them and fully commits to being there at Miranda’s beck and call. Eventually, she realises that she has succumbed to the lure of this workaholic lifestyle and become someone she’s not. She has effectively sold her soul to the fashion industry and her boss Miranda (which is part of the meaning of the title). When this dawns on her, she decides to get out while she can.
The story is a modern-day parable of what can happen when work enslaves us. While work is good for us, continuous work is not. God did not design us for that, but instead set aside a special day for us to rest and recover.
Why do creatives, particularly Christian creatives need rest regularly? Why should they observe the Sabbath?
Here are four good reasons below. Although written with creatives in mind, they are applicable to everyone.
1. God commands us to rest just as he rested
Exodus 20:8-11 says:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work… For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (NIV)
Why did God give us this command to follow his example?
To answer this question, we need to look back at Genesis chapter 1. The first thing we’re told about God, before we know anything else about his attributes, is that he is a creator. Verse 1 tells us:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (NIV)
Before he does anything else, he’s already involved in a creative act. The whole of the first chapter describes God’s creative work. All of this, we’re told, took six days. Then at the beginning of Genesis 2, we find that God rested on the seventh day.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (NIV)
In the Marvel comic book and television series Runaways, Molly Hayes (aka Molly Hernandez) is the youngest and most powerful member of the teenage superhero team. She has superhuman strength and invulnerability. Unfortunately there’s one side effect of utilising her powers. She’s only able to use them for a limited amount of time before she’s drained and requires sleep to replenish her energy.
Is God like that? Did he need a rest after all that creative work and using his powers? Surely if he’s an all-powerful God, why would he require a break to recover and recharge?
When Genesis 2 uses the word “rest”, the Hebrew word for it shabath does not refer to God needing to take a break as a result of fatigue. Instead, it refers to God stopping or ceasing activity – in this case, creative activity.
Other Bible translations use words like “ceased” or “stopped” rather than “rest”. For example, in the Good News Bible it says:
“By the seventh day God finished what he had been doing and stopped working. He blessed the seventh day and set it apart as a special day, because by that day he had completed his creation and stopped working.” (GNB)
In other places in the Old Testament, it uses the same word shabath to refer to ceasing work, while two other words, nuach and naphash are used to refer to rest and refresh respectively.
For example, when God goes into more detail on the Sabbath commandments in Exodus 23:12, he says:
“Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work [shabath], so that your ox and your donkey may rest [nuach], and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed [naphash].” (NIV)
God then, did not rest because he was tired, but because he had completed his creative work. He rested from creating. However, that does not mean that he is no longer working or uninvolved in the world. In John 5:17, Jesus said:
“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (NIV)
God is currently sustaining and preserving the universe and is intimately involved with his creation.
He is also entirely self-sufficient and has existed eternally without beginning or end. God does not have the physical limitations of human beings or animals, because we’re told in John 4:24 that God is spirit.
Isaiah 40:28 tells us that in fact, God’s power is infinite and that he doesn’t grow tired or weary:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. (NIV)
This means that unlike Molly from Marvel’s Runaways, God can’t tire and doesn’t require any rest to refresh his energy.
Why are we commanded to rest then?
While God doesn’t need to rest, humans do have these physical limitations and grow weary. God knows that we require down time to be replenished and recharge our batteries. However, that’s not the only reason.
Observing the Sabbath and taking a day of rest is so we can set aside a day to focus on and celebrate God.
When God rested on the seventh day in Genesis, this was also a foreshadowing of the rest that Jesus offers us in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This rest is something we will fully experience in the new creation at the end of time when we enter into what we colloquially refer to as “heaven”. However, it’s more accurately known as the new heaven and new earth as described in the book of Revelation.
In the meantime though, creatives need rest so we can set aside our concern about our creative activity. By doing this, we choose to fix our eyes on the Creator.
2. Resting is an act of trust
Tim Keller writes in his book Every Good Endeavor:
“We are also to think of Sabbath as an act of trust. God appointed the Sabbath to remind us that he is working and resting. To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.”
It is easy to feel like we need to be working all the time. We can begin to believe that we are in control of our success or failure, or that we are the ones responsible for making things happen. However, the Bible repeatedly tells us the opposite.
In Joshua 24:13, the LORD says:
“So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”
God reminds the Israelites that he is solely responsible for bringing them into the Promised Land. They had no part in it. To God alone belongs that glory.
Psalm 127:1 also talks about the futility of our efforts apart from God. It says:
“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain.” (NIV)
In 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, St Paul also tells us:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (NIV)
However, we are only co-workers and stewards of God’s work. It is not something we own ourselves.
When we work at every moment, we don’t stop to contemplate God or give the glory back to him. In a sense, we are putting ourselves in the position of creator. We believe that things are in our hands. The result is that we are effectively trying to save ourselves through our own efforts.
The words of the Tim Hughes worship song Counting On Your Name sums up our hope in God and where it should lie:
We should be counting on God’s name to save us. Our hope is built on nothing less than his faithfulness.
We are not to strive or be anxious but to trust that God is ultimately responsible for producing the results. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. If we fully comprehend this, we can truly rest in the knowledge that it’s not in our hands.
As creatives, it’s easy to start believing that we made it ourselves. Often, we can spend much time and effort – sometimes years – practising and perfecting our craft or our skills, trying to be as perfect as we can be.
When people acknowledge our abilities, it seems our hard work has paid off. In those times, we can often forget to give the glory back to God. We can conclude it was all our own doing and that our own skills got us there.
It’s also very tempting to think that our talents and our success belong to us. We begin to trust in our own abilities and understanding.
However, our efforts can’t help matters along at all. We can’t even add a single our to our life. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24-34:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (NIV)
He goes on to tell us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, then all these things will be given to us as well.
By resting, we are choosing not to worry about tomorrow because we know that our heavenly Father knows and sees all and provides for our every need. We are seeking first the Kingdom of God.
Creatives need rest and that quiet trust in him, following the advice of Psalm 46:10 which encourages us to
“Be still and know that I am God.”
3. When we don’t rest, we turn our work into an idol
The last line of the famous Isaac Watts hymn, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross speaks of Jesus in these terms:
“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
When we fail to rest, we give our every waking moment to our work and creation. It is as though we’re saying these things demand our soul, our life, our all. However, this kind of total commitment and attention is something only God deserves.
In Exodus 20:2-5, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, the first two he gives are as such:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (NIV)
The idea here is that God doesn’t want us to have anyone or anything before him or in place of him. The word “image” used here is also translated as “idol”. We are not to make or create anything that we bow down and worship, because these become our idols.
What do we mean by idols? We often think of them in terms of the golden calf that the Israelites made and began worshipping in Exodus 32. Or celebrities today we greatly admire and praise or follow on Twitter. But that is only a narrow understanding of the concept.
Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit gods, describes an idol as such:
“An idol is something we cannot live without… It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”
Keller warns that anything in life can become an idol, or an alternative to God. These can even include the things in life that we would consider good and that we would pursue. Legitimate things like love, relationships, family, work, a successful career, fame, our passions, our success, material possessions or even the things we create.
It is interesting that the first four of the Ten Commandments all concern God, while the remaining six relate to how we treat others. The fourth commandment is the one which tells us to observe the Sabbath.
When we ignore God’s command to rest, we are effectively taking matters into our own hands and believing that we are the ones in control of our future and success. We are declaring that our work requires all of our effort and attention that we can’t stop even for a single day.
Perhaps we love creating so much that it consumes our every being. It is the thing we want to spend the most time pursuing. Or maybe we derive our identity or sense of self worth from these things. We hope it will finally give our life the meaning or recognition we seek.
As Hillsong worship pastor Darlene Zschech says in her book Worship Changes Everything:
“Work is to be worship—but we can’t worship work. If your self-worth and your sense of importance is too tightly aligned to your work, remember that you are doing it for the Lord to regain a proper perspective.”
When we slave away feverishly, putting all our trust and hope in our own efforts, and forget we are doing it for the Lord, this is when our work and our creations can transform into idols.
Tim Keller goes on to say that
“An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought… An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'”
The danger for creatives
As a creative, I know from personal experience how easy it is to allow any of these things to become something you effectively end up worshipping. Possibly the danger is more prominent for those of us who create. When we behold our handiwork, there is a very real tendency to swell up with pride or self satisfaction and pat ourselves on the back. “I made that,” we tell ourselves. “Look how good it is. Look how good I am.”
I’m sure you’ll agree that as creatives, we create partly for our work to be seen and recognised by others. Indeed, we often crave that acknowledgement and validation of our work. We want to feel special and loved. To be seen as worthy in the eyes of others and not simply a nobody who is easily overlooked or invisible.
In a sense, we want to be truly known and feel that we are worth knowing.
Jordan Raynor, in his book Called To Create writes:
“The world offers many motivations for entrepreneurs: money, power, status, and influence are just a few. But all of these motivations can be summed up in this deep-seated desire to make a name for ourselves. At our core, we know there is something deeply wrong with us and we work insanely hard to prove to the world that we are not a chump. To prove that we are valuable. To prove that our life is meaningful.”
When that recognition doesn’t happen, as creatives we have the tendency to compare ourselves to others. We begin to envy or become dissatisfied with our lot. Why is someone else getting that recognition when I’m much better or have had years more experience? And then we find that even if we wanted to rest, because of our discontentment, we can’t even find the rest we seek. We become burdened and heavy-laden.
I can testify to this myself, because I’ve been there. Many times.
We cannot build our happiness, identity and security on these things. They are not secure foundations but are fleeting, evasive and will crumble if we try to stand securely on them. These idols or counterfeit gods will inevitably always disappoint and fail to fulfil us.
Tim Keller adds:
“If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”
We want to be recognised and known, but only God can truly know us and see us for who we are.
Jordan Raynor sums up the solution to our ongoing need to make a name for ourselves nicely:
“The beautiful truth of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has done all of that work for us! As a Christian who believes that God came to earth as a human to die for you, you can rest knowing that you are somebody, because you have been adopted as a child of God. You can rest knowing that you are valuable, because God gave up his only Son to ransom you. You can rest knowing that your life has meaning, because God has made you a new creation and has called you to use your passions, gifts, and opportunities to reveal his character and love others.”
Creatives need rest and the assurance that we are known by someone who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.
Indeed, when we rest, as creatives we are saying that the Creator is more important than the created.
4. Rest helps us be more creative
One of the most famous paintings in the world is The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. It is a late 15th-century mural covering a wall of the dining hall at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan as part of the church renovations. The painting depicts the Last Supper of Jesus with the twelve disciples in John 13:21-30.
The painting took about three years to complete with various delays, as Da Vinci wasn’t working on it continuously. A story goes that part of the time, Leonardo would spend most of the day up on the scaffolding trying to complete the piece. However, the rest of the time he would take regular extended breaks without warning where he seemed to be doing absolutely nothing.
Every now and then, the Prior of the church (a monastic superior lower than an abbot) would drop by to check on Da Vinci’s progress and see what was taking so long. To his shock, he would find Leonardo sitting there, seemingly completely idle and unashamed of it. Needless to say, this annoyed the Prior no end. Surely the Maestro should be working non stop to finish the painting.
Georgo Vasari, an Italian painter and writer who was considered the first art historian wrote in his famous encyclopedic work, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects:
“The prior of the church entreated Leonardo with tiresome persistence to complete the work, since it seemed strange to him to see how Leonardo sometimes passed half a day at a time lost in thought, and he would have preferred Leonardo, just like the labourers hoeing in the garden, never to have laid down his brush.”
Clearly the Prior was not amused and was having none of this. He complained to Sforza, the Duke who had commissioned the painting. Wondering what was going on, Sforza himself questioned Leonardo about this seemingly nonchalant way of working. However, Da Vinci managed to persuade his employer that everything was fine and on track, telling him that
“the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less.”
Michael Gleb, in his book How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci comments on this:
“Although your boss may not accept the idea that ‘the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less’, the art of incubation is, nevertheless, essential to actualizing your creative potential.”
In other words, we all need to take periods of creative rest where we do nothing, or do other restful activities not related to our work. The picture of incubation comes from nature where birds will sit on an egg to keep it warm (incubate it) until it eventually hatches. It’s also a psychology term referring to the process of thinking about a problem subconsciously while involved in other activities.
When we sit on a problem and let it rest without stressing over it while engaging in other things, the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for sometimes hatches by itself and we are able to find the solution.
By taking the time to rest, we are taking a conscious step of faith to leave our work in God’s hands. We’re choosing to believe that we are not the ones ultimately responsible for its success or failure.
How about you?
We’ve read about the reasons for taking a rest. Now it’s time to put that into practice and be doers and not just hearers of the word.
Do you work too hard, particularly at your creative endeavours? How do you stop yourself getting into that workaholic lifestyle?
What other reasons can you think of to rest?
Leave a comment down below.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.