When I was nine years old in the third grade at a Christian school, we often memorized assigned Bible verses in class as part of our weekly curriculum.
One particularly drab weekday—I say this because I wanted to go outside to recess, and lunch that day was grilled cheese, my favorite, and oh, wouldn’t 11:45 come sooner!—we were reciting some verses. When done correctly, each student had an opportunity to pick something out of our teacher’s prize basket.
My turn came and went, and as I looked in the basket at all the cheap plastic toys and candy, something shiny caught my attention. I saw a tiny farmhouse abreast a landscape of oranges and yellows plated on a golden pin about an inch in diameter. Small cursive letters, two words, were written I couldn’t quite make out. Fascinated, I picked it up to read the phrase, Slow Down. I felt like God was speaking to me, but I wasn’t sure about what since I already didn’t run very fast.
Maybe it was my talking since I did that like lightning.
I kept that pin until I lost it sometime during a housing move between babies two and three or three and four or first baby and sixth. Throughout the years, I came to know what ‘slow down’ meant to me, eventually equating the phrase with Genesis 2:2, which says, ‘So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation,’ (NRSV) and in Hebrews 4:1, ‘…the promise of entering his rest is still open,’ and Hebrews 4:11, ‘Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…’ (NRSV).
In Genesis, the word ‘rest’ is from the Hebrew וַיִּשְׁבֹּת֙, or shabath, according to Strong’s Hebrew lexicon. Similarly, the word for ‘rest’ used by the writer of the book of Hebrews in chapter 4, verses 1 and 11 is the Greek word καταπαύω or katapauó, meaning ‘to cause to cease, to rest.’ This word is taken from the noun κατάπαυσις or katapausis, meaning ‘rest, dwelling, or habitation.’ God’s rest is his shabath, or as we say in English, Sabbath. This isn’t merely an Old Testament seventh-day by which we do no work, but a New Testament condition God created in the resurrected Christ by which the work he did was completed—the former being a foreshadowing of the latter.
So what does this have to do with slowing down? God reminded me many instances in a world which tells me to hurry, that time is money and money is time, that my value is on how productive I am, how much work I do, etc., to slow down, to be like Mary and ‘[choose] the better part, which will not be taken away…’ (Luke 10:42, NRSV). We rest in the completed work of Christ, whether it’s the victory at the Cross over our enemy, the lifting of burdens we feel we’ll never become free from, or from the fear of death and sickness.
Especially in times such as these, where the world itself seems to be the oppressor, we need to remember the rest of God—that He is our literal dwelling place. If we cannot ‘Be still…,’ we cannot ‘know that [He] is God’ (Psalm 46:10, NRSV). Mary could recognize the better part because she’d stopped her fretting, stopped her work, and focused on the one who’d come to deliver her from her sorrow.
God is our Sabbath—every single day. How can we stay still if we first haven’t slowed down? How can we rest if we haven’t remained still? There’s anxiety often present in the American church that if we aren’t involved in this or that, bustling from one deed to the next, we have somehow failed. The idea of rest can be a foreign concept to many, so the disclaimer has to be added—no one is saying to refrain from works. In fact, James says, ‘…faith without works is dead’ (2:26, NRSV).
So what does this mean? It means that our spirit, resting in God, receives all strength, power, and hope in the completed works we now do. We rest in victory, love, joy, and peace with God, and we bring that and give it freely to the people.
It means in our own lives, we can stop fretting about being good enough or worthy, forgivable, or religious superstars. We rest entirely in God, the work he’s finished, and choose the better part—which is wholly the Christ.