God often has a backwards way of dealing with brokenness in our world. Conquering, but not by the sword (Matthew 26:52). Defeating death with death (Hebrews 2:14). Preaching parables to bad listeners (Matthew 13:13). Fighting laziness with rest. Because of the complexity of laziness, we need to pay close attention to the ways God addresses our complacency.
To shout at men, “Get to work!” ironically reinforces a dysfunctional cycle of both work and rest. It fails to say what really needs to be said. It isn’t all that hard to see why God punishes his people by making them “forget festival and Sabbath” (Lamentations 2:6). Let me speak for ancient Israel and male millennials: bad resters make bad workers. Lazy men need a new theology of rest.
1. Rest from stubborn foolishness.
“‘Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the Lord, ‘who carry out a plan, but not mine’” (Isaiah 30:1). Even the lazy make plans. The grace God gives his children is in knowing the difference between the plan of the fool (Proverbs 3:29) and the plan of the wise. Those who plan well have joy (Proverbs 12:20).
With the Sabbath, God tells us to stop winging it and hoping for the best. Hope through planning. Faith and intentionality are not at odds for us. Stop all of the busy work, and carry out the Sabbath task of getting your own heart and life in order. Yes, planning itself takes time and energy. Halt as many activities as possible. But don’t stop and collapse into mindless inactivity. That’s a cycle of laziness — fake, shallow rest — not rest. Cease your vain labors so that you can truly work, and work well. Stop, so that you can reorient your rhythm from foolishness to wisdom, so that you can see and cease ineffective cycles of work and rest.
2. Rest from self-indulgence.
Laziness is an intoxication with some false god — pleasure, escape, comfort, self, or others. “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you” (1 Samuel 1:14) “that you may know that I am the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 29:6). Wine stands for the horde of idols clamoring at the gate of the human heart — every human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Laziness prizes many things, but gains nothing. The sluggard fails to fulfill his responsibilities. He “does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).
There is great freedom in having our eyes opened — in realizing that when we are lazy, our sedentary state is not innocent. Someone or something is always pulling the chain around our neck: “Stop.” “Act.” “Indulge.” “Submit.” “Whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). Laziness is not the reclusive passivity it pretends to be. It is active obedience to someone, to something other than Jesus Christ. The Lord of the Sabbath offers us freedom from that: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
3. Rest from trying to be God.
Sabbath rest is not some mystical form of sustainable energy — a cosmic timeout that takes the edge off of life’s anxiety. No, Sabbath is rest in God. It is the practice of dependence. When you don’t have to be God, you don’t have to be in control of everything. Life’s pressures are put in a much broader context than me — my needs, my ability, my fears. What seems like an impossible situation for you is a walk in the park for the sovereign one working all things for your good (Isaiah 28:2; Romans 8:28).