26 April 2014

Christian Being and Sabbath Rest

Several years back, there was a popular phrase going around:
"I'm a human being--not a human doing."
The gist was to emphasize that we are not defined by action but by makeup. Can we be confident in what we're made of--instead of trying to prove worth by doing more?

The spiritual parallel here is obvious and profound. It is the age-old battle of faith versus works, and we continue to fight our insecurity with what we do rather than who we are.


Why do we cling so tightly to what we accomplish?

Productivity and success give us ownership and pride. These also give us great conversation starters and nifty ways to draw attention to ourselves for further affirmation and appreciation. So people can be addicted to both the accomplishment and the attention.

But we can also be addicted to busyness. 

Sometimes, it's not even the end-result that keeps us going but rather the fear of stillness and the questions that silence ensues. Who am I when I'm not working? Who am I really?

This can be especially true for us Christians who are recognized for our kingdom building. The praise we receive can build up a destructive pride--one that refocuses our hearts on ministry rather than on God. And no one is exempt from this temptation. It's easy to idolize our work and worship what we're able to do . . . even when what we do is "for God."

Could this be the essence of Sabbath then--to force us to stop Christian doing and rest in Christian being? to remember, to refocus, to replenish, to reenergize--all through pushing "pause," all through obedience to this command: "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10)?


Once upon a time in British Literature, we discussed Isaac Watts' "Against Idleness and Mischief." The poet writes:

HOW doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

We talked about the benefits of staying active and resisting laziness. Then my class received their writing assignment:

Work vs. Leisure: A persuasive essay

No doubt influenced by my enthusiastic fist-pump for hard work, all my students wrote about how people must prioritize industry and productivity . . . all except one student, that is. Bravely, this teenager wrote an excellent essay arguing for the importance of leisure. She advocated rest and balance and health

At a point in my teaching career when I worked late into the night (still at my classroom desk) and graded ferociously on Sundays, this message of leisure seemed heretical to my "work for the Lord" as a Christian schoolteacher. However, my student was right, and I desperately needed a change.

There is a difference between idleness and stillness,
between laziness and rest,
between irresponsibility and self-awareness.

So we do not need busyness. We need balance.


"I am a Christian being, not a Christian doing."

Can we say those words if we never stop to reflect on the core of our own Christianity--of our makeup and build, of our convictions and foundations, of our connection to God Himself?

Can we feel God touch us if we're always moving?

Can we hear His whisper if we're always talking?

Can we know His heart if we're always working?

The instruction to rest--to observe the Sabbath--is hard to obey because we thrive in Christian doing. However, it's in the stillness, in the silences, in His glorious presence that we find our Christian being. It's who we are apart from our works. It's our faith alone.

Abide in Him,

Do you observe the Sabbath? What are ways we can still our hearts and bodies to allow God to move and speak? 

To read more about Sabbath, come join the conversation at Velvet Ashes' The Grove.

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Good Works, Faith, and the Fruitless Fig Tree
The Boastful Pride of (Missions) Life
"I'm Too Busy" (A Lie)


  1. "Who am I when I'm not working?" Love this question and the fact that Sabbath forces us to ask it. It's truly surprising how much of our identity is wrapped up in Christian doing.

    1. As a mom with young kids, I actually have to ask myself, "Who am I without my kids?" If I'm ever away from them, I feel oddly anxious...like I should be doing something and I'm forgetting to. :) I love the perspective that Leslie Leyland Fields gave in her parenting book--that children aren't our highest calling. Glorifying God must always be #1, even over children or ministry or work.

      Those thoughts were totally spurred on by your comment but may not have been what you were thinking at all. :) But thank you for reading and pointing out that our identity cannot be based on doing. I was also encouraged by your words on and advice for Sabbath, Danielle.


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