“Go to the ant…” or “Come to Me
For every verse like Proverbs 6:6 (“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise”) there is also a verse like Matthew 11:28 (“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”). Scripture is full of commands to work hard and warnings against laziness. And Scripture is also full of commands to rest and warnings against depending on our own strength.
So how do we reconcile work and rest? We probably more naturally gravitate toward one or the other, in which case we probably tend to notice and emphasize the corresponding Scripture passages, but God emphasizes both in His Word, so how are we to understand that tension between work and rest? And more importantly, how do we live that out in the midst of a culture that rewards overwork and idolizes empty leisure?
In Matthew 11:28 and Mark 6:31, Jesus says to come to Him and receive rest in Him. Hebrews 4:10 speaks of entering God’s rest. So one thing that is clear is that the rest God calls us to in rest in Him and with Him, not apart from Him or on our own. In a similar way, Paul says in Colossians 1:29 “For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” So the work that God calls us to is also in Him and with His energy.
So when work is called for—and not just a work that benefits myself, but work that cares for and provides for others—then I need to work hard. But that hard work is with Christ (i.e. “in His yoke”), it is by His grace (I Cor 15:10), and with His energy. Then in that work I need to know when to stop laboring and trust Him enough to rest. So both work and rest need to be in Him, dependent on His energy and His grace and His provision.
What does that look like then in everyday life? I don’t know exactly because I’m still trying to learn how to live with this tension, but lately in my life, this has been expressed in lots of little decisions, such as laying down to rest on Sunday afternoon instead of immediately starting into the next task on my to-do list. Or the many times my heart has cried out “God, I can’t do this. I don’t have the strength to give this person what they need right now” and then doing it and trusting Him to provide. Or sticking with my commitment to “date night” with my wife rather than brushing it off in order to get a few more jobs done.
So work hard—Scripture commands it! And rest deeply—Scripture commands that too! But whether you’re working or resting, do it with Christ, depending on His energy and trusting His provision.