Rest is so crucial to our wellbeing. If we don't get enough of it, we can experience long-term health problems and a shortened life expectancy. God wove rest into the fabric of creation. The world runs on a very specific rhythm. A year is divided by days and seasons. The world around us operates in relationship with this natural clock, and we, as part of creation, need to as well.
Rest isn't just about gaining our strength, but it's also about trust. By allowing ourselves to rest, we demonstrate the belief that God will provide for the details of our lives, and we don't have to strive in every waking moment.
But there's more to the topic than getting enough sleep and down time. As we examine how the Bible addresses rest, we realize that it isn't simply physical. Every one of us longs for a spiritual rest from the struggles of daily life.
Here are 12 Bible passages about rest. Let's take a look at them and see what they might tell us about the importance of slowing down.
1. God rests from His work (Genesis 2:2–3)
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.
Was God so exhausted from the act of creation that He needed to lay down for a day? No. He recognized the importance of creating a cycle of rest and renewal. In talking about the Sabbath, Jesus told the Pharisees that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was instituted for our benefit. He modeled the importance of rest and instructed us to make it part of our weekly rhythm.
2. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8–10)
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
Creation has built-in rhythms for rest. Plants have a natural cycle of production that includes a season of dormancy. Bees and ants harvest in specific periods. Bears have a hibernation schedule. But humans have the ability to work and produce outside of the created order. For instance, the creation of electric light has made it possible for us to ignore the natural rhythm of the sun. We can work until the wee hours of the morning if we want.
It's essential to recognize that God instituted the Sabbath before Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden. It wasn't a penalty. It wasn't to counteract something broken by our disobedience; It was an instruction given to us as a safety measure. It's as if God was telling us, "You have the creative ability to adapt and work outside of the natural order, but I've created you with a need to recharge. Be mindful of your need for rest."
3. I will go with you and give you rest (Exodus 33:12–14)
Moses said to the Lord, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Throughout the Old Testament, rest is a constant theme. Israel is often portrayed as a beleaguered people surrounded by hostile nations and unforgiving terrain and climate. They're a people looking for peace and rest. And God promises them that if they would submit to His plan, they'd find the rest they were looking for.
This theme continues into the New Testament when Jesus promises His people rest for their weary souls.
4. You make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8)
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.
You can think of the Psalms as a hymnal of sorts. They deal with the joys and struggles of Jewish life with God at the center. It's no surprise that the topic of rest, peace, and sleep comes up regularly throughout them.
As we see in Psalm 4, David contrasts himself against the ungodly by pointing out that he is the one who will lie down in safety and sleep soundly. His relationship with God offers him a peace that his enemies do not possess. This idea that only those whose hearts are focused on pleasing God can genuinely find rest comes up throughout the Psalms.
5. He makes me lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2–3)
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23 is one of the most well-loved passages of Scripture. In it, David likens himself to a sheep whose reliance upon his shepherd gives him security and peace of mind. Because of the shepherd's loving care, David doesn't have to fear from predators or want. He finds his rest in trusting in God's attentiveness.
6. I would fly away and be at rest (Psalm 55:4–8)
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm."
Here we see David in a moment of lament communicating his frustration. He's distraught about being betrayed and feeling surrounded by enemies. Like most of us, his fantasy is to fly away and find a place where he can be at peace.
This is a powerful reminder that, despite all the things we think we want, our true desire is to experience order and tranquility—things the Lord promises to those who follow Him.
7. My soul finds rest in God (Psalm 62:1–2)
Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
The idea of the Lord being a fortress is another common scriptural theme. Rocks and fortresses are steadfast shelters that people could count on when their world got chaotic. When a storm sprang up or enemies descended, one could run to the safety of their fortress. This safety represented freedom from worry and constant vigilance. The psalmist tells us that by trusting in the Lord, he doesn't have the kind of fears that plague him when he can only rely upon himself. And this reiterates this biblical theme that our worries and anxieties steal away our peace and rest.
8. He grants sleep to those He loves (Psalm 127:1–2)
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Work isn't part of the Fall. Humanity was placed in the garden with instructions to tend and subdue the earth. After the Fall, work became toil. It took effort to beat back the encroaching weeds that wanted to take over everything (both real and metaphorically). With the Fall came the possibility of laboring in vain. The psalmist promises that alignment with the Lord adds meaning to our work where every day isn't a struggle, and we're not going to sleep worrying about tomorrow.
9. When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet (Proverbs 3:21–24)
My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
We all know the difference between sweet and fitful sleep. The writer of Proverbs assures us that seeking wisdom and understanding leads us to a lifestyle we have less to worry about. When we're careless, we end up living in ways that increase our insecurity and concerns. It works against us and undermines our ability to truly experience rest.
10. You will find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6:16)
This is what the Lord says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'"
Jeremiah contends with an Israel that’s lost its way. He tells them that they're at a crossroads where they can choose to go back to the ways of Moses, or they can continue down the road they’re on.
The Lord pleads with them to demonstrate genuine curiosity about which is the best route. If they'd bother to ask the question, they'd end up on the right path. And they'd find rest—and not just physical rest. They’d find deep, abiding rest for their souls. But God's people refuse to follow that path.
This is a recurring theme, and it will become even more obvious when Jesus arrives to lead people to a place of genuine rest. Most will still choose a path of destruction.
11. Find rest for your souls (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.
Jesus didn’t promise the idea of rest. This wasn't a symbolic statement. In a world where religious rules dictated every facet of life, true rest was hard to come by. Jesus came to strip away the massive weight of expectation that people toiled under.
This easy yoke that Jesus promised was a law summed up with the simple call to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:29–31).
12. There remains a Sabbath-rest for God’s people (Hebrews 4:9–11)
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
In the garden, God commanded humans to be mindful of the Sabbath. This devolved into a bunch of rules about what constituted "work." Could someone carry something? How far? Could someone light a flame? Extinguish one? This led to prohibiting behaviors like separating good fruit from spoiled fruit or braiding hair. You couldn't even climb a tree because that might lead to breaking limbs or damaging leaves, which could be considered "reaping."
Jesus cut through all those rules and became our Sabbath rest. We enter into true rest when we enter into Christ. He satisfies the requirements of the law. He reconciles us to God so that we’re no longer striving to make peace there. He deposits the Holy Spirit inside of us so that we can know the peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).
He has become our rest
The world is a trying and complicated place, and all human beings long for rest. We want to be set free from our anxieties. We want to find comfort. We want to experience joy. In Jesus, God has provided rest for weary souls. Everyone can find some measure of rest from a relaxing vacation, time with friends, or a day at the beach, but none of it compares to the true rest that we can find by being united to Christ.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He has come in order that we might have life and have it in abundance.