“God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning— the first day.” Genesis 1:5 (NIV)
What time did your day begin today?
Did it begin as the sun poked through the widow urging you to wake? Or, did the alarm buzz at 5:30 AM? Or maybe at 6:45? Perhaps you slept until 8:00?
What if I told you your day began last night as the sun set — would you disagree?
In the modern, westernized world we think of our days as sun rise to sun rise. In other words, we rise, we work, and then we end the day in rest. We rest to recover from our work … with whatever time is left over after the work is done.
However, in the ancient Jewish tradition the day runs from sundown to sundown. That’s quite a different concept. In other words, we rest, then we rise and do our work. Rest becomes the source and fuel for the work rather than merely recovery from it.
Where did the Hebrews get this seemingly backwards notion of the day beginning in the evening? From the God who never sleeps, in the Bible. Notice in today’s key verse — in fact, in multiple verses throughout the Genesis creation account — there was evening, and then morning and that was counted as a day.
A secular rhythm of life makes work primary. We work first, then go from work to vacation. In contrast, a sacred rhythm makes rest primary, moving us from God-ordained rest into our vocation. The sacred rhythm is rest, rise, work rather than rise, work, rest. Let that difference sink in and sway the seat of your soul.
Internalizing this difference is the basis for connecting with God through rest. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson describes this ancient rest-first rhythm:
“This Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins his work. As we sleep he develops his covenant. We wake and are called to participate in God’s creative action. We respond in faith, in work. But always grace is previous. Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn.
Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day. Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work he initiated. Creation and covenant are sheer grace and there to greet us every morning.”
I don’t know why God’s Word marks out time in this way in Genesis, but I am discovering I think and live differently when I adopt this view of my days. I see each night’s rest as something important, something to prepare for — and something important that prepares me. I’ve long known that rest prepares me physically to rise and work again, and now I’m finding it prepares me spiritually to rise walk in grace and faith.
As I lie down, close my eyes, pray, and slip from consciousness, I do so with the understanding that it is God who holds everything together during my temporary absence from the world. And it’s Him who will continue to hold everything together when I rise and work in the coming daylight. At no point — day or night — am I independent of Him. He even has the power to direct my dreams should He desire.
So I’ve developed a theology of sleep that punctuates my days. It helps me see my nights and my rest as set apart and holy. It helps me to see God as I lay myself down to sleep. In fact, it helps me see that it is He who lays me down for the gracious gift of rest.
What about you? How do you think about rest? How do you treat it? How might God be calling you to look at it differently?
Dear Lord, thank You for rest. Thank You that I can rest while You continue to hold everything together. Help me rest well and worship You through rest. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
(Excerpt taken from: http://devotions.proverbs31.org/2011/07/laying-me-down-to-sleep-2.html)
Emily Colledge currently serves as Assistant to the President at Sweet Sleep. You can learn more about Emily at www.sweetsleep.org in the About Us/Staff section of the site.