Tag Archives: work

Sabbath Rest

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

My pastor has been giving a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and a couple of weeks ago, we learned about the 4th (or 3rd, depending on how you’re counting): Remember the Sabbath day. It was a great message and I figured I’d write out my notes for this post.

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Psalm 3:5-6)

In this psalm, David shows us an example of what it means to rest. He lies down to sleep before going into a battle where he’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who want to kill him. Many of us have trouble sleeping the night before an exam, a presentation, or a romantic date; how much harder would it be to sleep if we knew that the following morning, we would wake up to thousands of guns pointed at us?

While David’s example may be hard to follow, the Sabbath rest commandment is not one we can ignore. Many Christians often misconstrue this commandment as a mere “suggestion,” one that is no longer applicable to our busy lives today. That sentiment cannot be further from the truth. Because God rested on the seventh day and we were created in His image, we were designed by God to rest on the Sabbath.  So when we ignore this commandment (and any other commandment1), we are inherently violating our design and destroying ourselves. The Sabbath rest commandment is given to save us from our own destruction.

We have to define rest Biblically. To rest doesn’t mean “to be inactive;” we can be weary even if we’re inactive and we can be deeply at rest even if we’re busy. Instead, to be at rest means to be utterly satisfied with what’s been done. Genesis tells us that God saw everything that He had made and declared it “very good,” so on the seventh day God rested from all His work.

Unfortunately for us broken human beings, we can never be at rest in this way because we can never look at our work and be completely satisfied like God was. It feels like our work is never done because we can always do better. Similarly, we can’t shut off our “internal” work because we’re always trying to earn a favorable verdict or prove ourselves; this is what makes us weary. Even the most successful people struggle with this:

This doesn’t just apply to people who try to “succeed” in the most conventional societal ways, but also to those in callings that serve the world more humbly, such as nonprofit work, social work, teaching, etc. In the end, everyone can have the attitude of trying to prove ourselves in some way to the world or even to God.

However, we have to understand that this verdict is already set because of Jesus’ death on the cross. We may never be completely satisfied with our work in the sense that we cannot be perfect like God, but we also have nothing to prove to anyone or to God because of His overflowing grace in sending His son to die for our sins.

How do we apply this Sabbath rest commandment in our lives and encourage ourselves to rest, knowing that Jesus has already finished the work for us?

  1. If we’re asking ourselves how much time to take to rest for the Sabbath, then the answer is most likely more.”
  2. Sabbath is for others. If we do not rest, we’ll begin to see others not as persons but as “equipment” to help us with our work; we will treat others for what they do, not who they are.
  3. When we are sleeping, God is working. This is shown in Genesis 1, where a day is defined as beginning in the evening and ending in the morning (“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day”). While we are sleeping, God works to redeem the mistakes we make during daylight hours.
  4. Also when we’re sleeping, we relinquish control and trust God to be in command, reminding ourselves that we are not God.
  5. We need to balance our Sabbath time in a structured way to include all forms of rest. Avocational time is when we are not working in our jobs. Contemplative time is when we reflect and grow spiritually. Inactive time is when we sleep, rest, and relax in conventional meanings of the words.
  6. There are times in our lives when work/life is busier and we’ll naturally have less time to rest. We have to be accountable and when the busy period is done, stop and rest.
  7. Invite community into your Sabbath time, both to rest and also to keep each other accountable.
  8. Inject Sabbath time in your work if it takes a large portion of your week.

At the end of the sermon, my pastor said these encouraging words to the young adults in the congregation: “The people who are ‘ahead’ of you…. You know where they’re headed when they don’t rest. At least you’ll be sane and whole at the end of it all. What you take into God’s kingdom is not the works you’ve done, but the person you become.”

Then we all repeated at the end of the service: “My work, my parents, my friends’ expectations, my love life, and my money do not define me. Christ defines me.

1   In the opening sermon of this series on the Ten Commandments, my pastor talked about how these laws are for freedom not bondage. This kind of freedom is defined as living the life that we were meant to, i.e., freedom comes as a result of honoring our design. For example: a bird that flies is free, but if it wants to learn to swim, it’s not acting in accordance to its design.

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Give us this day, our daily bread

Fusion

This post is going to be a bit of a strange one, melding the topic of food with work. A fusion of sorts if you will, although … to be honest, I’m usually not a fan of the whole fusion thing when it comes to food. It … it’s okay usually, the food tastes interesting and is sometimes good, but many times, the fusion of cuisines is pretty much forced. Hmmmm, well, if I’m honest, I haven’t really eaten much fusion, so perhaps I’ll reserve judgment on that topic for another topic.

Anyways, back on topic, I’ve yet to really write about my “real work” and how the Gospel speaks into that. Instead I’ve just been focusing on the topic of food, something I dream of doing for work someday. I work in economic consulting; briefly speaking, that means my firm generally will provide economic analysis/support to legal matters. At some point, I’d love to write more about my job and how I think the Gospel speaks into the industry as a whole, and how it speaks into my work as an individual in the firm.

Sabbath

For now, I want to take on the topic of Sabbath, or at least finding rest. When I first started work, I wondered if what taking a Sabbath would look like, given that I would have the weekends off. In college, it can often be very difficult to take a Sabbath because those weekends are actually the days where you can finally catch up with all the homework/studying you didn’t get to do during the week. But now, with the whole separation of work time and play time, things looked to be much easier! A lot of the topics/points that people will mention are that taking a Sabbath is not merely just “not doing work.” That’s certainly true, and that’s a mindset that I held going into the job. Little did I know, I would end up working my first real weekend, both days, haha. Throughout my first year (it’s actually been exactly one year to this day!), I’ve had to work a lot more weekends than I initially expected. I’ve greatly enjoyed my job so far, but it’s certainly made taking a Sabbath a lot more difficult. So what does it mean to take a Sabbath for someone who has occasionally has to work the weekend? (and what about those bankers who pretty much always have to work the weekend?)

There’s much to say about the topic of Sabbath and its purpose, but for now, I’ll just start with this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Obviously, there’s much to say about this clause of the Lord’s Prayer as well, but for me lately, this verse has been coming to me as a reminder to rest in God’s provision.

The cliché-ish part

One of the biggest barriers for me when it comes to taking a Sabbath is the concern of getting finished the work I am supposed to complete. In college, I often found this concern to be less impactful, given that my work only really affected me. It was a lot easier to trust that God would help me with a problem set or study for a test or write a thesis because at worst, only I would suffer. But in a corporate setting, where people depend on me to get things done, I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy trust in God’s provision. Can I really finish this exhibit in time for the deadline? Am I prepared enough for tomorrow morning’s meeting in front of my manager? Will my code for creating this dataset run fast enough, so that I can pass it on to my coworker? I often find myself asking these questions as the night approaches on weekdays or when considering whether or not I should go into the office on the weekend.

As I’ve gone through seasons of work that involve many late nights and weekends in the office, it’s amazing to see how much God has provided, in many regards. Whether it’s strength to work late nights, focus to provide quality work even when tired, insight into the problems we are solving, and more, God has truly given. And yet, even during weeks when I don’t have to work late nights or the weekends, I’ll constantly worry about needing to put in extra hours to get more work done, forgetting all about God’s provision in my time of need.

“Give us this day, our daily bread” is a request with very powerful implications. When we say this prayer, we are asking God to provide food for us, each and every day. If I think about it, my ability to eat food comes from the money I make at my work. By extension, my prayer for God to provide my bread, is actually a prayer to provide in my work. Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, my ability to complete work is not something in my own hands. I can put hours and hours into a project, yet ultimately the success of that endeavor is in God’s hands. Quite the sobering thought. Yet also a very reassuring one as well. When God calls me to work, I should do so faithfully, knowing that God will see to it that my work is fruitful. When God calls me to rest, must I not rest? He is the provider, and as hard as I strive on my own power, it will not bear fruit.

So what about that Sabbath question you asked?

So what does taking the Sabbath mean for people who have to work the weekends and may not be able to take the whole day off? I haven’t quite figured this out yet at a practical level. But I do know, there are many reasons for us to take the Sabbath, and one of them is that it’s God reminder that our work is not what provides for us, it’s him. Even if there are weeks when I can’t take a full day off, I hope that I will remember that my work is only fruitful because God is providing my daily bread. Remembering this gives me the confidence to take real breaks while I’m working (I’m not talking about going on Facebook while working, which isn’t really a break), to block out my Sunday morning to go to church, to leave the office at a reasonable time even if there is a lot of work for the next day, and to not think or stress about work when I’m go home or am out with friends. While none of these are what we traditionally consider a “Sabbath,” I think it’s a right start towards finding true Sabbath rest at a demanding job.

Academics Need Grace Too

“Great is God our Lord, great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom. Praise Him you heavens, glorify Him, sun and moon and you planets. For out of Him and through Him, and in Him are all things….. We know, oh, so little. To Him be the praise, the honor and the glory from eternity
to eternity.”

― Johannes Kepler

“God, what does it look like to be an academic for you?”

A few weeks ago, God gave me a a very real, tangible picture of what the Christian academic life could be. Dr. Francis Su, a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd college and president-elect of the Mathematics Association of America, was presented with a distinguished teaching award at one of this nation’s largest mathematical conferences. His acceptance speech, was, as he put it, an attempt ‘to explain the gospel of grace in a language academics could understand’.

He later posted the text of the talk on his blog under a post entitled The Lesson of Grace in Teaching, and shared an audio file of the talk . If you only have time to read one blog post today, I would highly encourage you to read his post. It is truly inspiring. 

I came away from the article refreshed and inspired, filled with great hope in the ability of the gospel to transform the academy. It reminded me of two motivations for my vocation that I had previously theoretically subscribed to, but perhaps dismissed as being unsustainable in the increasingly meritocratic and cutthroat ranks of the academy. They were:

  1. To be an academic for the joy of academia; and
  2. To treat others in the academy with grace because of the immeasurable grace we have been shown.

Much of this blog post will be centered around my reflections on Dr. Francis Su’s speech, and how these principles might play out in my own life.

1. Being an academic for the joy of academia

What does it look like to do research for God? For a long time, I let myself be content with some vague notion of academia as a quest for God’s truth. Academia was that pure and perfect path to a fuller enjoyment of His beautiful creation and to a deeper awe at His unfathomable understanding. The more nebulous and indistinct this picture of academic motivation was, the more I could convince myself that it was the driving force in my academic pursuits.

During the first semester of my Ph.D. there came a point when I finally stopped and admitted that I could almost not remember what it felt like to be God-serving, and not self-serving, in my research. But doing so filled me with a great sense of shame. I became paralyzed by a fear that even seeking God through research was at heart a self-serving act, centered on maximizing my personal experience and enjoyment of God. Everything I did became in protest against the selfishness I saw in myself. I was trying to empty myself of the desires of the flesh without filling myself with the goodness of God. And it was a tiring and futile process.

In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch describes three prototypical Ivy League students. There are the ‘legacy students’, those born into privilege and entitlement. There are the ‘strivers’, those who grit their teeth and climb the rungs of the meritocratic ladder. And then there are the ‘children of grace’, those who intentionally assume a daily posture of gratitude and grace. I have always been a little uncomfortable with this classification, because there was always a little niggling voice in the back of my head, wondering whether I was truly a daughter of grace, or an imposter, a striver, striving to no longer strive.

The Lesson of Grace in Teaching reminded me once more that grace is precisely something that does not need to be earned or striven for. Indeed, Romans 5 says that ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more’. God’s grace is more than sufficient for all our trespasses and selfish desires. To be fearful of our inability to earn God’s grace, and by extension to implicitly consider it possible to earn God’s grace, is to think too little of it.

But let us go back to the question of whether searching for encounters with God through academic pursuits is ultimately a selfish endeavor. I realized that perhaps I had been approaching the notion of selfishness from the wrong direction. To be selfless is not to be empty of self, but to be filled with someone else. And if I could experience the fullness of God through my research, if I could be consumed by His being and awed at His glory through my academic pursuits, if I could be filled with the joy of the Creator through my intellectual realizations, then what more worthy pursuit could there be for me? As Jesus told Martha when she worried about all the things she needed to do to truly be serving Him, we need only one thing. To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he says.

This is not to say that every time I sit down to think about my research problems, I am consciously seeking God and filled with joy and awe and ‘holy’ thoughts. I will be the first to admit that I am probably stuck in a weekly cycle of trying to prove something worthy of being shown to my advisor. I also do not mean to dismiss the reality that the modern day American academy thrives on meritocracy, on the notion that you can only increase your value in the eyes of society by demonstrating either your perseverance and effort, or your innate ability. But I know that even if my version of the academic life is not perfect, an ideal exists, and God in his immeasurable grace is drawing me closer to it every day.

2. Treating others with grace because of the immeasurable grace that we have been shown

One of my issues with the academic profession is how systemically self-serving it is. It is hard not to feel indignant or wronged when someone we view as less deserving or less capable receives the very thing we had been striving to achieve. At bible study the other week, our pastor, Charlie Drew, challenged us to consider whether we were really seeking God and truth through research, or seeking our own glory. How would we feel if someone else proved the theorem we’d been working so hard to prove? How would we feel if someone else gained the academic recognition that we felt we had either earned or deserved?

This issue is perhaps best encapsulated by the tenure system. Most budding academics have a love-hate relationship with tenure. It promises a lifetime of security and comfort, freedom to live the cushy life and do whatever you want, so to speak. But the road to tenure is long and arduous. You spend five to six years grinding out paper after paper, trying to prove that you are of value to the university, either because you consistently produce good work, or because you are moving towards some great result in the future. But you are not guaranteed to get tenure. There is the very real possibility that after those six years of toil, you will be hovering just on the wrong side of the line, classified as ‘not quite valuable enough’ and dismissed.

In fact, most of higher education is based on the premise that you must earn and be worthy of everything that you get, because there is just not enough recognition to go around for everyone who deserves it. Most people in the higher education system learn this early on, and so spend a lot of time and energy separating their self-worth from their achievements in academic circles. I definitely believed, almost with a perverse pride, that I was able to separate my own identity from my achievements. My mother raised me to believe that my abilities were a gift from God. never praising me for my achievements,or berating me for (what I perceived to be) my failures, but instead always rejoicing with me in God’s continued goodness to me. I was a child of grace. I was grounded in my personal identity as a child of God, given many good gifts in His grace.

But meritocracy was still a fundamental part of my worldview. Although my personal achievements did not heavily influence my self-worth, I started measuring the value of my classmates and peers in terms of what I perceived to be their intelligence and work ethic. That guy who always asked questions during class? They’re usually not very good questions, so he’s probably not the best mathematician in this class. That guy who always makes comments? They’re always insightful and highlight the fundamental structure of the mathematics we’re looking at, so he will probably go far. Almost all of my human interactions in the mathematical sphere reflected these value judgments to some degree.

Contrast this with God’s judgment of our value and worth:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. …

Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

Isaiah 40:11, 26

Reading The Lesson of Grace in Teaching, I realized that I had been so busy learning to accept grace for myself, that I had forgotten to extend it to others. By not giving grace to others, I was helping to perpetuate the view that in the academic system, a person’s value was measured by their academic achievements. I was complicit in enslaving others to the very same measure of self-worth that I fought so hard to free myself from.

The irony is that the world of academia does not need to be self-focused. The university was designed to be a place of collaboration and community, of collective learning and discovery. Professorships have two main components, research and teaching, one of which encourages collaboration within the established academic community, and another which aims to build up the future academic community. But somewhere along the line, man had perverted this system and made it about the self and the individual.

Francis Su demonstrates that we can live out the gospel of grace by treating students as worthy because they are human beings. Students do not need to be the most hard working, the most intelligent, the quickest on the uptake, the most receptive of our material, to be worthy of our time and attention. And for me, maybe I can live out the gospel of grace by treating my classmates and peers as worthy because they are human beings. They do not need to be more hardworking than me, smarter than me, quicker than me, with deeper academic understanding than me, in order to be worthy of my respect and attention.

I am still slowly working through what a gospel of overflowing grace may look like in my day to day life. The Lesson of Grace in Teaching brought home to me that there are many parts of the gospel worldview that I have become good at articulating on an intellectual level, but don’t believe to be fully realizable in our broken world. I hope that you will be able to join with me in further exploring what the gospel looks like in the academic life through this and my future blog posts.

Irene graduated from Princeton in 2013 with an A.B. in mathematics. She is currently in the first year of her Ph.D. in IEOR (equivalent to ORFE) at Columbia University, where she spends her time pondering how to serve God in the academy and pretending that she knows how to be an engineer.