4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Rest

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

It happened to me again: a long weekend promised an extra day of rest, but after the break, I was dragging myself out of bed and not relishing the start of the work week.

Had I rested? Sure, the days had been full of non-work activities: a walk in the park, quiet time, visiting an aunt, grocery shopping, dinner with friends, and late-night Netflix! So why did I still feel tired after it all?

Do you, too, feel paradoxically in need of more rest after taking time off to recharge? Why do our modern lifestyles so often deprive us of true rest, and what is the Bible’s idea of rest? After searching for some answers to my dilemma, here are a few reminders I’ve come up with:


1. Recognize that leisure is not always rest

We tend to think of rest as anything that is non-work—from doing nothing, to indulging in our favorite interests. The truth is, however, that although our leisure activities may be a break from the work we usually do, these activities could either be physically tiring in themselves, or we could be pursuing them in a way that leaves us physically, mentally or spiritually drained rather than refreshed.

For instance, as much as an overseas holiday can be a refreshing break from work, travel can involve its own kinds of stress, from countering jet lag to negotiating culture shock, unexpected setbacks, young clamoring children, or a hectic itinerary.

Also, modern entertainment options can leave our bodies untaxed but our minds over-stimulated. With Internet streaming, digital news, social networking, e-commerce services and so much more, all readily accessible, we scroll, click, tap, swipe and hit “play” compulsively. Whether we realize it or not, information overload saps our mental energy. Our time is sucked away, and our minds become glutted with information and vulnerable to the world’s shifting values, trends, and opinions.

No wonder, then, that our leisure choices aren’t truly restful. But what does real restfulness look like?


 2. Understand the kind of rest that God calls us to

In the Old Testament, God commanded the people of Israel to observe a “Sabbath day of rest.” It was a day of rest from work, but it was not simply physical inactivity; it was also a rest to the Lord (Exodus 20:10). By resting, the Israelites remembered and celebrated that God had rescued them from Egypt, and that they belong to Him. Indeed, rest was a reminder that God had set His people apart (Deuteronomy 5:15).

Moreover, the Israelites understood that they were on a journey toward a land God had promised them, a “resting place,” where they would be safe from enemies and where they would live with God (Deuteronomy 12:10). Every Sabbath, they should cease from work—the everyday activities that put food on the table and clothes on people’s back—to look forward to the promised rest and trust in God’s present provision.

During the time of the New Testament, however, the Pharisees and teachers of the law had misunderstood the nature of true rest. They had reduced the Sabbath to myriad prohibitions that relied on their own standards of righteousness instead of trusting in God. Yet, Jesus stakes His claim as Lord of the Sabbath and announces the arrival of “something greater than the temple” (Matthew 12:6-8). God was now dwelling with humankind in the flesh!

Jesus, the Lord of rest, calls us to stop looking for meaning in our own sufficiency or in bogus standards of security. Instead, He offers us rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). True rest is about where we put our trust day to day. Ultimately, true rest is nothing less than the eternal rest of salvation.

Hebrews 4:3 makes this clear: “Now we who have believed enter that rest”—the rest which God had spoken to Israel of. For us, today, the way to eternal rest is believing that Jesus has paid for our sin on the cross. His burden is light because He carries it all; there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation.


3. Seek the things that nourish us, inside and out

As Christians we probably know all this, but we may not have connected it to the way that we rest. How often, for instance, is our rest really about remembering and relying on God’s saving and sustaining power, and rejoicing in His presence? How would rest look like if we were intentional about spending time with God?

As I begin to rethink my own days of rest, I wouldn’t necessarily throw out travel, exercise, friends, or Netflix—we enjoy good things with a heart of thanksgiving. Perhaps I’d guard against physical and mental exhaustion by planning for recovery time after an adventure holiday, or by unwinding to light music instead of checking out my favorite YouTube channels before bed.

But more than that, I’d like to be recharged by the things that truly nourish my soul and anchor me in the peace of God:

  • Reading and remembering God’s Word – “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” (Psalm 19:7);
  • Talking to God – “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b–7);
  • Confessing sins and asking for forgiveness – “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord …” (Acts 3:19);
  • Praising and thanking God – “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (Psalm 13:5–6);
  • Having fellowship that strengthens our faith – “In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.” (2 Corinthians 7:13).

It is no coincidence, by the way, that church should be about all these things. Perhaps we might prioritize our weekly gatherings, and find ourselves truly and mutually refreshed there!


4. Go to bed; get enough sleep

Lastly, although rest is more than physical, it is not less than that. We are embodied souls, and so physical exhaustion or ill health can take a toll on our mental and spiritual wellbeing. I don’t want to minimize Satan or sin’s role when we respond with a lack of thoughtfulness or love, but not getting enough bodily rest does contribute to attitudes and behaviors that don’t please God: short-temperedness, impatience, rash decision-making, selfishness, and so on.

These scenarios, for instance, show me that I am in dire need of more sleep: when I’m a different (and worse) person before my morning caffeinated brew, when I am kept awake by anxious thoughts, when I frantically desire a 48-hour day just to get more things done, when stress makes me more prone to anger or over-hasty judgments, when I feel grumpy if someone asks for my time . . .

In fact, at the end of a diligent day’s work, refusing to stop and go to bed can reveal that, deep down, we don’t really trust that God is in control. We may subconsciously be seeking security in our to-do lists, purpose in our productivity, refreshment in our entertainment, or sustenance in our caffeine hits. In the long-term, none of these things will bring us the rest our bodies and brains need. The God who designed us for a 24-hour day knows what He is doing, so we can rest assured, and awaken refreshed for the next day.


Friends, what will you do differently in your rest? I wish you times of refreshing and pleasant dreams. In the words of the psalmist, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

When We Settle for Less Than Rest

I am as guilty as anyone of cramming way too much into my schedule. It’s not that I have a problem saying “no”—I do that regularly—it’s that I just enjoy living a full life. I had three kids in three years. I’m a pastor’s wife, a writer, an occasional speaker, and a Bible study and worship leader. I own a small business and also try to maintain the organization and peace of my own home. All the while, I’m working my way through graduate school and value living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, sleep, and investing in relationships and my community.

Just writing all of that makes me want to curl up in bed and take a nap. Many of us can identify with this type of craziness, or may have even more than that on our plate. It’s difficult enough to find time to juggle all our different commitments, what more find space for regular rest! However, I’ve found that when I have not made time for rest, I not only see a decline in the quality of what I do, but my soul is left utterly depleted of fuel.

This is because we were created to rest, and to do so in a way which enables us to live with peace and contentment even in the midst of our full lives.

Sounds too good to be true? Then perhaps we need to ask ourselves: What kind of “rest” are we getting?

It is important that we not only make time for rest, but that we get the right kind of rest. Recently, my husband, Andrew, and I realized that we often spend the little amounts of down time we have being sucked into our phones and scrolling through social media, watching a show, or catching up on work.

We reflected on our habits and recognized that we had been pursuing a false rest that checks us out of reality and puts us in a haze—instead of leading us to true rest that refreshes. Not only does this go against the call within Scripture to keep our minds active and alert (1 Peter 5:8-14, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Luke 21:34-36), but beyond that we’ve come to realize that true rest isn’t found in ceasing all activity or not doing anything, but rather ceasing from distraction and finding our strength by dwelling with Christ.


Where do we find true rest?

So, where can we, as believers, find truly rejuvenating rest? Scripture talks about rest frequently, and it tells us exactly where to go to find the rest we need. There is a specific way in which humans were created to rest—in the presence of our Creator.

In Matthew 11:28-30, we find this promise:

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.

The very words, “rest for your souls” sound so hope-filled and life-giving to me. I have found rest for my soul when I come to God’s presence by laying my burdens before Him through worship, prayer, diving into Scripture, and reading solid Christian books—all of these things are not passive activities, but active pursuits of Christ which have the potential to usher us before Christ in life-giving refreshment and renewal.


Resting as a discipline

We must seek out rest in Christ intentionally, as a matter of spiritual discipline. As a mother of young children, I often hear other moms say they don’t have time to get into Scripture. This breaks my heart. All of us could find excuses—I often have myself—but the reality is that I, and all of us, make time for that which we find important, and that normally means saying “no” to things that aren’t as important.

For example, if having our kids in sports is important, we say no to other opportunities in order to bring them to practice and games. If catching up on a show is a priority, we choose that over other items on our “to do” list. If having time alone with our spouse is important, we turn down other engagements or meetings to make time. Since having time alone with God is important in order for us to get rest, we may have to say no to extra sleep, to a show, or even to time out with friends, in order to make it happen.

After realizing we had been pursuing an empty form of rest for so long, Andrew and I have begun getting up before 5 a.m. every day so that we can spend time in Scripture, journaling, praying, reading good books for (hopefully) an hour or so before our children wake up. This simple change has given life to us both—helping us start our day on a note of learning and leaning into our Lord, and has even led to changes in our attitudes, parenting style, and a new level of depth in our marriage as we have conversations about our readings.

Is this fun? Not always. Do I want to hit myself (or my husband) in the head with a pillow when I hear the alarm? Almost every day. But this is the very meaning of a discipline. We may have to force ourselves to do it at first, but it’s something that we will come to hunger and thirst for eventually, because restful time with God is what we’re made for. It must be prioritized and sometimes, it must be planned.

I’ve learned that life will never slow down. Every season brings new challenges, new excitement and new stressors. If we do not live intentionally, life will pass us by, seasons will come and go, and all of the sudden 10 years will be gone and we will find ourselves just as exhausted as ever and further away from the Lord.

May we find our refreshment and our absolute delight in the arms of our Maker, saying with the Psalmist, “As the Deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after You” (Psalm 41:1).


Editor’s Note: For more practical tips on how to get the most of your rest, check out this article.

When Did You Last Stop for A Coffee Break?

A month and a half ago, I got a message from a friend who was newly married and in grad school. Life was busy, he told me, and asked how my husband and I managed our time when we were first married.

I gave him some sage having-been-married-for-three-years advice, which can be summarized as spend time with God and spend time with spouse. The truth was, I really wasn’t the best person to ask at the time. My husband was working full time and freelancing on the side, and we were smack dab in the middle of a trans-Pacific move.

Leading up to this decision, my husband and I had thought and prayed a lot about moving. Given our skills and passions, we felt that, not only would be good for our family to spend time in the area I had grown up in, but that there would also be unique gospel opportunities.

And so, for weeks I packed and cleaned, broke down in tears, watched my two-year-old toddler . . . and packed and cleaned some more. “Quiet time” with God was virtually non-existent. In the whirlwind of life, it was easy to forget why we were moving in the first place.

My husband and I got cranky at each other. I felt like I was doing more work than he was, and he thought the opposite. My toddler watched people come take away his bookshelves and furniture while his parents told him again and again, “I don’t have time to play right now.” No wonder he threw a few more tantrums than usual.

At one point, after exploding at the employees of a not-so-helpful network provider, we decided it was time for a coffee break. The toddler was at the grandparents’, and we escaped to a quiet corner of a coffee shop to re-connect.

As we talked over one by one the things that bothered or worried us, we realized that in the grand scheme of things, none of those things were that important. We could afford the small fee that came with not cancelling our internet properly. If we sold the car for less than we had hoped for, it still wouldn’t put much of a dent in our plans. If worst comes to worst, we could throw those extra bookshelves away instead of making the drive to the local second-hand store.

As my husband and I spent time processing our emotions together, we realized that God had already provided everything we needed. We had money in the bank (more than we had hoped for), we had a place to stay after the move (with family, rent-free), and we both had prospective jobs lined up (with people we really liked). Everything else was, ultimately, trivial.

We re-iterated the reasons we were making this move and the many instances of affirmation by trusted brothers and sisters in Christ. Both of us believed we were doing the right thing as a family. And if this move was for the sake of the family, it was silly to let the move get in the way of family.

After finishing our coffee, we prayed, asking God’s forgiveness for our negligence, thanking Him for His amazing providence, and asking Him for guidance as we moved forward.

It felt good to be on the same page again. My husband recognized and affirmed the work I was doing, and I did the same about the sacrifices he was making for us. We promised to hold each other accountable in terms of Bible-reading and prayer. And we decided that we would both consciously make time for undistracted play with our child, even if that time had to be shorter than one would like.


Setting aside time for God, people and coffee

Our coffee break didn’t necessarily accomplish anything on our “to-do list.” But it was so necessary and so good for us. Just like I told our newly-wed friend, even in the midst of life’s chaos, we need to make time for God, and make time for our spouses.

Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It’s hard to submit when we are so caught up in our own ideas of what needs to get done that we don’t spend time with the other person. Making time even in the middle of a hectic schedule is sometimes a form of sacrifice, but one that often comes with its own reward.

The Bible also says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:4-5).

I had been stressed over the move and all the things I thought we needed to get done. Not all of them had a monetary value, but most of them were things the world expected us to accomplish. But God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Honoring our marriage took faith in that busy time. We had to trust that God would take care of us even if we didn’t finish everything on our to-do list, even if we made some drastic mistake or forgot something of utmost importance. We had to trust that God knew our human limitations, and that He would look out for us even as we took an hour here or two hours there to reconnect with our spouse, to serve each another, to see to our child’s emotional needs.

In the end, by God’s indescribable grace, we made the move. We’re still not entirely sure how everything worked out so well, except that God blessed us with incredible friends and families. And that He pushed us to take a blessed coffee break when we most needed it.


Are You Burnt Out, Bored, and Barely Rested?

When I began working full-time earlier this year, I struggled with the long hours and intense work. Having been a student pretty much all my life, adjusting to the transition of #adulting was—and still is—painful.

As a TV journalist working 12-hour shifts and weekends, I can go days without seeing my family; having any semblance of a social life is a privilege.

I constantly felt burnt out and exhausted from both work and having to interact with so many people on a daily basis. So all I wanted to do on my days off was to hide in my room and shun all human contact. I craved me-time—just me, my ice-cream, and Downton Abbey, that is.

Yet I felt guilty for neglecting those around me. So I would arrange meet-ups with friends and family, filling the remaining blanks in my calendar with more outings, gatherings, and dates.

When it came to resting, I tended to veer to extremes: either trying to squeeze in as many appointments with my family, boyfriend, or friends as possible; or not doing anything at all and binge watching Downton Abbey for the entire day.

But whether I spent my day off shut up in my room alone, or out and about with loved ones, I’d feel just as tired by the end of the day as I would have been if I had worked that day. It was as if the more “rest” I had, the more unrested and restless I felt.

I soon discovered that my perpetual state of exhaustion and feeling that I didn’t have even enough time came because I was “feeding” my fatigue the wrong way (by spending time on my Facebook or Instagram feed).

I wasn’t feeding myself with real rest—the kind of rest lavished upon us from the Shepherd of our souls, who alone gives true peace and abiding rest (John 14:27).

Over the last couple of months of trying to reconcile work and rest, I’ve learned two lessons on taking a break from our fast-paced lifestyles.


1. We were created and commanded to rest

Rest is a repeated refrain throughout Scripture, where we see God singling out getting enough rest as a command. From the very beginning in Genesis 2:2-3, rest was prioritized, as reflected in how God created for six days before taking a break—not because He needed it, but to set the standard for humankind to follow.

In the Ten Commandments, God commanded resting on Sabbath as a requirement of the Law: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).


2. Jesus alone is our rest

But lest we think this refers to mere physical rest, in Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus beckons: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Our ultimate rest is found in Christ alone, in whom we can cast our anxieties and burdens onto because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Unlike in the Old Testament where the Jewish Sabbath was strictly ordained and observed, we have Jesus, who is our Sabbath rest, and in whom we enjoy rest—not just once a week, but always.

We find complete rest in Jesus—anytime, anywhere (Exodus 33:14).


This begs the question: What does it mean to rest in Jesus?

The simple answer is to abide in him.

 Abiding in Jesus means being intentional about how we spend our free time (Ephesians 5:15-17). It means choosing to spend time with Jesus, and not wasting away our time on worthless and trivial pursuits (Psalm 101:3, 119:37).

Abiding in Jesus means dwelling, soaking, and lingering in His presence—be it as we turn to Him in prayer, meditate upon His word, or as we worship Him in song and praise (Psalm 27:4; John 15:1-7; Philippians 4:8).

For a while I struggled with feeling guilty about wanting, even needing, to watch the latest episode of Modern Family or Conan’s latest escapades in Israel. While there’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about watching our favorite show or surfing our favorite website, we must be careful that it doesn’t overshadow our time with God.

A good way of knowing whether this has happened is to ask ourselves: Do I desire to spend my time doing or watching this rather than spending time with God?

In his book, Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World, Teaching Director of Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka, Ajith Fernando, describes those who swap activity for their identity in this way:

“they become restless souls, afraid to stop or slow down their frantic pace and busy activity. They work without taking a break because they sense that stopping will force them to confront the emptiness of their hearts. To avoid this, when they do stop to take a break, they enter an imaginary world offered by TV or some other pastime. These experiences, though they can be good when experienced in moderation, are never a substitute for silence in the presence of God.”

If this describes you—as it did for me—it may be time to take a step back and do the following. Pray for your heart, asking the Lord to give you the desire to spend time with Him, and delight in Him as you do. If it helps, find a quiet place where you can spend with Him without distractions. Open your Bible and dive in. Meditate and journal about what the Lord speaks to you about.

These days, when I feel burned out, bored, or barely rested, I put away my laptop and phone, and pray. I put on my favorite worship playlist. I read His word, sometimes along with quiet time material. Other times, I read literature that points me to Christ. I ponder, and talk to and thank God over what I’ve learned.

I’ve found that an afternoon spent this way gives me more deep soul rest than an entire day skimming superficial entertainment. And interestingly enough, my desire for saturating myself in social media has decreased to the point that I actually feel bored when I do.

It may sound hard and almost counter-intuitive to read the Bible rather than binge watch BuzzFeed, but let’s not give up striving to enter into His rest. And when we do, we’ll find that Jesus indeed refreshes and satisfies our souls in a way no one and nothing else can (Jeremiah 31:25).