Put Laziness to Rest

God often has a backwards way of dealing with brokenness in our world. Conquering, but not by the sword (Matthew 26:52). Defeating death with death (Hebrews 2:14). Preaching parables to bad listeners (Matthew 13:13). Fighting laziness with rest. Because of the complexity of laziness, we need to pay close attention to the ways God addresses our complacency.

To shout at men, “Get to work!” ironically reinforces a dysfunctional cycle of both work and rest. It fails to say what really needs to be said. It isn’t all that hard to see why God punishes his people by making them “forget festival and Sabbath” (Lamentations 2:6). Let me speak for ancient Israel and male millennials: Bad resters make bad workers. Lazy men need a new theology of rest.

1. Rest from stubborn foolishness.

“‘Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the Lord, ‘who carry out a plan, but not mine’” (Isaiah 30:1). Even the lazy make plans. The grace God gives his children is in knowing the difference between the plan of the fool (Proverbs 3:29) and the plan of the wise. Those who plan well have joy (Proverbs 12:20).

With the Sabbath, God tells us to stop winging it and hoping for the best. Hope through planning. Faith and intentionality are not at odds for us. Stop all of the busy work, and carry out the Sabbath task of getting your own heart and life in order. Yes, planning itself takes time and energy. Halt as many activities as possible. But don’t stop and collapse into mindless inactivity. That’s a cycle of laziness — fake, shallow rest — not rest. Cease your vain labors so that you can truly work, and work well. Stop, so that you can reorient your rhythm from foolishness to wisdom, so that you can see and cease ineffective cycles of work and rest.

2. Rest from self-indulgence.

Laziness is an intoxication with some false god — pleasure, escape, comfort, self, or others. “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you” (1 Samuel 1:14) “that you may know that I am the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 29:6). Wine stands for the horde of idols clamoring at the gate of the human heart — every human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Laziness prizes many things, but gains nothing. The sluggard fails to fulfill his responsibilities. He “does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).

“Lazy men need a new theology of rest.”

There is great freedom in having our eyes opened — in realizing that when we are lazy, our sedentary state is not innocent. Someone or something is always pulling the chain around our neck: “Stop.” “Act.” “Indulge.” “Submit.” “Whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). Laziness is not the reclusive passivity it pretends to be. It is active obedience to someone, to something other than Jesus Christ. The Lord of the Sabbath offers us freedom from that: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

3. Rest from trying to be God.

Sabbath rest is not some mystical form of sustainable energy — a cosmic timeout that takes the edge off of life’s anxiety. No, Sabbath is rest in God. It is the practice of dependence. When you don’t have to be God, you don’t have to be in control of everything. Life’s pressures are put in a much broader context than me — my needs, my ability, my fears. What seems like an impossible situation for you is a walk in the park for the sovereign one working all things for your good (Isaiah 28:2; Romans 8:28).

Stop withdrawing from a world that doesn’t exist — one in which you think you have to control everything or else it crumbles. Addiction is one frantic attempt to escape from these pressures. We indulge in addictions because we despair. We are deprived of something we desire, and there is no end in sight. The Sabbath provides a space to learn about and fulfill the desires beneath our desires — the legitimate human needs beneath the twisted cravings we feel on the surface.

The Sabbath, instead of reinforcing our grand and pathetic notions that we are god, gives us rest in another God: Jesus Christ. “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” (Exodus 20:8–10). More than resting from your 9-to-5, from the grind of the mundane, rest from trying to be God. Rest from whatever being divine looks like for you. And stop trying to control future worlds while you’re at it: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).

4. Rest from lesser pleasures.

C.S. Lewis notes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum.” Lewis is not talking about innocent pleasures. He’s talking about gods — relentless, demanding, slave-driving gods.

Xbox. Brewing. Roasting. WoW. ESPN. Photography.

“Laziness is not the passivity it pretends to be. It is active obedience to something other than Jesus Christ.”

They are our easy-bake mud puddle gods — simply sit, add water, and worship. What gets you out of bed (or off the couch)? To withdraw, to procrastinate, to stumble through a blurry haze of work days just waiting for the next opportunity to get back on the couch, back to the workshop, back on Netflix, or back to the gym, that isn’t life — and none of us is honestly or passionately arguing that it really is.

Jesus Christ offers the habits of a happy, hard-working, rest-filled life. His cycle does not replace hobbies, but puts them in their rightful place in our hearts. Resting from purposeless joy allows us to escape from purposeless work, “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). The Sabbath gives us the purpose and resources we need to prioritize and expend ourselves in a way that maximizes our life and joy.

For every lazy guy you know who was convicted and changed through being mocked, I’ll give you ten who were driven deeper into withdrawal from reality and into addiction. The commandment to act without motivation — without purpose — for the sake of work or manhood itself will likely only lead a man deeper into laziness. If we are going to tell men to get to work, or man up, we should be prepared to compel them with grace and truth, real reasons to work hard and rest well.

Jesus Christ is more than an example for men. He embodies grace in weakness. He is the Savior of weak men, who will sin in their weakness for the rest of their lives. “He gives power to the faint . . . young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:29–31). Christ is far more than the male archetype. He is the forgiver of men who have not followed his example (Colossians 1:14), and over time he empowers them to be more like him (2 Corinthians 12:8–10).

5. Rest in God’s arms.

Jesus both models and empowers true work. “When he had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). He sits down for us so that he can rise up in us. Jesus rests on our behalf so that he can work on our behalf. Notice the rest-work order: “He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Jesus rests unto work. He completed once for all the work that set in motion the work he now does in us (Philippians 2:13) until he completes us (Philippians 1:6).

“The Sabbath undermines our grand and pathetic notions that we are god, and gives us real rest in the true God.”

“The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). Not the disapproving older generation of men. Not the man-bashing preacher. They are not the gatekeepers to the Sabbath. It is Jesus Christ, the Lord who died to rescue us from laziness. His rest-unto-work pattern may take time to turn a lazy man into a working man, but his grace and power are sufficient for the task.

Luke records that the apostles, “returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away” (Acts 1:12). Many men are there: only a Sabbath day’s journey away from real rest and real work — from the mundane glory of everyday life, from the proper place of innocent pleasures, from freedom from addictions, from a manageable and effective and active work life.

It will only make things worse if a lazy man tries to work without the broader context of a resting life. Without rest in God, there isn’t a will or force strong enough to break the cycles of male laziness. We all know “unredeemable” men. But none of us knows a limited Holy Spirit. No, with God all things are possible, even remodeling a man’s frantic, lazy heart into a resting, working one.

God truly has gives us a better cycle:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5–8)

A Practical Step

Many of you might still be left asking, But how do I stop being lazy? One step is to read the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. The lazy man is the man who feels overwhelmed and inefficient, and tries to escape. McKeown offers tangible, practical ways to begin inching out of cycles of inefficiency and complacency.

Rest from the non-essentials. Rest from feeling guilty for failing at things you don’t want to do, and trying to impress people who you don’t need to impress. Sabbath begins when you go into your room and pray to your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:6), not with a bunch of self-help books. Not with mere resolve. Not mainly with grit.

With space and time with God, receive the wisdom God has given us to make our work and our rest meaningful. Under the tyranny of today, laziness is simply the most meaningful reality we can conceive. Under the loving hand of God’s Sabbath rest, though, the unrelenting tyrant of laziness loses its power — day by day, Sabbath by Sabbath, inch by inch. Then, life and work will be filled with more meaning, relief, and fruitfulness.

is a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute.