When I was in school I would have to take regular breaks from studying to rest so I could have the energy and focus to get back to the grind of reading, writing papers, and going to class. My primary form of rest was watching TV shows. I powered through Lost, Arrested Development (multiple times), Breaking Bad, and many others. This was the first time that I began to take advantage of media streaming platforms like Netflix and I loved it! (I, of course, didn’t pay for it myself, but used my brother’s account. Who really pays for Netflix?). I could just watch episode after episode and relax. My last semester I started to allow myself a window every Saturday from 5pm until bed where I would not burden my mind with thoughts of school, but would just rest, which always consisted of hours of TV watching and eating food that was terrible for me. I would engage in something mindless to allow myself to rest from my work and to energize me to go back to work.
It seems to me that for many people rest is synonymous with engaging in mindless activities like watching TV shows and movies, getting on social media, and playing video games. We are stressed by work and the responsibilities of life and feel we need to relax and veg out. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these forms of media and technology. But they, like anything else, can become sinful when our motivation in going to them, what we glean from them, and how much time we spend on them are not in accordance with our calling as disciples of Jesus who are to be growing in holiness and engaging in the mission of God. Even good gifts from God can be sinful when they pull us away from God and/or take God’s place on the throne of our hearts.
As we go to these mindless activities for rest we need to ask ourselves if they are truly successful at helping us rest. Why do we rest? What does the Bible tell us about rest? What constitutes true rest? And what should we do to rest the way God desires us to rest?
Are We Really Resting?
I think that most people who come to mindless activities for rest do so because they are overwhelmed, are physically and/or mentally tired, are putting off something difficult, or are just indulging in something entertaining. The cares, responsibilities, and stress of life get to us, we feel overwhelmed by it, and we want to escape. We are exhausted physically and mentally and need to relax. We don’t want to put forth the energy, focus, and discipline required to complete that hard task, so we turn to mindless activities, which is merely distracting us from something difficult. And sometimes we just want to be lazy and indulge our appetite for entertainment. But so frequently we have the propensity to try and justify this behavior by saying, “I’ve earned this,” “This will give me a break so that I can be more productive,” or “I’m just resting.”
But do mindless activities really give us the rest we claim we’re after? To a degree, yes. In engaging in these activities, we are giving our bodies and minds a break. We are finite beings who need to take care of our physical and biological needs to be able to function optimally. But I think more often than not the answer is no. The stressors of life in a fallen world affect us not only physically and mentally but spiritually because we are holistic beings. Being physically and mentally tired affects our souls and our fatigue goes much deeper. Maybe you have experienced that deep sigh of exhaustion that communicates that you need someone or something to intervene in your life to bring rest and restoration because you feel like you’ve got nothing left. I know I have. But going straight to mindless entertainment to give us rest shifts our object of rest from God to something else. In doing this we confuse true rest with entertainment and do not address the heart-level spiritual issues that ail us.
Rest is good. Our cultural god of productivity yields to the one true God who rested on the seventh day after creating the universe (Gen. 2:2). This was a rhythm that God built into the created order and was so important that He commanded His people to rest one day every week (Lev. 23:3). This was known as the Sabbath and was a day of rest dedicated to the Lord (Ex. 20:8-11). While this commandment is not to be followed with legalistic observance for New Covenant people, the principle of Sabbath still stands as wise advice. Tim Keller tells us, “The purpose of Sabbath is not simply to rejuvenate yourself in order to do more production, nor is it the pursuit of pleasure. The purpose of Sabbath is to enjoy your God, life in general, what you have accomplished in the world through his help, and the freedom you have in the gospel—the freedom from slavery to any material object or human expectation. The Sabbath is a sign of the hope that we have in the world to come.” True rest means ceasing work to enjoy God and His good gifts, to enjoy the freedom and hope of the gospel, and to celebrate what God has done in and through us because of Jesus.
With this understanding it is easy to see how indulging in mindless entertainment falls short of true biblical rest. Rather than resting in God’s grace and good gifts, mindless entertainment distracts us from these spiritual realities and instead draws us into the alternate realities presented in TV shows, movies, and video games. Here we feed on distraction and entertainment rather than being spiritually nourished by the sweetness of relationship with the Lord (Ps. 34:8; Ps. 119:103; Deut. 8:3). Rest does not just happen to us as we sit back and relax. Merely ceasing activity does not mean we are being restored. In fact, there is an active component to rest. We must pursue that which truly brings rest and restoration. Instead of passively consuming mindless entertainment, we should actively engage our minds to come to know, enjoy, and worship Christ alone.
True Rest is Found in Christ
Augustine said in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.” True rest involves more than physical rest for our bodies, it includes spiritual rest for our souls. And this spiritual rest only comes through faith in Jesus. He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Rather than working to prove ourselves or finding our identity in work, we look to Christ to tell us who we are and trust that His work for us on the cross is sufficient. We view Jesus as both the source and object of our rest rather than deceiving ourselves into thinking that mindless entertainment provides the soul rest we long for. And as we rest in Christ in the present we experience a foretaste of the eternal rest we will enjoy as we are with Jesus forever.
So, what can we do to truly rest in an entertainment driven culture? I think the first thing we should do when we approach an activity or inactivity for rest is to reflect on our motivation. Are we truly trying to rest or are we just looking for an excuse to be lazy and entertained? Augustine also said in his Confessions, “human sloth pretends to long for rest, but what sure rest is there except in the Lord?” I’ve wasted entire days binge-watching Netflix shows in an effort to rest. I walked away from those days feeling rested but not experiencing the true soul-rest that is only found in Jesus. I just wanted to indulge my appetite for laziness and entertainment.
We also need to ask ourselves if we are looking to something other than God to give us rest. We should enjoy the gift of creativity, artistry, and entertainment that TV shows and movies have to offer, but in partaking of them we should continually be pointed to Jesus. Thank Him for these good gifts. And, ultimately, enjoy God above all else for giving us good things in His creation to enjoy and for offering freedom and hope in Christ.
Establish rules of rest because rest takes intentionality. Consider the things in your life that stir your affections for Jesus and engage in those activities. This could be a hike, a fine meal, or playing board games with close friends. Find a hobby. But see creation as a means to point you to Christ. Disconnect from your phone, social media, and work. These things often add stress and turmoil to our lives and only hinder rest. Commit to disengaging from them or severely limiting them during intentional times of rest.
Far from encouraging everyone to cut all forms of media and entertainment out of their lives, my desire is to have us all understand and pursue true rest in Christ. I still struggle to see rest as an active pursuit of Jesus as opposed to passively enjoying The Office for the fifth time. But as life-giving as the hilarity of The Office can be, it has not given me eternal life. Only Christ has done that. Therefore, I need to examine my engagement in media and entertainment so I won’t deceive myself into thinking it is providing true rest, and to ensure that I am glorifying God in my viewing. And as I enjoy the true Sabbath rest that is found in Christ I get the privilege of imitating God as I rest from my work just as He did from His (Heb. 4:9-10).