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How Much Rest Do You Really Need?

I woke up this morning thankful for a good night’s rest. But many of you reading this struggled to get the sleep you need. Everything in nature has an organic rhythm built into it. We see it in the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness. We close our eyes so the brain can begin its repair work. Or…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I woke up this morning thankful for a good night’s rest. But many of you reading this struggled to get the sleep you need.

Everything in nature has an organic rhythm built into it. We see it in the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness. We close our eyes so the brain can begin its repair work. Or we see it in the annual cycle, the four seasons – a time to grow green leaves, and a time of dormancy. 

God made us to walk out a rhythm of work and rest. But what is the right proportion of each? The Bible says we should work hard: 

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Col. 3:23-24)

But what does it mean to “work at something with all your heart?” When do you rest? And how do you rest? What is your natural rhythm? If you’re paid for 40 hours, how many of them do you really work? Do you have a reputation as a hard worker? 

I was reading through a friend’s email just now and this struck me:

While I believe self-care is important, it can become confused with flesh care.  I’ve found that rest and inaction aren’t always the same thing. 

I’ve noticed that anxiety fueled by false beliefs in the midst of inaction can actually be more exhausting than walking in faith while going hard at life. 

Most successful people will tell you how important hard work is. It’s the first thing I look for in hiring people. And, yes, after working hard, you need to rest. But the notion of what constitutes hard work seems to be shifting. And there’s this idea out there that self-care requires not doing work.

The reality is, to better care for our bodies, many of us actually need to work out, not rest. To care for our spirits, we often need a greater sense of purpose and greater involvement (more work, not less) with that activity that gives us purpose.

In fact, it may be that the real problem is that we are trying to get from our “rest” time what only work will produce. It may be that we’ve got the wrong idea about how to achieve the work/rest balance.

When the Bible talks about self-care, it tends to refer to caring for your spirit. For example it says:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Real needs

With 168 hours in a week, if you sleep 8 hours/night, that’s 56 hours set aside for sleep. Work 40 hours and you have 72 left for everything else. That’s a lot of time. 

I have even more available to me – I sleep an average of six and a half hours sleep. I tend to be the first one to wake up in the house. And then I will spend a couple of hours in prayer, meditation, and working out. I know how to find a quiet center in my day. I find rest for my spirit before engaging in the rough and tumble work of the day.

We need downtime if we’re to be productive. The question of how much varies from person to person. We need to recognize that we strike the right balance by having an ongoing conversation with others whose perspective is different than ours, managing values that may be in tension with each other. My drive for productivity may be balanced by a friend who encourages me to play more.

The amount of downtime is often a function of culture. In Europe, it’s normal to take the whole month of August off. Is that rest or entitlement? 


Many complain of a decline in the work-ethic. In our parking lot on a typical day, it’s normal for a lot of folks to show up at the office after nine and to leave before five.

When I am part of a team working on a project, I don’t want to leave anyone carrying more of the load than me. It’s important to me to make promises and then to keep them. 

And after I’ve worked hard, fulfilled my commitments, and been a good steward of my time, yes, it’s important to rest.

What about you? What do you need? What are you seeing in your workplace? How do you define rest and how do you get it?

Comments (7)

  • Probably the best blog I’ve read on the subject. Working hard gives a sweetness to rest; slacking off fosters guilt and steals that sweetness away. I’ve been doing Bikram and Vinyasa yoga for about a year now, and it’s my favourite form of resting (even though I’m working ridiculously hard while doing the thing). I love active down-time because the benefits spill over into every other hour and corner of my day – I feel stronger, I eat better, my body is beat so sleep comes easy, and I have a sense of pride in measuring my progress against who I was a year ago. I think if we can start seeing rest as a form of self-investment rather than a ticket to go comatose, we can better balance rest in work and work in rest.

    • I like your term there, Kayla – “active down-time.”

      I’m built the same way. I know how to be quiet. But I’m not good at being bored or lazy.

  • I’ve enjoyed your challenges about this over the years. Especially the challenge to not allow others to define what rest needs to look like for me.

  • I feel like rest is best while doing things that you love whether work or otherwise and in enjoying sweet moments of quiet after accomplishing something. Always good to be reminded to keep it on the front burner

  • I feel this. Too often laziness is masquerading as self-care, when in actuality self-care is active compared to passive. However, the question I have been pondering more often then not is what does sabbath celebration look like? What does it look like to celebrate-the-moment and let the brain recuperate? Sitting in silence is by far the hardest thing for me. I feel like I need to be ‘proactive’ even within my ‘rest’.

  • Thanks for this! I’ve found that the phrase “Be still” can be confusing. Sometimes, I actually have to move my body in order to help my mind and spirit be still. Rest doesn’t always mean being stationary!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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