Working Out of Rest
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Have you ever had a song stuck in your head that won’t go away? Recently, the theme from “Chariots of Fire” was stuck in my head. My wife was sick of hearing me play the song, but I couldn’t seem to shake it off. This may be because at a young age I watched the movie Chariots of Fire and it left an impression on me.

The impression this classic story has left on me is its theme of working hard out of a deep, inner rest of the soul.

Balancing work and rest

For many of us, the relationship between work and rest is tense. We know that if we want the right GPA, the right internship, the right job, or the right lifestyle, then we need to work hard to get it. Thirty years ago a university degree could get you a good job. Today, a university degree gets your foot in the door. Everywhere we turn we hear the same message: you need to work hard, very hard, if you want to achieve your dreams.

But at the same time, we know we need rest. We long for rest but struggle to know how we can fit rest into our lives. Movies, parties, and weekend getaways offer some temporary relief from the treadmill of our lives; however, they can’t seem to cure the restlessness of our souls.

Recently, I was studying in the library and was closing off a full day of work. With one hour left to go, I was really tired. I began to doze off and then tried to pull myself together. But the reason I pulled myself together played out this way in my mind: “I need to finish. If I don’t I’ll feel like I’ve failed, and I can’t be happy about today if I feel this way.” In that moment, I was basing my identity on my performance. I was working out of insecurity in my identity, not out of a rest in my soul.

Balancing work and identity

In the movie Chariots of Fire this theme of working out of rest is contrasted between two Olympic runners, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. Both men have trained hard to compete in the Olympic games but with two different motivations. Abrahams, an English Jew, runs to conquer the prejudices he has experienced. He runs to prove himself.

Time and time again throughout the training, Abrahams becomes discouraged and anxious because he feels he is failing to measure up and fears losing. He says: “I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor, 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence.” Abraham’s inner anxiety is contrasted with Liddell’s inner rest.

Liddell runs out of his belief that through Jesus, God has been graciously accepted him and made him fast to bring glory to God. While Abrahams runs with a weariness born out of trying to always prove himself, Liddell runs out of an inner rest from having peace with God, motivated out of gratitude to run for the glory of God. Liddell is quoted in the movie as saying “when I run, I feel His [God’s] pleasure.”

There’s work that arises out of restlessness and there’s work that arises out of an inner rest of the soul.* It may feel like a subtle difference, but it’s actually life changing. Do you run from day to day out of restlessness or is your work done out of a rest in your soul? Can you say, like Eric Liddell, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure”?

My hope in finding the rest lies in the One who said, “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

*Tim Keller “Work and Rest

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2 thoughts on “Working Out of Rest

  1. D. Jay Martin

    Thanks for this post. I stumbled across this blog while writing a post reviewing this film for a theology and culture blog that I contribute to. I’ve found Chariots of Fire to be the most significant movie to my life. It is the most profound piece of art (that I have come across) that speaks to the curse of fallen man and the redemption of Christ offered to him. I find myself relating deeply to both Abrahams and Liddell. This story speaks to the struggle to “justify” myself through my accomplishments, and the freedom to feel His “pleasure”. This is the place each man finds himself in. The call of God to co-create in pleasure (Rev 4:11) and the struggle of flesh to work for justification.

    I love sports. But I hate the self-definition that men believe (or hope?) exists in athletic performance. Sport is art. Art is creation. Creation is to be co-pleasurable. This story speaks to this truth like no other film I have seen.

    Thanks and blessings.

  2. Eric David Nielsen

    Hi D. Jay, thanks for your comments. Sorry for the horribly late response. It seems like rest and having significance in life are seen at odds with one another. I think we instinctually believe that if we work harder, we will have more significance in life. I think Chariots of Fire offers a critique of this treadmill pursuit in life. This is a constant personal battle for me. It can become so subtle that my work becomes wrapped up with my identity such that I feel miserable if they were to be divorced from one another. I think God revealing himself in Christ shows us a better way to live though-where my identity is given from him and nothing I do can make me earn his love more than he already has for me.

    What in particular do you mean in “co-creation?”

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