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Working from biblical rest: Reclaiming the gift of time

Reflection from Natt Gantt, Fellow at The Mockler Centre, which joins us as Theme Partner for Faith in Business. 

Natt Gantt, Visiting Fellow, The Mockler Center Natt Gantt
4 min

My entire understanding of time has changed over the last few years as I have undertaken an investigation into the biblical conception of time. 

There are two particular ways in which our modern, western conception of time contrasts with this biblical conception, insights I initially gleaned from reading a provocative essay by M. Cathleen Kaveny titled 'Billable Hours in Ordinary Time: A Theological Critique of the Instrumentalization of Time in Professional Life' in the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.

Time's intrinsic, sacred value

First, the world teaches us that time is only extrinsically valuable; that is, its value is based only on how it is used and that it has no inherent value. Let's consider the illustration of an empty work calendar - do we view time as only valuable when we fill it up by what we feel like we need - or want - to do? The Bible, in contrast, teaches us from the beginning in Genesis that God created time as we know it and that, just like other aspects of his creation, it has intrinsic and inherent worth and is good and sacred.

In her book Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, Dorothy Bass stresses how the Bible teaches that 'time is a gift'. She adds, “When our emphasis on using time displaces our awareness of time as gift, we find that we are not so much using time as permitting time to use us” (p.2). Reimagining time as a good gift from God can help us avoid the 'tyranny of time'. Because all God’s creation is good, its very nature cannot be tyrannical and is intended as a blessing. The pressure we face in managing our time should not lead to guilt or shame.

Biblical rest: the rhythm of Sabbath

Second, our modern conception of time teaches us that time has just one value - that time on Sunday morning has the same value as time on Monday morning. In fact, the ubiquity of technology is continually eroding the differences between day and night, summer and winter such that we live in an endless, rhythmless existence.

Old Testament law, however, is full of specifications for feasts and traditions that are intended to be carried out during the year at certain times, tied to the natural order of the seasons. For one example, see Leviticus 23. The liturgical calendar of current church traditions similarly progresses through the year with periods at certain times designed to reflect important moments in the salvation history. Biblical time sees our moments as unique and calls us to focus on 'this day'. For example, see Matthew 6:34.

This second aspect of time relates specifically to Sabbath, and as I reflected on the uniqueness of time, I came better to appreciate the concept of biblical rest based on the rhythm of Sabbath. Just as the Scripture calls the Israelites to specific feasts at certain times, the Bible establishes a rhythm of Sabbath whereby we have six days and then one day devoted exclusively to rest in the Lord. I have found that following this biblical rhythm of Sabbath is freeing. Following this rhythm is about trust in God. It is about identity.

As one of my former pastors preached years ago, busyness does not equal importance; and resting on the Sabbath reminds us, in a completely counter-cultural way, that our identity is not based on our productivity or accomplishments, but on our created status as image bearers of the King. Indeed, resting on the Sabbath protects us from the tyranny of time and helps us recognise we cannot 'get it all done' and that our ultimate trust should not be in our own abilities but in our sovereign, gracious, and loving God.

Joint partnership with Faith in Business

This reflection was first shared in a webinar for Faith in Business on the topic 'Resistance: Reclaiming our Time', presented by Mockler Fellow Natt Gantt and David Steinegger. The Mockler Centre joins Stewardship as a Faith in Business Theme Partner this year, ahead of their 2024 Cambridge Leadership Retreat 26-27 April on the topic of 'Being Productive - Working from Rest'. 

Faith in Business Cambridge Leadership Retreat 2024 26-27 April

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The Mockler Centre

The mission of the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Public Square is to explore and promote biblical ethics, values, and insights for today’s workplaces and bring helpful knowledge and experiences from workplace laity to the church and its leadership. Through its programs and resources the Mockler Center is a bridge serving seminary and university, community and marketplace, church and public square. 

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Natt Gantt

Natt Gantt is a Visiting Fellow at The Mockler Center. He is also Professor of Law and the inaugural Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at High Point University School of Law. He previously served as Executive Director of the Program on Biblical Law and Christian Legal Studies and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, and as Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Regent University School of Law, where he also served as co-director of Regent’s Center for Ethical Formation and Legal Education Reform.