2 Corinthians 5:17
2. Work, Rest and Restoring Identity

21 Days of Focus: Restoring Rhythm
2. Work, Rest and Restoring Identity    Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor
    15 January 2023

Intro: What’s in the box?

A member of church gave me this book early last year. Half Time by Bob Buford. A book by a Christian business man about how to make the most of the second half of your life.

Bob Buford was a TV station owner from the early days of television. He was wildly successful from a business perspective. But somewhere around the middle of his life, he got to a point in his career where he asked himself: “Is this all there is?”

And so in the book, he describes this pivotal conversation with his business mentor. His mentor, Mike Kami, had been a strategic planner with IBM and Xerox in the early days, and went to consult at Coca Cola – a heavy hitter. And an atheist.

And Buford finds himself asking his mentor: (quote on handout)

What should I do? How could I be most useful? Where should I invest my own talents, time and treasure? What are the values that give purpose to my life? What is the overarching vision that shapes me? Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? How do I get there? 

In this blizzard of wonderment, Mike Kami asked me a simple and penetrating question: “What’s in the box?” 

If you had to decide THE one thing that’s the most important part of your life, the one non-negotiable, the puzzle piece that everything else is built off, the thing that defines and motivates you, what would it be? What’s in the box?

That’s what we’re going to be thinking about today as we open the Bible. So why don’t we pray and ask God to give us wisdom. 

Our heavenly Father, we pray today that you would give us clarity and focus as we think about what the most important thing in our life is. Give us wisdom as we read your word, and keep transforming us into the image of Christ. In his life-giving name we pray, Amen.

Well we are in the middle of our 21 Days of Focus – something we do every January to help us refocus our faith at the beginning of the New Year.

This year we’re calling the series Restoring Rhythm – how to find balance in a busy world. 

We started last week with the premise that, as a society, we have a busyness problem. 

Two cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman have labeled our busyness problem as "hurry sickness." They noticed their patients in this “continuous struggle […] to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time." 

Taken to the extreme, hurry sickness can cause real health issues. But most of us don’t even notice it happening to us, because busyness is such a normal part of modern life. It’s the air we breathe.

But it’s not how life is meant to be. Jesus said:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Commentator F. Dale Bruner said that the rest Jesus is offering us is not a vacation or a mattress to lie down on. Jesus offers us ‘equipment’, a new way to carry life so that our work and our rest are part of a life-giving rhythm. 

So today I want to share the first piece of ‘equipment’ that Jesus gives to help us restore rhythm, and to find balance in a busy world.

And that equipment is to restore our understanding of work, rest and identity (because they’re all tied up together).

1. Order and Disorder

To restore a right understanding of work, rest and identity, we need to go back to Creation.

At creation, God made humans in his image. And he gave us a role to play – bringing order to creation.

God gave Adam and Eve a job: to rule over creation; to subdue it; and to fill it. They were to bring shape and creativity to the world. This is the original pattern for work. Work was good and purposeful and life-affirming. That was day 6 of creation.

Then on Day 7 God rested from his work of creation. And he commanded all of creation to do likewise.

God’s deliberate act of stopping, and resting, shows us that in his world, there is balance between work and rest. Both work and rest are part of the goodness of creation. Work is good. And rest is good. Together work and rest are how God’s people are to experience the fullness of life and purpose in God’s good creation.

But once we get to chapter 3 of Genesis, we see a big disruption when sin enters the world, a big upheaval. 

Sin takes the good order of creation and turns it into disorder.

That leaves us experiencing a disordered pattern of work and rest. Work is often fraught, and rest is not so restful.

This is the result of the curse in Genesis 3:

God says because of sin, we will have thorns and thistles in our work. Work will not always be life-giving and purpose-affirming. It will not always be good. Our work life may be filled with trouble.

That’s not the only trouble that comes as a result of the curse. 

-    Sin creates trouble in good things such as parenting and childbirth.

-    Sin creates trouble in human relationships. The man and the woman now fight with one another, and that spreads into every human relationship.

Sin brings upheaval to the good order of creation; and everything good is brought into disorder. Sin’s corruption makes its way into every corner of creation, every corner of society. And ultimately, into every corner of our own hearts and desires and dreams.

This is an important theological idea to understand. Because sometimes we don’t recognize the disorder. The messiness just seems normal to us. We’ve grown up with it and it’s just what we expect from the world.

Like the two fish who were swimming in the ocean. And one fish says to the other, “The water’s lovely today!” And the other fish says, “What’s water?”

Sometimes we get so used to the way things are, that we forget that things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Disorder is not how our lives are meant to be. 

And that’s where the Christian message is such good news. The gospel of Jesus is all about restoring order to a world disordered by sin. It’s all about undoing the curse of sin, and helping us to recover the purpose we were created for. 

So that’s the first big point: we need to recognize the disorder that sin brings to life, so that we can start to allow Jesus to re-order us…

2. Disordered Identity

There’s a new documentary on Netflix about the lives of tennis players. The first episode is all about Nick Kyrgios, an Australian player who has been hailed the greatest talent of his generation. He’s one of only a handful of players to have beaten the Big 3 – Federer, Djokovic and Nadal – and he beat each of them the first time they played together. Kyrgios is a major talent, but he has never really achieved at the highest levels. He’s just too volatile.

So you watch Kyrgios play, and sometimes he plays with absolute confidence, hits trick shots, get the crowd behind him. Kyrgios is one of the best players in the world when he’s on. But then other times it’s like somebody flicks a switch, and he gets inside his own head. He starts to yell and curse and he implodes.

It’s like his whole identity depends on whether he is winning or losing. 

I think we often share that same disordered thinking when it comes to our identity. Particularly because our identity is often tied to our work.

Our society often equates a person’s work with their value or status as a person. The higher paying the job, the higher the prestige and personal value we assign to that person. Or the more public a role, the more kudos and status they receive.

It also means that we assign less value to those in lowlier paid positions. We assign them less value as humans because in our society, personal value is tied up with work. And so is our identity. 

When we meet someone for the first time, we ask them: What do you do for a living? And whether we mean to or not, we assign them value as a person based on how they respond. We equate their identity with what they do.

And we do the same for ourselves. When our identity is tied up with our work, then it’s good when we’re winning. But what if we’re not? What happens when we retire? If our identity is tied up with our work, then it’s like we lose a part of our identity, or we’re somehow lesser of a person. 

I talked about this on Tuesday at our Hymns and Communion service, the idea that when we retire, the world often looks at us differently because they don’t know who we used to be. They don’t know what we used to do. They don’t see the former football player, the former head of a department, the former mom to six children. Nobody sees that. They just see a person of advancing years, and sadly, we assign them less value as people because they no longer have a job. 

Do you see the disorder with that way of thinking? 

It has implications for the way we think about people with dementia, or diminished mental abilities. We bind personal value and identity to the ability to produce.

No wonder we have hurry sickness. No wonder we can’t rest. Because if we stop, then what happens to our identity? What happens to our value as a person?

This is the water we swim in everyday, but we’re like the fish that has never heard of water. So often we don’t even recognize the disordered way of thinking that is so normalized in our world... 

3. Restoring Identity

So how do we fix our disordered thinking? How do we restore the right understanding of our identity, so that we can restore healthy rhythms of work and rest? 

I think that’s the yoke that Jesus offers – tools to retrain our thinking so that we see the world through his eyes.

The answer starts in creation. 

First we need to remind ourselves that our identity is not derived from our work, but from our status as a beloved child of God. The creation story reminds us that we are each created in the image of God. And that means our innate value and worth as a person is not derived from what we produce in this world, but who produced us. We are loved because of who God made us, not what we have made of ourselves. 

And when we look at how Jesus treated the people he met, we see that principle in practice. Jesus loved everybody who came to him: the rich and the poor, women and children, the sick, the disabled, the outcast. Jesus offered them all equal dignity, regardless of social status. Their worth in his eyes had nothing to do with their earthly achievements.

And the same is true when it comes to salvation. We are not saved because of our work, or our righteous acts, or the roles we played in a church. Salvation is the gift of God! And it is due solely to his love for us, and his merciful grace to pardon our sins through faith in Christ.

We can learn a lot by looking at the way Jesus went about in the world. Like I said last week, Jesus is not just the truth, but the way and the life. We need to learn from him.

Because Christ comes to restore order to a world disordered by sin. He comes to restore right thinking, and to renew our whole approach to the world as he removes the distorting effects of sin from our lives. He comes to make us a new creation, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

When our kids were little, we used to take them to a park that had funny mirrors. You know the sort of mirrors that make you look tall, or short, or fat, or skinny. They’re great fun. But they’re all a distortion of reality.

But when Christ recreates us, it’s like looking in a regular mirror for the first time. We start to see (understand/realize) that all the other mirrors were distorted, they all emphasized the wrong things, they all gave us the wrong perspective on the world. But now in Christ you can see clearly for the first time.

And that’s one of the ways that Jesus brings us rest. By giving us a renewed mind, and restored thinking (1 Corinthians 2:16). When we are weary of all the comparison, when we’re burdened from the pressure of the performance treadmill, when we’re exhausted from trying to create our own identity and legacy through our achievements, Jesus says: Come to me and I’ll show you a better way. Come and I’ll show you a new way to work and rest that is life-giving, and purposeful.

I find it very freeing when the Apostle Paul says essentially that it doesn’t matter what we do in life. What matters is how we do it:

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Paul wants us to do whatever we do for the glory of Jesus. In Ephesians, he tells us that we have been created in Christ to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

God is part of your story, and whatever season of life you are in, you can work (and rest) to the glory of Jesus. You can do whatever your ‘work’ is in a way that serves Jesus, and honors him. Whether you’re in a corporate job, or in a hospital, whether you’re retired or looking after a home, the way you work helps to bring God’s kingdom in whatever realm God has placed you in. 


Come back to Bob Buford, the TV exec from the beginning of the sermon. He finds himself in this conversation with his atheist business mentor. He’s midway through a very successful career, but wondering how to make the most of the rest of his life. 

What should I do? How could I be most useful? Where should I invest my own talents, time and treasure? What are the values that give purpose to my life? What is the overarching vision that shapes me? Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? How do I get there? 

In this blizzard of wonderment, Mike Kami asked me a simple and penetrating question: “What’s in the box?” 

What is the most important thing in your life? What is it that drives your identity, your hopes, your dreams? Where do you find meaning and purpose in life? And how do you know you’ve succeeded at life? What’s in the box?

For Buford, he decided that he wanted to put Jesus in the box at the center of his life. He had a moment of clarity where he realized that all the business success, it meant nothing if it pushed Jesus into the background, if it pushed Jesus out of his life altogether.

He had a moment of clarity that changed everything. 

What about you? What is in the box?