Although I couldn’t identify with a lot of the things in the Bible personally, very little was as strange to me as the concept of Sabbath. I figured that the coming of Jesus got rid of the concept of Sabbath laid out in the Ten Commandments, because, c’mon-what good would a day of sitting around do in today’s modern society? However, the past few months have taught me that my perspective of the Sabbath has been extremely twisted. Jefferson Bethke says in his latest book It’s Not What You Think,
“Sabbath is when heaven and earth meet in time-in a moment. Especially in our Western work-addicted society, we need to set aside sacred time that resists the addiction to work, technology, and consumerism. Time isn’t sacred to us. It’s a commodity, and we all treat it as such…A quiet, miserable day of beating yourself up over all your sins, isolating yourself (and alienating others) while you pray, or just killing time until Sunday is actually anti-Sabbath.”
You see, the picture in my mind when I thought of Sabbath has always resembled either what the Pharisees did, or something out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book (and if you don’t get that reference, your childhood officially sucked). I always thought it was a day where you had to do nothing at all; it didn’t matter if that thing was a chore or something you treasure doing, you just couldn’t do it. I thought you simply had to sit there all day and stare at a wall. (Slight exaggeration added, but still very similar to what I thought.)
I’m slowly learning that God doesn’t ask for us to do something if there’s not a reason behind it that will be for our good and his glory. The reason that we’re called to observe the Sabbath is because we get worn out by our daily lives. We were created to have rhythm in our lives, to have periods of rest. Even in Genesis, as soon as mankind was created, we entered into a day of rest before we started any work. We were created to work from a place of rest, not work until we are so sick and tired we have to stop and take a rest.
One of the best books I’ve read on this subject is Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. He writes,
“It’s so concerning that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less. We don’t have healthy routines. We can’t keep our feasting and fasting apart. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Sunday has lost its significance. Everything is blurred together. The faucet is a constant drip. Life becomes a malaise, until we can’t take any more and spiral into illness, burnout, or depression.”
Folks, we weren’t created to work until we burn out. We were created for rhythms of rest and work through strength not our own. We’re designed to need that rest, that time with God, and the coming of Jesus to this planet didn’t get rid of that need-it redesigned it. The Sabbath is no longer a legalistic list of rules; it’s a delight. God has purposely called us to set a whole day apart to slow down and reconnect with him while doing the things that fuel us and give us new strength for the days ahead.
Thus, I have begun the journey of reclaiming the art of the Sabbath in my life. These are a few of the things that I have learned.
It doesn’t have to be Sunday.
Although I do usually claim Sunday as my Sabbath day, it doesn’t always have to be. I know for most of the pastors at my church, Sundays are extremely busy days for them; it wouldn’t make sense to claim a day of rest on a day that is regularly busy. This goes for all of you. If Sundays are busy, a day you have to work or not a good day for your family, you can claim any day of the week as Sabbath.
Sabbath looks different for each person.
The beautiful thing about the Sabbath is that it is so unique and individual; what needs to happen to turn a normal day into a day of rest between Jesus and I could look completely different for my brother.
Do the things that fill; ditch the things that drain.
The two key things about Sabbath are that you are being filled, rested, and that you are connecting with Jesus. This means that this day should be about doing the things that fill you up, the things you love to do. For me, this means that I don’t do homework, I don’t check or answer email and I try to stay off of social media because quite frankly, it’s an energy stealer. It means that I spend more time in the Word, that I have time to write, to play my instruments, to clean (because that’s something I love to do that makes me feel great). I can meet a friend for coffee, watch a movie with my sister or go for a run if I feel like it. The Sabbath gives us the opportunity to do the things we love, the things we miss having time to do throughout the week. If it fills and refuels you and delights your heart, it’s Sabbath worthy.
The Sabbath was created for community.
Jefferson Bethke also said in his book, “We are all human image-bearers of God, and everyone (while resting) is the same, we are reminded of God’s ultimate heart.” We fill so much of our time with the things of this world that time for authentic community becomes very rare. The Sabbath is a day where connecting with people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, is something that we joyfully have the time to do. The Sabbath is the perfect day to spend time with family, grab coffee with a hurting friend or have people over for dinner. God created the Sabbath with the two priorities of reconnection and rest so we should take advantage of having the time to connect with others.
Protect your Sabbath day, but don’t be legalistic about it.
The world tells us we should be going one hundred miles a minute, so having a day to slow down and rest is extremely contradictory. Thus, it’s important to protect the time; be ready to explain, to say no to the things that will drain you or that you dread, et cetera. However, God didn’t create the Sabbath to be a day of saying ‘I can’t’ and begrudging the fact that you’re resting while stressing out about the fact that the amount of items on the to do list is growing. If you have finals week coming up and desperately have to finish a project, you can either find a better day that week to have a day of rest, or you can accept the fact that you had a bit of interrupted rest this week, and look forward to having an uninterrupted day next week. The second you start to turn the Sabbath into things you can and cannot do is the second you have lost the point.
In Matthew 12:8, Jesus says that he is the ‘Lord of the Sabbath’. He also says ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) If you’re living on the edge of burnout, feel like you don’t even have time to breathe and are overwhelmed by the weight of everything you have to do, he knows. Embrace the Sabbath; it was created to help you exchange your exhaustion for his strength. Since I began practicing the Sabbath every week, although stress may come, I don’t feel like I’m fighting through the week and fighting sin from a place of exhaustion and emptiness; I know I’m fighting from a place of his strength and peace. The Sabbath was created for you to treasure, and I pray you do so.