In the Christian tradition of my early formative years, one day each week was uniquely different. That day was Sunday. As a farming family, we got out of our work clothes, put on our Sunday best, crammed into our car and made our way to a small country church. After church we had a scrumptious family dinner, and unlike many of the farmers nearby, my father would do only essential farm work in tending to our animals. I remember my mom saying to me, “As Christians, Sunday is our Sabbath, a day of rest.”
Sadly, in the years following my childhood the weekly rhythm of a Sabbath day was in many ways lost. Looking back I realize there were several blinding factors that contributed to Sabbath neglect in my life, including overcorrecting Sabbath legalism, a penchant toward workaholism, and perhaps most surprising, was my pastoral calling. When I became a pastor Sunday became a workday and another day of the week was not intentionally and diligently set aside and protected for Sabbath rest. The good news is after years of neglect, building a more consistent Sabbath rhythm in my life has become increasingly important and life giving. I also believe that a weekly Sabbath rhythm is really important for the flourishing and formation of every apprentice of Jesus. So what is the big deal about a weekly Sabbath day? Why a Sabbath day?
Why A Sabbath Day?
Let’s take a look at what the Bible says regarding the Sabbath. Sabbath is a Hebrew word that means rest, tranquility, peace and delight. A Sabbath day is actually built into the very fabric of original creation, described for us in the very first book in the Bible. After original creation, before sin and death entered God’s good world, God rested on the seventh day. In Genesis chapter 2 we read, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done. And he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…”
In his classic book entitled, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that embedded in creation design is the truth that we were created in time, but with more than time in mind. Sabbath points us to eternity deeply planted in our hearts. Heschel writes,
“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
The importance of six days of work and one day of rest was anchored not only in the gracious rhythms of creation design but also reinforced to God’s covenant people in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In the book of Exodus we read that the fourth commandment set apart the seventh day of the week. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (set apart). The Bible recounts how God’s covenant people tragically corrupted the inherent goodness of the Sabbath day. The problem was that God’s covenant people lost sight of the big picture of Sabbath. They made Sabbath about adherence to a bunch of soul-suffocating religious rules, to the point of virtual absurdity. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to the pursuit of a growing intimacy with God, it became a soul-suffocating yoke of works righteousness seeking to merit favor with God. Rather than a day of joy and restful delight, it became 24 hours of prideful self-righteous nit-picky drudgery. But Messiah Jesus made it clear that he was Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus framed Sabbath not first and foremost as a day we set aside each week as good and life-giving as that is, but ultimately Himself as the one and only Son of God we know and are deeply known by. The Sabbath ultimately points us to a person, the person of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The New Testament writer of Hebrews reminds us Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Through saving and life-giving faith in Jesus our Lord and Savior “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” This Sabbath rest Jesus invites us to experience as we put on his yoke of apprenticeship. It is in his yoke we find true Sabbath rest for our souls. It is this Sabbath rest that woos us to our future ultimate rest in the New Heavens and New Earth. When we carve out a Sabbath day from our busy and distracted lives, it allows the fresh and hopeful breezes of eternity to blow in our longing hearts. Sabbath rest is an appetizer for heaven. So how do we better experience a weekly Sabbath?
How Do We Experience A Weekly Sabbath?
How do we live more fully into a day set apart each week? For many of us that day will be Sunday. Whatever day you choose, let me offer six suggestions that I trust will be helpful, life- giving and healing for you and those you love.
First, block off in your calendar a weekly day for Sabbath. For many of us our week is overly scheduled so if we do not plan ahead, our Sabbath day will get crowded out. Let others around you know what your Sabbath day is and ask them to respect that commitment.
Second, embrace a technology fast. Minimize the distractions that come from screen time whether that is your phone or computer. I know many today who literally put their smartphones in a drawer for their Sabbath day. If you are married and have children, make this commitment as an entire family. It may sound difficult, but if you will practice this discipline the relational and wellbeing rewards will be soon evident.
Third, avoid any work related matters and emails. A true emergency may demand your immediate attention, but avoid any work related matters that are not of an emergency nature. Plan ahead as much as possible to cover work responsibilities so that a day of rest will not compromise the importance God places on the stewardship of your paid and unpaid work.
Fourth, embrace a slower pace of unscheduled unhurried time. Enjoy extended conversations, relaxing meals and fun activities with those closest to you. Allow for spontaneity in your day.
Fifth, spend an extended time with God. If your Sabbath is Sunday make attendance at corporate worship a priority, but also carve out some personal time to read the Scriptures, to listen to God’s voice and pray.
Sixth, put yourself in the path of beauty. For many, the healing aspect of beauty is found in extended walks in nature or enjoying nature in some way. For others it may be reading a book, playing or listening to music, enjoying an art museum, making a craft of some kind or playing a round of golf on a manicured golf course. In what place or activity do you feel God’s pleasure? One of the greatest gifts of Sabbath is experiencing God’s delight in you as his cherished beloved.
Our daily work matters, but our weekly Sabbath rest matters, too. Perhaps more than many of us realize. I love how Abraham Joshua Heschel prompts us to embrace Sabbath’s good and life- giving creation design.
“Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. “