Sabbathing, part 2
In part 1:
- I confessed my Sunday struggles.
- I eliminated some Sabbath-like activities that aren’t always purposeful. (Dare we call them Sabbath-stealers?)
- I gave you my short, working definition for Sabbath.
Although my activities are different, my mindset on Sundays (described last week) isn’t significantly different from the other days of the week. This is where my conviction began.
Our Sabbaths must be
from everyday life.
Our Sabbaths, it seems, must be something different from everyday life, something a bit more special.That’s why God told the Hebrew people to “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Holy means to be set apart. God gives us the reason right there in the commandment: He took a day off, we’re made in His image, so we’re designed to take a day off, too.
Complaining about my Sunday schedule recently, a friend said to me, “What? Do you think you’re busier than God?” Ouch. We all need rest time.
It’s easy, however, to get hung-up (let’s just say it: legalistic) about observing a day of rest. We want a clear list of guidelines. The Pharisees felt the same way, so they created piles of regulations to make sure they and everyone else observed the Sabbath properly. Jesus, being the consummate rebel, intentionally broke those regulations in front of everyone.
- He and his disciples picked grain to chew as they walked through a field on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5). Can you imagine Jesus, chewing on a shaft of grain like your stereotypical hillbilly? He puts his hands in His pockets…the grain bobs up and down as he talks… He told those hyper-critical Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Then maybe he leaned against a shade tree and sipped some homemade lemonade. Just a thought.
- He repeatedly healed people in or near the synagogue on the Sabbath (man with a shriveled hand – Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11; bent-over woman – Luke 13:10-17; swollen man – Luke 14:1-6; invalid by the Pool of Bethesda – John 5:1-15; blind man – John 9:1-15). Every time, He challenged the Pharisees to tell Him why He shouldn’t do it, how compassion could be forbidden on any day, especially the Sabbath.*
Jesus’ attitude toward the Sabbath reveals something very important.
The Sabbath is designed to restore, not restrict.
Sabbathing isn’t about
what’s taken away but
It’s not about what we can’t do but about what we need to receive. Jesus compared Himself to David eating the Temple bread because he and his men were hungry (Matthew 12:3-4). The bread restored their vigor. Jesus healed people who had long lived in a state of perpetual work just to survive, restoring their physical bodies and dignity.
This is key and takes us all the way back to the purpose behind the command of Exodus 20:8. We—created human beings—need regular, restorative rest. So, in the spirit of the Letter R, I give you…
The Four ‘R’s of Real Sabbath Rest
- Sabbathing is about relaxing, breathing, clearing out our minds so it’s easier to hear God through the week (Psalm 29:11).
- Sabbathing is about reconnecting with God and with my own soul, which is my conduit to Him. It wouldn’t hurt if I also reconnect with my family after a hectic week (Psalm 35:9).
- Sabbathing is about reminding me that God controls my life, not me. I need to reinforce to myself the fact that I can trust Him to supply my needs. I don’t have to work-work-work for my life to have meaning. I don’t have to complete my to-do list before He’s pleased with me (Psalm 20:7 – one of my favorites!).
- Sabbathing is about restoring. We see that Jesus had no issue with healing people on the Sabbath, restoring them to health. What can I do to heal my mind and body, to restore my joy (Psalm 51:12), to improve my relationships with others?
(Try meditating on the linked verses from Psalms to adjust your mindset for Sabbath. I’m going to.)
Good Sabbathing will
require some planning.
Sabbathing effectively doesn’t happen automatically. It will require (another ‘R’!) some planning. Remember when the Hebrew people were wandering in the wilderness? They had to collect twice as much manna the day before the Sabbath (Exodus 16:21-30). That means a little extra work, a little planning ahead to create the space for Sabbath-style rest.
I recently got away for a personal writing retreat. (Yet another ‘R’ word!) For most of three days, besides the necessary eating and sleeping, I prayed, wrote, and read. Despite the list I brought and the fact that writing is my work, this retreat felt very much like a Sabbath. Without the distractions of everyday life, I relaxed. I reconnected with God through extended time in the Word and writing (which is one of my best ways to worship). I left my family and everything else in others’ hands, reminding me that I don’t control nearly as much as I think I do. I restored my soul, especially through meditation on His Word.
Yes, retreat may be our best modern synonym for Sabbath, but you don’t have to go anywhere (especially if travelling would add stress). Consider these ideas for Sabbathing any day of the week, in the middle of the rest of life.
- An at-home mini-retreat. Take a half day off from work or drop the kids at a friend’s (maybe trade time with her/him) and spend three or four hours alone with the Lord. Do whatever restores you spiritually. And don’t feel guilty about it!
- Snatch moments of daily refreshing. Prioritize your quiet time, sing praise music out loud in the car by yourself, have devotions with your family. All these (and more) are moments of Sabbath if we recognize and appreciate them.
- Read a book that encourages your spirit. Then, every time you turn a page or think about it, you’re reconnecting just a little with God.
I don’t know what you’ll choose to do or not do as you are Sabbathing. The actions aren’t important. Just be sure it’s a time of purposeful, restorative rest for your soul. We all need that.
What have you done to create Sabbath space in your life? What are you going to try after reading this? I and all my readers would love to hear from you in the comments below!
PS—I could have said relating instead of reconnecting and possibly resting instead of restoring. Jeanne Doyon wisely commented last week, “We are rest-LESS rather than rest-FULL. It’s a disease in the church. Yet, Jesus offers us rest.”
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. -Matthew 11:28-29
PSS–Stephanie Pavlantos had an opportunity to participate in an authentic Shabbat meal while she visited Israel. Check out her description here. It challenges me to consider Sabbath as a family event rather than an individual experience.
*Want to know how I found all these passages? Go to BibleGateway and search “Sabbath” in the New Testament. It’s that easy!