“What makes a Sabbath a biblical Sabbath is that it is ‘holy to the lord.’
The most significant difference between a biblical Sabbath and a traditional “day off” is the focus on God. This doesn’t mean that we have to spend the entire day praying or studying the Bible, but it does invite us to be intentional about contemplating the love and glory of God.
Poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Psalm 19 puts it this way:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.”
(Psalms 19:1–6 NIV)
Tomorrow we officially end our “Sanctuary Sabbath Month.” In some ways, that means rhythms will return to some degree of normalcy. But my hope is that we take what we have learned and experienced about Sabbath this month and incorporate it into our weekly schedules for the rest of the year.
“After finishing his work in creation, God pronounced it ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). This was not an anemic afterthought--Oh, well, it’s nice to be done with that—but a joyful recognition and celebration of accomplishment. As part of observing Sabbath, God invites us to join in the celebration, to enjoy and delight in his creation and all the gifts he offers us in it.”
Our practice of Sabbath is built upon God’s practice of Sabbath in Genesis 1-2. Because God—who never gets tired, never needs to sleep, and is never overwhelmed by the stresses of life—rested, we too rest. But not only do we rest because He rests, we also are to rest in the way He rests.
God’s practice of Sabbath included practicing delight. He looked around at the world He had created and celebrated the goodness of a job well done. This can also characterize our practice of Sabbath.
All of these questions can help you to turn your “day off” into a true biblical Sabbath, a twenty-four-hour block of time in which you stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God.
“God rested after his work of creation. Every seventh day, we are to do the same (Genesis 2:1-4). We engage in activities that restore and replenish us – from napping, hiking, reading, and eating good food to enjoying hobbies and playing sports. The key is to rest from both paid and unpaid work.”
Last week, we looked at what it means to stop working, to take a break from both paid and unpaid work. This week, we’re looking at the second Sabbath practice: enjoy rest.
One thing that I have found particularly helpful is to keep an ongoing list of things that help me to feel rested and restored. I’ve found that what helps me in one season of life sometimes changes in another season.
These days, I have found outside activities to be restful: hiking, biking, swimming, or going for a walk. Something that has been on my list for years has been reading a good book.
I’ve often been surprised at how much intentionality it takes to figure out what helps me to rest. If I’m not intentional, I spend my whole Sabbath watching TV or browsing social media (neither of which usually leave me feeling rested).
So the invitation this week is to begin to define your “will” and “will not” list for Sabbath-keeping. What will make Sabbath different from business as usual on the other six days of the week? What do you need to do (or not do) to protect your ability to rest on this day? What will leave you feeling rested?
“Sabbath is first and foremost a day when we cease all work – paid and unpaid. On the Sabbath we embrace our limits. We let go of the illusion that we are indispensable to the running of the world. We recognize we will never finish all our goals and projects, and that God is on the throne, managing quite well in ruling the universe without our help.”
Most people take a day off. It may not be the same day every week, but employers (and possibly federal law?) usually require some sort of break so that people can rest and return to work with renewed energy.
But a day off is not the same thing as a Sabbath. You see, most people work on their day off. They may not go into the office or turn in a time-card, but their activity can still be classified as work. Household chores, paying bills, reading emails—all these things are work; the only difference is we don’t get paid for them.
When God instituted Sabbath, he didn’t do it so that we’d have extra time to get caught up on chores. He did it so that we would actually stop working and truly rest. The ancient Jews understood this (even if they didn’t always practice it); the rabbis even created all sorts of rules to make sure no one was working, to the point that Jesus and his disciples got in trouble for breaking them!
But choosing to honor the Sabbath by not engaging in any work—paid or unpaid—doesn’t have to be a legalistic thing. In fact, it can and should be a life-giving thing, a practice that reminds you of who you are in the cosmos. You’re a human being, not a human doing!
The invitation this week is to begin to identify a 24-hour block of time in which you’ll do no work, paid or unpaid. If this seems too hard, start with a smaller segment of time (4, 6, or 8 hours) and work up incrementally to a full day.
Also, I encourage you to take a moment to identify the unpaid work you usually attend to on your day off and figure out a time to do it during the week.
In the following posts, we’ll look at ways to enjoy Sabbath and get the most out of it. But before we can do that, we first have to schedule a time for Sabbath and actually stop working.
Sabbath doesn’t just happen on its own. We have to plan for it and protect it. If it was easy or came naturally, God wouldn’t have had to command it throughout Scripture. But I assure you, it’s worth it.
“Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come…. The essence of the world to come is Sabbath eternal, and the seventh day in time is an example of eternity.”
Hebrews 4:9-11 says:
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest...” (NIV11)
The idea of Sabbath is introduced in Genesis 2 and the theme continues to be address throughout the Scriptures, all the way to Revelation. "Honoring the Sabbath" is included as one of the Ten Commandments, alongside worshiping God alone and not murdering people. But few Christians make the practice of Sabbath (a 24 hour period of rest and worship) a key part of their lives.
The truth of Rabbi Heschel’s statement above is important for us to contemplate. Sabbath is not merely about taking a day off so that we don’t get too tired. It’s about practicing for eternity. The author of Hebrews' description of “a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” makes it clear that our practice of Sabbath today is directly connected to our eternal practice of Sabbath-rest in the next life. If we don't learn how to enjoy resting in this life, we may have difficulty resting in the next one.
In his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, author and pastor Peter Scazzero describes four foundational characteristics of a healthy and biblical Sabbath:
In August’s weekly emails/blog posts, we’ll be exploring each of these four Sabbath practices in turn and looking at how we might grow in our practice of Sabbath, both individually and corporately.
I hope that you’ll take some time this month to slow down, to stop working, to rest, to delight, and to contemplate God. Sabbath is a gift that God has given to us, and we invariably suffer when we reject the gift. When we practice Sabbath, we rejoice in the reality that in Jesus Christ, eternity has entered our present experience.