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Revisiting Sabbath

28 Apr Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Revisiting Sabbath
Revisiting Sabbath
 

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God … For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
– Exodus 20

And he (Jesus) said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
– Mark 2

My Sabbath journey began in 2007 when my wife and I both accepted positions at the same church. We worked Saturday to Wednesday, and had Thursday and Friday off each week. We used Thursday to take care of life. It was our ‘sixth day’ of work and we worked for our home. We cut grass, paid bills, cleaned house, etc. At the conclusion of Thursday, we were able to enter into Friday with a wide-open day without a thing to do. We enjoyed trips to amusement parks, took naps, and just enjoyed each other.

Not long after this rhythm began to form in our lives, Rick Rhoads gave me a copy of Sabbath by Wayne Muller. In it, Muller says:

“And so we are given a commandment: Remember the Sabbath. Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest, we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life. We refuse to rest at our peril – and yet in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue, many of us feel we can legitimately be stopped only by physical illness or collapse” (19).

As I digested this thought, along with the rest of the book, I began to wrestle with the implications of the Sabbath, particularly in the context of my call to full-time ministry. Back in 2007, at the outset of ministry, I knew I did not want God’s work to crush me physically or emotionally like I had seen in many pastors and leaders around me. By God’s grace, we stumbled early into a work six (one being for the home) then rest one rhythm that we have more or less followed for the last eight years.

Since a majority of our family and friends know that we practice a weekly Sabbath, they often ask us the particulars – what do we do, what we don’t do, etc. For us, we keep it simple and use the day to rest physically, engage in some form of enjoyable recreation, reconnect with one another and God, and remember what God has done in our lives.

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Rest.

At the heart of the biblical Sabbath command is rest. In the past eight years of practicing, there have been seasons when physical rest is an added bonus to the day, and other times when it was absolutely needed. In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero says:

“When we stop and rest, we respect our humanity and the image of God in us. We are not nonstop human beings. Sadly, it often takes a physical illness such as cancer, a heart attack, the flu, or a severe depression to get us to rest. We don’t serve the Sabbath. The Sabbath serves us” (169).

So, the Sabbath serves me by allowing me to wake up without an alarm, and by taking an afternoon nap (if the kids also take a nap 🙂 ). In addition, we are very intentional (though not legalistic) about not engaging in any form of work on the Sabbath. No email, no grass cutting, no grocery shopping. We stop and we rest, and we are reminded that we are human beings, not human doings.

Recreation.

The second element of our Sabbath is some form of recreation that restores us. For us this normally takes places in the afternoon after we have sufficiently rested in the morning hours. About play on the Sabbath Scazzero writes, “Sabbath delight invites us to healthy play. The word chosen by the Greek Fathers for the perfect, mutual indwelling of the Trinity was perichoerisis. It literally means ‘dancing around.’ Creation and life are, in a sense, God’s gift of a playground to us” (170). Most of the time, our restorative play is simple – a trip to the park, a hike in the woods, or just playing in our backyard.

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Reconnect with God and each other.

In her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Calhoun writes, “God did not intend for life to be all effort, so he punctuated each week with twenty-four hours Sabbath rest, during which people could remember what life is about and who it is for” (41). What I love most about the Sabbath is I am given time to do exactly was Adele is describing – I can focus on what life is about who I am blessed to live it with. Ultimately, I believe life is about God and his grand rescue of the world through Christ.

On the Sabbath, I am able to put my work down, physically rest, and center once again on the incredible reality that I have called into this story, along with my family. The Sabbath then is not just a ‘day to be together.’ But rather, it is so much bigger. It is a day wide open to enjoy heaven breaking into this world all around us, in our home, and in our world.

Remember.

The final piece of Sabbath rest in my home is to remember. This is big for us. Through pictures, videos, journals, and our collective memory, we take time to remember what God has done in our lives. We remember his faithfulness to us in good times, as well as hard. We remember that he has saved us and is using our family to advance his Kingdom. I agree with Lynn Baab that “the weekly Sabbath can be a wonderful opportunity to stop” and notice God’s goodness to us, to remember who God is, and what he has done (Sabbath Keeping, 82).

On this point, I often tell people that “if we don’t remember, we’ll forget.” A simple thought, but true nonetheless. Remembering God’s acts takes work – but it is worth it because it grounds us to his grand story on a weekly basis.

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DOD.

I am indebted to Dan Allender for the language of “Day of Delight”. In Sabbath he writes:

“Perhaps one of the most radical gifts we can bring the developing Third World and the decaying western society is the Sabbath. Not a day off, but a day of celebration and delight. The Sabbath is far more than a diversion; it is meant to be an encounter with God’s delight. The Sabbath is the kind of delight that leads to life” (12).

Thanks to Dan, Sabbath is affectionately known as a “DOD” in my house – a day of delight. It is a day of celebration, good food, and long conversations. A day without alarms clocks and to-do lists. Each Saturday is full of wonder and surprises. Some are better than others, but each offer the precious gift of holy time that transforms. As it has been said for the Jewish people, it’s not that we have kept the Sabbath, but the Sabbath has been keeping us, for eight years. May your weekly Sabbath keep you as well.

To start or continue your own Sabbath journey, I highly recommend to you these four books that have helped me:

  1. Sabbath, Dan Allender
  2. Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest, Lynn Baab
  3. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller
  4. The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man. Abraham Joshua Heschel
Josh Rhodes
NextGen Pastor at LCBC Church
Josh is the Next Steps Director at LCBC Church, York Campus. Prior to LCBC, he served at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV. Josh received a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministries from Lancaster Bible College, and a Master of Arts in Theology from Biblical Seminary. He and his wife Hillary live in Lancaster with their three children - Sephora, Levi, and Pierce.