While studying the Sabbath at City Church a few months ago, I was convicted of not giving this commandment much attention. For years I have essentially ignored the Sabbath—or at least ignored the importance of gaining a richer understanding of it. I didn’t have a firm grip on how to rest, so my Sabbath basically meant going to church and being thankful that “today is restful” despite it not feeling much different than the rest of the week.
Among other things, the sermons at church helped me better understand the Sabbath by looking at the two places in scripture that list the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20, the Sabbath commandment is rooted in creation where God spent six days creating and the seventh day resting. That tells us the Sabbath is meant to look different than other days. In Deuteronomy 5, the Sabbath commandment is rooted in liberation where God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. That tells us the Sabbath is meant to be freeing from that which enslaves us.
In applying those simple ideas, look different and be freeing, I’m amazed at how much easier it is to discern what to do or not do on the Sabbath. I’m able to rest from all the work that encumbers me throughout the week like my job, house chores, emails, bills, car maintenance, etc. I’m also able to find freedom from things I’ve become enslaved to like television, social media, political news, stock markets, etc. When I do those things successfully, I find my heart and mind closer with God. In turn, He gifts me rest and a renewed spirit to enter the upcoming week with purpose and excitement.
For the past two months I’ve been reading The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. Each Sunday I try to read a chapter as part of my Sabbath. When it came time to read during those first few weeks, my inner dialogue usually went something like this: “Ok, Doug: it’s time to turn off the Premier League game and open your Jesus book.” See, it started off feeling like a sacrifice. I was sacrificing my time for something that sounded less exciting. But what I’ve learned from this new routine is that it becomes less of a sacrifice the more practiced you are. That’s because each time I say no to work/enslavements and yes to God, I find a profound rest that only He can provide. No television show, website, or even friend compares to the life-giving rest our Creator freely gives.
Here are a couple of Buchanan’s ideas about practicing the Sabbath that I’ve found particularly helpful...maybe you will too:
View your time as a gift, not a possession. “The lie the taskmasters want you to swallow is that you cannot rest until your work’s all done. […] The rest of God—the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing—is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of [work], without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could,” says Buchanan. By viewing our Sabbath time as a gift from God, we more freely give it back to Him which is where we find true rest.
Sabbath keeping is more art than science. Buchanan says, “It is something we get a knack for more than memorize procedures about. It is like painting: done by numbers, it comes off stiff and blotchy. But done with discipline and imagination and passion, it both captures and enhances life.” By understanding the Sabbath to be more than a paint-by-numbers set of rules to create and follow, we allow our hearts and minds to dynamically interact with God. And through the process of interacting with God, rather than rules, we grow in faith and more easily abide in Him and receive His rest.