One in Seven is a 3-part series that explores the "what", "why" and "how" of God's design for the Sabbath, a day of life-giving rest. The essays in this series are meant to be an overview, are not in any way exhaustive and do not speak on all aspects of the Sabbath rest. The words you will read have been written through much prayer and are aimed at inviting you, the reader, to consider the Sabbath. My hope is that they stir your spirit, encouraging you to pray and reflect on the significance of entering this weekly, rhythmic, life-giving rest God has prepared for you. The Bible, A.J Swoboda's book Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in A Nonstop World, and my personal experiences are the primary resources used to support the thoughts presented in this series. I strongly encourage you to study the scriptures concerning the Sabbath on your own as well as read Subversive Sabbath for a deeper understanding of the topic. With that being said, I am humbled and overjoyed that you would take the time to read this series which I have felt compelled and called to write. I pray you are encouraged in Christ.
Work and Rest.
American ideology says go, go, go. Don't stop. Do. Sacrifice. Accomplish. Attain. Consumerism culture and capitalist society encourage us to feed our just-a-little-bit-more mentality toward everything in life. Rest? Take a vacation once in a while. Scroll on your phone and binge watch Netflix. That's rest, right?
Maybe you wouldn't say you fall into such a category.
How about striving in the name of productivity? Maybe it’s in the form of constantly tidying up after the kids, working out, acquiring knowledge, tackling the next item on the never-ending to-do list, or scurrying from one activity or commitment to the next. Often, you're just holding out for the next little getaway, or maybe even just the next opportunity view Instagram or Facebook as a mini-escape from the striving. You are struggling to find true rest amidst the normal routine of life. Maybe you've been operating on this track for so long, it feels like life is just supposed to be this way.
How about when it comes to ministry? The Bible tells us obedience is better than sacrifice, but, often times, the way formal/traditional ministry takes precedence over so much else in life shows the propensity to believe that sacrificing time, family, rest, etc. is actually better than truly obeying God's Word. Striving to do more, and more and more "for the Lord" can create both a "messiah complex” (where we put more faith in our own efforts than the finished work of the cross of Christ) and an unrealistic view of our human limitations.
These tendencies toward unceasing work, in whatever form they take, are not always overtly distinguishable in our lives. Sometimes, they are more subtle. A low, constant hum, but present nonetheless. Whether blatant or subtle, this approach toward life causes us to forget to simply rest in the goodness and sovereignty of the God of the universe. The One who holds all things together, who delights in us and desires that we would stop, cease, rest, and delight in Him.
Work and Rest. There is immense value in both. A rhythm is set before us. A rhythm our bodies, the land, creation, the entire earth thrives under. There is a model to follow, a better way than the culture is pushing for.
That term alone may turn people away from reading this essay, purely because the word Sabbath might sound antiquated and legalistic to some. Quite honestly, it sounded that way to me not too long ago. I grew up in church and a Christian school. Yet, the extent of my understanding (rather, misunderstanding) around the Sabbath was this: it was something that was/is part of Jewish law, but for the rest of the world it is a historical sentiment that has been replaced with church service on Sunday. Nothing more. I am overwhelmingly humbled and delighted to now know just how utterly wrong I was.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I began to implement a "no screen day" in our home. We desperately felt the need to break away from the pull of social media, news, email, Netflix and so on. The things that vie for our attention throughout the week, that seem to beckon us to "rest" in them, but only offer what we would call "vegging" rather than true rest. We all "yearn for a pause that refreshes”, but so often we settle for a mindless distraction (1). After hearing a few different podcasts episodes discussing the Sabbath, its purpose and its relevance for today, it dawned on me. This "no screen day" we had been implementing was only a portion of what we were craving. We were hungry for life-giving, rhythmic rest that would anchor us, fill us up, and help us to break away from the pattern of this world. We were craving the Sabbath. That's what had been missing. We were longing for the gift of rest that God had already set before us. Sure, limiting screen use is still a part of our Sabbath, but the day is about so much more than that now.
Let me just say, you don't need to be exhibiting symptoms of burnout in order to be in need of the Sabbath. As we will soon discuss, we all need it. If you are willing to take an honest assessment of your life, you will see your need and even desire for this rest that God offers.
So, what is the Sabbath?
The Sabbath is a day of rest. One day in our seven day week reserved for precious, God-given, life-giving rest. Plain and simple. It's that "pause that refreshes".
From the dawn of creation, the divine rhythm of rest was set in motion by God himself.
"And on the seventh day, God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."
Genesis 2: 2-3
The God of the Bible gives rest. No other god offers this (1). Six days He created and on the seventh, He rested. When God rested on the seventh day, it was not only to enjoy all that He had created, it was also to give us a model concerning how our work and rest ought to look. The reality is that God did not need to rest on that day, He chose to rest. He chose to show us, through himself, how a healthy work and rest relationship looks. He portrayed how He intended for our bodies, which He created by His own hand, to best operate under this rhythm of work and rest. This 1 in 7 ratio, it is good and it is crucial for our whole being. We were created in the image of God to both work and rest, for our good and His glory. So, "To image God is to work and rest as God worked and rested...Work was not, and is not, punishment for sin. Work precedes sin" (1). Therefore, we are not to demonize work; rather, we are to orient our relationship to our work toward God and submit it under the design He laid out at creation. Yes, we are called to work diligently, but we are also called to rest well. So then, we see here at creation, that the Sabbath was initiated before Jewish culture even existed. Therefore, it's for me and it's for you. In fact, it's for all of creation.
Getting back to those initial reservations some may have in regards to the Sabbath, maybe you need to wrestle through these questions as I did:
Is it antiquated?
To "Remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy" is one of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:8-11). Have we dismissed any of the other 9 as being antiquated or no longer applicable? Is it now acceptable to murder or commit adultery? Why then, have we dismissed the Sabbath or, rather, attempted to put it in a box that can be checked off by going to church on Sunday?
Is it legalistic?
Mark 2:27 says, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" So often, we look only at a piece of the puzzle, seeing the punishment brought upon those who did not observe the Sabbath, namely in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 36:21). Or, the way in which the Sabbath was abused and unnecessarily burdened with countless rules and regulations by the Pharisees and other religious leaders in the New Testament (Luke 13:10-17). We disregard it as being a part of "the law" needless to be observed in light of the new covenant given through Christ. In assuming such things, we forget to examine the reason God rested in the first place and then extended that rest to humanity, only writing the Sabbath into law as God's omniscience foresaw humanity's tendency to neglect and mis-steward such a precious gift. As we look to our Savior we see that Jesus himself did not neglect to observe the Sabbath, nor he did not adhere to the legalism surrounding the sabbath imposed by the religious leaders. He observed it the way God the Father intended - as a gift, not a burden (Mark 2 & 3; Luke 13:10-17).
The Sabbath is just that — a gift. A gift we are invited to enter into. "We don't create Sabbath, it is already available to us, but we must enter it" (1). We are reminded in Hebrews:
"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his."
To look at Hebrews 4 in its entirety, is to see that for those who are in Christ, there is a fullness of Sabbath rest that is awaited in eternity, and there is also a side to God's rest found in Christ each and every day of the week— but there is also day each week we are to live set apart and desiganted to Sabbath rest. As J.K McKee says:
"God’s rest, while it involves the Sabbath and concepts of the Sabbath, is by no means limited to the Sabbath—as God’s rest also involves a spiritual condition that His people are to always strive to be experiencing. God’s rest ultimately involves dwelling among human beings in His Kingdom. The redeemed can surely partake of elements of that future rest now...Yet, can the redeemed really hope to understand the eternal rest in God’s Kingdom, unless they understand the principle of taking one day out of the week, and rest for a time that God has decreed to be holy and sanctified?...[there is a] Sabbath keeping dynamic to Sabbath rest" (1).
Therefore, the Sabbath is a grace we have been given, that we might have a taste, a glimpse, into the eternal rest that awaits. To observe the Sabbath is to have a day that is set apart. That is what it means to keep the Sabbath holy. To have 1 day in our 7 day week that is reserved for resting from our work and resting to and in God.
Before you start reasoning with yourself and attempting to come up with arguments as to why this is not possible for you. Can I encourage you to quiet your heart before the Lord and pray? Ask the Lord what this would look like in your life. Ask him where you have been prone to work without ceasing or to reveal to you where you have been seeking to rest in things or experiences rather than the rest that He has offered. Ask him to open your eyes to areas where you have been struggling to rest in His goodness and sovereignty.
This initial post is meant to get the wheels turning, to get you to consider the Sabbath. We have explored the "what", but we have yet to explore why the Sabbath is so life-giving and how it might practically look in our lives. Later on in this series, we will delve into how we can enter Sabbath rest by putting proper boundaries in place that serve to prioritize the work/rest relationship God has designed for us. We will explore questions like: "Does the Sabbath have to be on Sunday?" , "How can I observe the Sabbath as a stay-at-home parent to young children?" and, "What if my work schedule changes from week to week?" For now, to conclude this first installation of what the Sabbath is, I want to wrap up with a few profound thoughts. If you haven't realized by now, there are quotes bleeding through the course of this post revealing just how impactful the book Subversive Sabbath by A.J Swoboda has been for me concerning this topic. It has largely grown and shaped my understanding and love for God's gift of the Sabbath.
Here are a few takeaway points regarding what the Sabbath is. Yes, it is a day to cease, stop, rest and enjoy the Lord and the blessings he has given us, but moreover, the Sabbath:
- "... is God's eternal way of helping us worship our good God and not worship the good work he has given us to do...In other words, Sabbath provides work with a healthy framework within which good work can be done ."
- "...is a scheduled weekly reminder that we are not what we do; rather, we are who we are loved by. Sabbath and the gospel scream the same thing: we do not work to get to a place where we finally get to breathe and rest- that is slavery. Rather, we rest and breathe and enjoy God that we might enter into rest."
- "...teaches us that we do not work to please God. Rather, we rest because God is already pleased with the work he has accomplished in us."
I hope you are encouraged by these words, my friend. Be sure to read the next essay where we will explore why the Sabbath is so life-giving.
In view of God's mercy,
(1) - Subversive Sabbath- The Surprising Power Of Rest In A Nonstop World. By A.J Swoboda