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.
Why is the Sabbath life-giving?
The Sabbath is life-giving because it breaks us away from the pattern of the world, turns us to the glory of our Creator and brings our whole being into submission to our original design. It tunes our spirits. It heals our bodies. It anchors our minds. It causes us to focus on the ultimate, rather than the urgent. The Sabbath holistically repositions us to look at God, not the work we have been given to do, the chaos of this world, nor the lesser and sometimes even false rest we strive to create by way of distraction or escape.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect"
I believe that remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy is a powerful tool to combat the pull of this world to conform. I believe because I have seen in my own life and have heard from others how, through the Sabbath, God brings transformation and renewal of the mind. Transformation encompasses both death and life. The Sabbath invites us to die to our human tendencies toward work and rest, and receive life through rest in God and His design.
As covered in the first installment of this series, the primary answer to why we should observe the Sabbath is purely because God himself did and he commanded us to do so (click here to view). He modeled for us the relationship betwen work and rest that He designed our bodies, minds, and spirits to operate under. In other words, "...Genesis says we Sabbath, first, because God kept a Sabbath and, second, because God built it into the DNA of creation, and it is, therefore, something creation needs in order to flourish...The Sabbath teaches us that we are but humans, not superheroes" (1). The Sabbath humbles us and reminds us that we are human and have limits. It’s not a mistake; God intentionally created us that way. Our physical bodies are a tangible manifestation of our physical limitations. We only take up a certain amount of material space. We cannot be all, do all, know all. We weren't designed to push back against that reality and fight to do more than we were created to do.
And yet, our actions reveal that we do just that, even though we may want to believe otherwise, We push against the reality of our limitations by way of workaholism. You see, humanity is prone to workaholism. It takes many forms. You don't need to have a 9-5 job, work overtime, or own your own business to be tempted to sacrifice yourself on the altar of workaholism. The stay-at-home parent, freelancer, retired individual, college student, athlete, pastor; everyone is susceptible. Any one of us are prone to workaholism in our own spheres in which we do our work. The work itself is not the problem; the problem is the propensity to never depart from that work for a period of holistic, intentional, God-honoring rest. We were designed to live within our limitations, allowing them to aid us in recognizing that we serve a limitless God who invites us to rest in Him.
If we truly believe that we serve a limitless God, we must look at our lives and honestly ask ourselves this sobering question: "How can I preach salvation and grace when my life is built on an altar of workaholism?" (1)
As the church, we are called to proclaim to a broken and hurting world that there are life, mercy, salvation, grace and true rest to be found in the living God through Jesus Christ. Yet, often times our lives aren't primarily marked by the grace, peace and rest that Christ has brought to us, but rather by our burdens, efforts and striving. In fact, we may find ourselves often stressing or complaining about the work we have been given to do or the variety of expectations we have thrust upon ourselves. How it must break the heart of God to see His Church following after the pattern of the world when we are to be a light, a stark contrast to the tide of a fallen mentality. The world says, "I'll rest when I'm dead." But, in Christ, God speaks over us this truth: "You can rest because once you were dead, but I have made you alive." The world says, "There is no rest for the weary." But Christ says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Through Christ, we have an ultimate and eternal rest that awaits us. Also, in Him we have present rest in His finished work on the cross, in spite of any and all circumstances we may face in this life. I do not want my words to discount those truths in any way; however, I do want to shed light on the fact that God also offers us rest from our work. He tells us that it is not only okay but completely and undeniably good to stop and rest from our work.
I'm a list girl. In all honesty, checking off items from my mental and, at times, written to-do list can be a form of "self-care" for me. It gives me a sense of accomplishment about my day. It helps me to feel like I have some semblance of control or that my life is somewhat in order and things are "getting done". I often subscribe to the "a clean home is a happy home" creed, because, for me, rest can be taken when there is order. Just ask my husband. He'll tell you that the kitchen is cleaned and the house tidied before I'll sit down and rest for the evening. I will not go to bed in an unmade bed, even if I have to make it 10 minutes before I climb in. I'm not saying this is a bad habit. In many ways it is a good thing, but this mentality can become unhealthy and even sinful when not kept in its proper place. It can become a form of workaholism when I am enslaved to the idol of my list of to-do’s or expectations. It is a weary and burdensome trap to fall into because the to-do list is never-ending. Of course, I do things that are restful during my normal work week. I go on walks, enjoy playing with my son and go to the beach. I am not only seeking productivity, but it is, most often, in the back of my mind because there is always something else that needs to be done. The work is never really finished because each new day holds new tasks to be accomplished.
The Sabbath invites me to rest in spite of my to-do list. It is not offered because the list is finished. Rather, "Sabbath is the day that we rest in God’s presence even when our to-do lists are not even close to done. We choose to enter rest even before the work is complete. Why? Sabbath is not a reward for a job well done. Sabbath is the result of a world that is oriented toward a good and generous and loving God" (1). Or as Mark Buchanan puts it, "Sabbath is not the break we're allowed at the end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It's the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could." The Sabbath is a gift we receive, not because we have completed something in order to earn it, but because God gifts it.
While there are countless reasons that the Sabbath is life-giving, especially when you look at how it practically looks in the lives of different individuals, I believe this is one of the most profound reasons. The Sabbath can breathe life into our weary, work-ridden souls because "...it dethrones our workaholic tendencies and reminds us that the ultimate work is not that which can go on a to-do list" (1).
This specific aspect of the life-giving nature of the Sabbath is one that speaks to my box-checking, type-A heart so deeply. Far too often, I have bought into the mentality that rest comes when the work is finished. But, I feel that new life has been breathed into me as I have come to realize that God's order flips this ideology on its head. God's order does not tell me to rest when my work is done. Rather, it says I can rest because He has finished the ultimate work. To take it a step further, not only can I rest in the midst of my earthly work undone, but, in observing the Sabbath, I can then enter my work for the week from a place of rest. This turns the common thinking of the world upside down, because rather than working in order that we might rest, we learn to work not for rest, but from rest.
I have come to find, since implementing and prioritizing Sabbath observance in our home, I am far more encouraged to find my rest in the Lord on a daily basis. It has become easier to break away from the chaos of life and rest in Him. My spirit has become more attuned toward what it means to abide and rest even when the surrounding circumstances would tell me that there is no rest available to me. When there is work to be done and needs to be met, I can still find rest in God because my eyes are turned toward the finished work of the cross. That has always been true, but by entering the gift of the Sabbath, God has heightened my sense of awareness to this fact throughout my week. I resonate with A.J Swoboda's words when he writes:
"To be a Christian was, and is to reorient one's entire life, and death around Jesus Christ. Sabbath is an orientation, as well as an all-encompassing turning toward the Creator God that turns everything about our lives toward the hope and redemption of Christ's work. Sabbath baptizes our week into the grace and mercy of God."
I have found this to be true. It’s not that my week is now perfect because of the Sabbath. However, by being saturated in Sabbath rest at the beginning of my week, the rest of my week is more easily drawn back to the well of the life-giving water of God's mercy and grace.
Finally, there is a life-giving facet to Sabbath rest found in the manner in which it slows us down, stills us, and quiets our souls.
"...Be still and know that I am God..."
Psalm 46: 10
We do not need to be constantly occupied and entertained. When we are still, we can listen for the still, small voice of God. Consider this: You yourself cannot be stationary with a pitcher of water and successfully fill a glass that is moving all about. And so, God seeks to fill us up to overflowing when we are still before Him. To be still and know God is never time wasted. For when we meditate on who God is and who we are not, we will live in awe of His character. When we sit before God, we realize that we are sitting at the foot of the cross, and in remembering the cross, we cannot question God's love for us. "Long ago, William Temple wrote that when we frame our entire lives on the love of God, we will be able to enter into rest. Before that, we will always struggle to rest...True rest cannot be fully realized outside the context of the abiding and unshakable love of God...The Sabbath offers us a weekly return to the loving grace of God from the frenetic, works-based ways of living we have grown accustomed to" (1).
May God's love be the drawing and anchoring factor in which we find rest that brings life.
Are you encouraged and longing for this rest, but questioning how it could be made a reality in your life in light of your various responsibilities? Are you just wondering where to start or how the Sabbath looks on a practical level? In the third and final installment of this series, we will look at how the Sabbath might practically look in our lives.
Stay tuned. I pray you are blessed, encouraged and challenged to consider these life-giving aspects of Sabbath rest.
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure (business) on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth. I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. "
In view of God's mercy,
(1) - Subversive Sabbath- The Surprising Power Of Rest In A Nonstop World. By A.J Swoboda