3 Biblical Pillars for Observing a Sabbath
“I just wouldn’t know what to do without doing anything for a whole day.”
It’s a common refrain from people when I start to encourage them to observe a Sabbath. In our hustle culture, intentionally refraining from everything one considers “work” isn’t just unusual, we can’t imagine what we’ll do instead. Observing a Sabbath conjures up images of idleness. Our concept of “resting” for a full day is more akin to sloth than renewal.
To be sure, if you attempt to observe a Sabbath with these concepts embedded in your brain as the goal you likely will be slothful and feel like you’ve wasted a day. And you probably will.
But observing a Sabbath isn’t idleness. It definitely isn’t sloth. It’s not even passive.
The Bible gives us 3 solid pillars around which we can intentionally structure our 24-hours of uninterrupted Sabbath.
Regardless of how you understand Genesis 1-2, it is undeniable that God intentionally took time to rest after he completed his creative activity. As a reminder, God is omnipotent and omniscient. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. And yet, he blocked off time to rest. How much more should we? A good Sabbath takes God’s example seriously, embraces our limitations as created beings, and recognizes that we actually need more rest than we usually get.
Suggested activities for rest: sleep in, take a nap, read/listen to a book in a comfy spot, get a massage.
As Israel was about to enter the Promised Land after spending 40 years wandering the desert, God reiterated the duties and obligations of being his people to them. Central to these duties was the observance of a Sabbath. Interestingly, even though the Sabbath was previously commanded on Mt. Sinai, God restated the command and provided a new rationale for it. God’s people were to intentionally abstain from work so that they could remind themselves of their former slavery and their deliverance by God. The implication seems to be that unless God’s people intentionally created space to remember the basis of their salvation and the reason why they were God’s people, they would forget.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the OT is an illustration in Israel’s forgetting. In fact, after Israel is exiled Jeremiah claimed that Israel’s exile was directly related to their failure to observe the Sabbath. Why was it such a big deal? Because they had not created space to remember, so they had forgotten.
Life is busy. We fill our days with the hustle and bustle of work, shuttling kids around, meeting social obligations, while also trying to prioritize serving others and being active in the life of the church locally. We would do well to intentionally set aside time to remember how God saved us, how that has changed us, who he desires us to be as his people, and an honest appraisal of how we’re progressing in pursuit of that goal. A Sabbath is a great opportunity to accomplish all of the above.
Suggested activities: re-read significant passages of Scripture, journal or reflect on past journal entries, devote a portion of time to prayers of praise and personal worship, talk to friends/family about significant events in your friendship or get their perspective on significant moments in your life.
Ultimately, observing a Sabbath is about setting aside intentional time to rest in God’s presence. As a byproduct, we are renewed and your joy is completed. The Psalmist puts it this way: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11).
Would you characterize the last week as “joyful”? If not, how regularly were you in God’s presence? The Psalmist intertwined our level of joy with our experience of God’s presence.
When was the last time you set aside time to pursue something that you enjoy just because you enjoy it? The Psalmist linked our experience of pleasure to being at God’s right hand.
God created you enjoy things. As we enjoy the things God has wired us to enjoy (in the proper contexts, of course) we are worshipping. A Sabbath is a great opportunity to pursue the renewal of our spirits that comes from experiencing joy and pleasure in God’s presence.
Suggested activities: you know that thing you love to do that you just haven’t had time for recently? Do it. Extend your devotion time for a few minutes. Catch up on your Bible reading plan. Take a prayer retreat.
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