Practicing the Sabbath for most Americans seems like an outdated and overly-restrictive religious idea. It is certainly an ancient concept that was introduced around 3,000 years ago to the Jewish people as one of the Ten Commandments.In summary, the basic idea is that all of God’s people were to set apart one day every week to not only stop working, themselves but to free everyone else from working as well.
As a typical kid growing up in the sixties, my family did not practice the Sabbath. Though we did go to church occasionally and believed in a lot of the teaching in the Bible. However, the Sabbath was not something we valued, understood, or tried to follow.
America as a whole still had a strong Judeo-Christian heritage and there were many cultural remnants of religion in place. One of those was Sunday. Though few people practiced Sabbath “religiously” most stores were closed, TV choices were limited and most people went to church.
Even for those who didn’t, Sundays were a time for relaxation, gatherings of family or neighbors around a meal and conversation. News, of course, was something you found in the large “Sunday edition” of the local paper that was thrown on your porch by some teenager riding by on his stingray bicycle.
Now, however, Sunday is just another day of the week. The cultural pace has grown in intensity. As the levels of stress, anxiety, and mental illness skyrocket there is renewed interest in returning to the values of the Sabbath. Some people are discovering with delight that there may have been some wisdom lost in this forgotten path.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11, NIV
For Christians, there has been debate about whether this commandment is something that applies to them.
In His teaching about the Sabbath, Jesus clarified the purpose of the Sabbath when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV)
In this single statement, I believe that Jesus frees us from the law while encouraging us to practice the “Sabbath Way” as a gift.
- The Sabbath was made for man
- The Sabbath was made for me
- If the Sabbath was made for me, then maybe, I “need” the Sabbath.
- What if the Sabbath is not a burden but a blessing?
- Perhaps we should think of the Sabbath not as a “have to”, but a “get to”
So, what is this Sabbath blessing about?
The Sabbath is a call to stop and create a sacred space to be restored and reset. It is a simple idea. Take one day every week and set it apart to stop the madness. Just chill!Why do we need this? Perhaps a better way of asking it is “What happens when we don’t do this?” What happens when we let ourselves pursue our goals and dreams day after day after day?
The inevitable result when we drive ourselves or others without any limits is that we often end up moving further away from God, creating toxic relationships with others, and running ourselves into the ground.
Renowned mental health author Dan Allender declares, “We are driven, exhausted and depleted. We were created for the refreshing and replenishing gifts of the Sabbath and we don’t do so at our peril.”
However, this idea of choosing to be unproductive for a whole day every week seems downright un-American! Perhaps even more so for people like me!
I grew up as a goal-obsessed child in an achievement-driven family. As a twelve-year-old, I dedicated my entire spring break to one goal. I decided to try to run 100 miles. Not only is that a little strange, it says a lot about how I am wired.
That pattern of ambition and “all work and no play” lifestyle continued in my parenting, teaching, coaching, and three-year stint as a youth pastor. The result of these ventures is that I found success as well as fallout.
Our Youth Group exploded, but my wife grew frustrated with our marriage. My track teams began to win championships but I needed two heart surgeries. In addition, I now see that some of my leadership and lifestyle were not emotionally healthy. I needed to learn balance, boundaries, and how to rest. I needed to practice something like the Sabbath.
I may have an unusually driven personality, but I believe that this insatiable hunger for more is human nature. We are competitive. We think it is our responsibility to fix all that is broken. We get angry with those that block our goals.
Perhaps God knew humanity well enough that He knew that He had to force us to stop, rest, and trust.
But there is a call in the Sabbath that is deeper still.
The pattern of God.
Sabbath was not something that God “needed” to do – He chose to. “He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:11, NIV)
Humans need rest. Animals need rest. But God doesn’t need to rest. “God neither faints nor is weary”. Isaiah 40:28. Yet on the 7th day, He rested. Was He napping? Was he laying on a beach somewhere? No, on the 7th day, God created “Menuha”
In his profound book, Sabbath, Dan Allender points out that “many Jewish commentators suggest that on the 7th day, God created Menuha. Menuha is the Hebrew word for rest, but it is better translated as joyous repose, tranquility, or delight. “To the biblical mind, Menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony…It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust.”
To Sabbath means to…
- Soak in.
- “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
- Stand back in awe and wonder.
- Bond with others.
The Sabbath is a call to eat soul food for a day.We need body fuel. We need fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein, and of course, ice cream. But we also need what I call soul food. “Man does not live by bread alone.” He also needs to feed his soul.
What is soul food? Soul food is quite simply, whatever feeds your soul.
We need worship, prayer, relaxed conversations, hugs, music, laughter, nature hikes, naps, and good books. We need time and space to restore our soul.
“The Sabbath is a day to experiment with beauty that teases your hunger to know more glory.” Dan Allender
We need to set aside time to remember God and His goodness.
Allender adds, “The agenda-ridden, task driven focus that we use the other 6 days needs to be put to rest in order to receive the surprising bounty of the unexpected. We must enter the realm where plans no longer hold sway.”
The Sabbath is a call to celebrate our freedom.
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. – Deuteronomy 5:15, NIV
My current job is a mental health counselor. Every client I have ever had struggles with regret, grief, shame, distorted negative thoughts, self-hatred or rejection. They still feel the pain of the past, feel inadequate in their present or fearful of the future.
These thoughts seem to plague us, all of us, to some degree. For many though, these are not just fleeting doubts or depressing thoughts, they are literally well-worn neural pathways that can spiral into debilitating depression or anxiety. The more we practice these pathways, the more habitual they become.
The solution does not lie in telling our brains to “Stop it!” The solution does lie in doing what Jesus did and respond to the lies of Satan, with Scripture.
We are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”. 2 Corinthians 10:5
To “be transformed by the renewing of our minds”. Romans 12:1
When we focus our attention on “Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely…worthy of praise” we literally build a new circuit in our brain.Some clever therapist came up with the idea of a “worry box.” Since we have a tendency to obsess about those things that worry us, it can be helpful take a few hours each day to intentionally take those troubling issues and symbolically put them in a box, shut the lid and put it on the shelf. We are not ignoring it. We are just choosing to get off the anxiety freeway and practice focusing on the “full” half of our cup. A couple of “anxiety-free” hours every day can be very helpful.
The Sabbath is a chance to do this for twenty-four hours. What would happen if we took one day every week to practice only this “circuit” of gratefulness? This will not only help our mental health, but it is critical to our relationships.
“Only someone who comes to rest and has nothing planned is able to perceive the beauty of things. He or she sees the flowers or the sunset, a painting or a vase, or a beloved person with unintentional, unexpected pleasure.” – Jürgen Moltmann
Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. What if weeping lasts for thirty nights? That happened to me a year ago.
Especially, during a crises, we have to take some mornings to find joy! The Sabbath offers a gift – a day off from weeping and gnashing of teeth. A day off from striving and shaking your fist to heaven, or to the government, or those “crazy” people online.
Allender says of the Sabbath, “We are to clear away on this day, all of the debris from the past week and the weeks ahead and turn our ears to His delight.”
A word to parents.
What picture of Christ are we showing our children? Was Jesus a harried, driven, moralizer with an inflexible schedule? Or was He a friend of sinners, who was often known to go on long hikes with His Heavenly Father and sit around the campfire telling stories with his closest friends?
My children had two goal driven, hard-working, productive parents. They have all grown up to be driven, hard-working adults. However, I don’t think we did a very good job of modeling for them how to slow down, relax, create space for beauty and soul care.
All three of our adult children have battled anxiety issues. For the most part, I don’t believe that that we drove them into anxiety. However, I do believe that we modeled for them an over-scheduled, stressed out, anxious presence.
How do we practice it?
- Set aside a block of time for the agenda of Sabbath alone. If need be, start with 3-6 hours and work up to twenty-four when able.
- Keep these simple goals in mind: Do things that help you Delight in God and hhis creation. Trust and rest in Him. Eat soul food and fast from the soul “junk” food for that period. Be unproductive. Play. Focus your mind on “Whatever is good, true, lovely, worth of praise” (Philippians 4:8,NIV) Enjoy your relationships, especially your family. Delight in the beauty that you see in them. Let all of your worry about them go for a day.
They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31, NIV
For help navigating through a difficult season of life or other issues, contact me or any of the other counselors at Spokane Christian Counseling. We also have sister offices elsewhere. We can partner with you in your quest to grow and thrive.
“Knocking Over Boxes”, Courtesy of SHVETS production, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Overworked”, Courtesy of Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Mother and Daughter”, Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels.com, CC0 License;”Napping”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License
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