Studying Sacred Rhythms—Sabbath

Mesu Andrews Featured Articles 4 Comments

7-24-15--Swedish studentA few years ago, we hosted an exchange student from Sweden. It was our first year as empty-nesters, so it was just Roy and I in the house with this sixteen-year-old girl who had been raised on TV reruns of Friends and lived very differently than our conservative Midwest townsfolk.

Surprisingly, the biggest difference was our work ethic. Jenny thought attending school from 8am-3pm was tragic, but when she arrived home with 3+ hours of homework, she was overwrought. The next blow was nearly fatal—household chores. After the completion of each task, I found her lounging on the couch with a Pepsi in her hand. Exasperated, I asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”

She replied—equally exasperated, “Resting. You Americans need to rest more!”

We learned from each other during that four months. A little more rest…and a little more work.

Why Rest?

Our exchange student was right. I needed to rest more then, and I need to rest more now—not because Swedes have cornered the market on wisdom, but because God’s Word tells me to:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Genesis 2:2-3

Our infinite God did not ordain a sabbath rest because He was tired. He created the Sabbath because man is a finite being who needs to refocus and recharge through resting.

“Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

Sabbath rest is an act of humility and thanksgiving, when finite creatures acknowledge God’s infiniteness.

Imposed Sabbath

Our Heavenly Father is compassionate yet determined. Because His plan for us is eternal, He’s willing to sacrifice our earthly comfort to secure our eternity with Him. Sacred Rhythm’s author explains the concept this way:

“I did not want to consider the fact that perhaps this accident, while it was not God’s fault, was a way…for God to get my attention. I did not want to face the fact that for years I had been thumbing my nose at human limitations, behaving as though I was beyond needing a sabbath.”

Ruth Haley Barton, p.131 (Kindle)

Sabbath is more than just a good idea. It’s a God-given essential for our spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. The Lord uses our choices—good ones and bad ones—to teach us the body’s limitations.

Practicality of Sabbath in Today’s Busy-ness

Let’s be honest…how are we supposed complete those to-do lists if we take a WHOLE DAY off each week? As usual, this week’s chapter gives practical suggestions for life application as well as helpful concepts for spiritual growth.

One of those practical steps toward enjoying sabbath is to live the other six days a week in conscious preparation for the rest. Our paid work should be done in five days, leaving the sixth day to do household chores, errands, and running. Anything left undone (yes, some things may be left undone) is entrusted to the God of heaven and earth—that is, if we can trust Him to handle it. 😉

Refusing to be a Pharisee

Though the Sabbath is included in the Ten Commandments and is considered part of the Law, I appreciated Ruth Barton’s perspective on the JOY of the Jewish Shabbat. Rushing to clean the house, light the candles, set aside our dailiness, and embrace that special twenty-four hours of purposeful restTHAT is Shabbat, THAT is the gift God intended. It is a personal choice and relationship to make sabbath a celebration instead of drudgery.

The author mentioned making the Sabbath a “sanctuary of time” in which we enter into His presence—not a physical sanctuary like the Old Testament Tabernacle of Solomon’s Temple—but dwelling in suspended activity where we move in and out of His conscious presence without guilt, expectations, or demands.

Personal Experience

Does the fourth of the Ten Commandments apply to Christians? Did Jesus’ death and resurrection release us from keeping the Sabbath, or is it a gift that transcends Law and grace?

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9-11

I’m flying home at the end of a three-and-a-half week vacation. At least part of it was vacation. I was gone for 24 days and had lots of visits with family and friends but also worked in two business conferences, a book signing, and daily checks on email (as well as occasional Facebook updates).

Did any of it include a true Sabbath? Nope. Should I feel guilty? Guilt, no— because that would be living under the Old Covenant of the Law and rule-keeping that leads to death—but conviction, yes! I must repent and then use the time away to examine my normal routine and make changes to my “too busy” schedule.

This particular chapter in Sacred Rhythms spawned more than a dozen conversations while on vacation and at least one planning session with my husband to reconstruct our lives for more purposeful Sabbaths. Not because we have to (Law) but because we want to (grace) enjoy one of God’s most precious gifts.

Our first effort was a bit of an adapted sabbath because it fell on the day we returned from vacation. Here are some of the guidelines that worked for us:

  1. Our sabbath begins in the evening and lasts until the following evening (sundown to sundown) like the Jewish Shabbat. We’ve found that beginning in the evening lends itself to a good-night’s rest, and resuming activity the night before we return to work gives time to do a few preparatory things that make the week more productive.
  2. All work-related technology is off-limits on the Sabbath. Only friends and family phone calls/texts/Facetime/Skype qualify as part of our worship and delightful rest.
  3. Weather permitting, we hope to escape to our mountain property to avoid the temptations of technology and enjoy the natural setting in which we feel closest to our Creator.
  4. Sabbath is a time when we read for pleasure, write encouraging notes to family and friends, and contemplate/talk about our spiritual journey from the past week.

Your Experience This Week:

How about you? If you’ve experienced a change in Sabbath celebration because of this study, please share in the comments below. Perhaps you have hopes or plans for change in your sabbath rest. You can also share questions below if you’re still wondering about the need for Sabbath in a grace-filled world. Share your heart with full confidence that we won’t try to “fix” each other but will allow the God of Scripture to transform us.

“If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD , and I will make you ride upon the heights.” Isaiah 58:13- 14


Today’s Question:

  • What is the most insidious/constant threat to your Sabbath and how do you overcome it?

Comments 4

  1. I have had to fight for Sabbath, but as I fought for it, it became more and more a part of the fabric of our week. Do we do it perfectly? Absolutely not. But we keep trying . . .

    1. Post

      I love that you “fight” for it, Lena. I waited to reply because I wanted another Sabbath under our belts to see how we did. And you’re right…it’s a fight each and every week, but it’s becoming a non-negotiable. I so appreciated your comment. Thanks for the encouragement! 😉

  2. ‘Sabbath in a grace filled world’ will become a sign on my frig. Some things need to be constantly before me. Thanks.

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      I think we can take a lot of the Old Testament “rules” and fill them with a deeper understanding of grace to put them into practice. It’s like when Jesus talked about murder and hate–the NT standard of grace is “stricter” when we begin to circumcise our hearts and not just our actions. (BTW, I’m sort of excited to have a quote on your frig!) 😉

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