Sabbath, like our entire walk with God, is an act of faith. By faith, we cease and desist from work for one day. The word shabbat does not mean rest, it means cease. And sabbath is absolutely essential for vocational holiness.
This entry, of course, is not going to cover all the realities and dynamics of sabbath. There are books out there that do a wonderful job at that. This is a subject that will be addressed from numerous angles over time. Here are some initial reflection for the necessity of sabbath.
From Eugene Peterson we gained the concept of “vocational holiness” (see his book Under the Unpredictable Plant). Gordon T. Smith in his excellent book “Called to Be Saints” says this about sabbath and Peterson’s concept of vocational holiness:
“We must stress that sabbath observance is crucial to vocational integrity and holiness. This is one of the central commandments of the Judeo-Christian heritage; the witness of Scripture suggests that rest is part of the rhythm of God’s creation and thus of God’s work. And as we participate in the work of God, it makes sense that we learn to disengage and intentionally practice, one day in seven, rest….We sabbath because sabbath speaks of our hope, our deep confidence that one day all will be well. Sabbath is an act of defiance against evil and a deep act of trust in God to do what he will most assuredly do. Indeed, through Sabbath we signal that the future well being of the world rests ultimately not on the strength of our arms, or our capacities, or our intelligence, but on God’s gracious purposes and his power to fulfill….Sabbath means we trust God; it is an act of faith (pp. 124 and 168).
It amazes me how we soon forget that sabbath is indeed a command. It is not a suggestion. More than that, even before the Mosaic law, sabbath was established and blessed within the created order. And like all of his graces and directives, it is a gift that leads us toward life (remember, Life if a Person – John 14:6; 17:3). There is nothing biblical about a 40-60 hour work week. Yet that is a constant measuring device. What we are given Scripturally is the decree of 6 and 1. Work 6 days. Cease 1 day. And by cease, we do not mean dabble. We are not meant to dabble in our rest any more than we are to dabble in our work. We are instructed and modeled by God to rest. Cease and desist. Turn off the email. Turn of the internet and the cell phone. Do not be accessible to the whole world. If that rubs in you as being irresponsible, then there might be something of a misplaced personal identity to wrestle with. Let’s say you died tomorrow – car accident or something. Would the organization you are part of come to a grinding halt? Would all God is doing in your midst evaporate? It is humbling to realize that we are not absolutely indispensable. We are invited into God’s created and redemptive work, but that work is not dependent on our frenetic involvement.
Let’s look at this more proactively. Part of vocational holiness is how we live all of our lives. We work, and we work hard and sacrificially. Then one day a week, by faith, we delight ourselves in God (see Isaiah 58:13-14) by ceasing from work. We celebrate his loving kindness and faithfulness in our lives. We rest. We play. We eat and drink with family and friend. We enjoy his and one another’s company. To partake of these is also an essential part of our vocation. This day informs all our other days. It reminds us that we live and work under his reign and goodness.
Did you catch that? Rest is an essential part of our vocation. Without sabbath, our lives get out of focus.
Sabbath is yet another invitation from our Father inviting us through the Spirit and Word to commune with him in Christ. Are we aware of that invitation? How are we responding to that invitation?
Let’s ponder some ways to take steps deeper into the practice of sabbath.
Some practical reflections and ideas:
- How can you disengage in such a manner that you simply are not accessible to those
other than certain friends or family? What would the act of putting away the cell phone and email for one day in seven do for your heart, mind, soul and relationships?
- May I suggest no buying of goods too? Rest from being a consumer.
- What would be practices that would allow your soul to be recharged, enlivened and
renewed for one entire day?
- How would ceasing from these actions enable you to grow in your attentiveness toward God and others and your work the remainder of the week?
- Prepare meals ahead of time so there is not lots of kitchen work or clean up. Let mom take a day off too. Of course, Beth and I like to cook, it is something we do together. So sometimes you will find us in the kitchen making a special meal and then enjoying that together.
- No legalism allowed. Make it a fun day. When we had little boys rampaging around the house we turned off all electrical goods and lit candles. Well to boys that can be a drag. So we gave them little flashlights. Now that was cool. We did stuff together – like a game or talk or read – then they headed off to their rooms with flashlights to play legos or whatever. The key is that they knew this was a day different than other days, that our God is good and alive and loving and we are responding to him by seeking to walk close to him. Be creative and have fun together with family and friends. Mark this day with joy.
Take some time to ponder how to live out a sabbath lifestyle well. How can you carry sabbath rest (that which the author of Hebrews invites us into) through a busy, demanding, active week? If you are practicing sabbath, are you sensing a delight in God and a rest or not? Are you being graced to carry that delight and rest into your busy week ahead? Ask him to lead you in the way of sabbath. He will gladly do so.
Shepherds: This is rather a no-brainer, but one of our primary opportunities and responsibilities is to model. There is a Christ-like, mature way in which to live out our vocation (all of life, not just our job). Fulfilling our calling as shepherds of souls requires we live into the sabbath reality and practice that we may ever grow in communion with God. And again, this is a topic we can lean into in conversation with others, eager to offer helps and counsel as requested.
Lynn Babb Sabbath Keeping. There are lots of solid books on sabbath. This is one of my favorites for its practical suggestions and advice.