The Sabbath Principle

I heard the story once of a guy in Sweden who got charged and convicted of adult bullying. He had dumped a sack of killer slugs into his neighbor’s garden, apparently to destroy it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his first attempt to ruin her yard; his neighbor had previously filed a restraining order against him for throwing fire crackers into her yard.

This is an extreme example of what happens when we live life for ourselves. But it can go the opposite way, too; I can approach life with me at the center, and end up quietly sitting in my house, ignoring my neighbor. I’m not breaking any laws, but I’m also not caring about anybody, either. I can even start with me, and say: You know, I’d like to get to know my neighbor, and invite him over for dessert (and even leave the slugs out).

Starting with me can play out all sorts of ways; but the one thing they all have in common is that I am calling the shots. I am in charge of my life, my plans, my schedule.

The beauty of the Ten Commandments is that they point us beyond ourselves. Specifically, the first three commandments focus on this truth: there are plenty of gods in this world; finding (or being found) by the True One is the key to knowing who we are. In fact, the only way to truly know who we are, I believe, is to know who God is.

Which is what the fourth commmandment is all about: keeping the sabbath. It seems kind of outdated. Who, outside of observant Jews, keeps the sabbath? And why?

I like the way writer Mark Buchanan puts it in his book, The Rest of God. He says that Sabbath is not just a day, but an orientation. It’s a way of seeing and knowing. It’s both a day and an attitude, both time on the calendar and a disposition of the heart.

What does this mean? For Christians, I believe this means that we still need time for rest, for renewal — times of sabbath where we truly remember who God is, and who we are.

With that in mind, let me share three ways where I think we need to make room for sabbath in our lives:

  1. Worship on Sunday. This idea isn’t original with me, but one that I find helpful: in Genesis, the Sabbath was the culmination of God’s creation. In the New Testament, Sunday is the culmination of God’s re-creation, as Jesus comes back from the grave, bringing us life. And so, worship is about remembering that everything has changed because of Jesus; and once a week, we stop, and we remember; and we celebrate. Worship is vital to our identity. It reminds us who is God; and who is not (me, for starters).
  2. Find ways to pull away from your everyday life to do things that are life-giving. In their book on the Ten Commandments, Stan Hauerwas & Will Willimon talk about a family who used this guideline for Sundays: Do no work unless it is a joy. So, if working in the garden is a chore, they leave it until Monday. But if weeding is life-giving, and renewing, then they get out there and get their hands dirty

    I love this concept. It is NOT about legalism, but life. What gives you joy. What helps you celebrate the life God has given you? What renews and restores you? For some, this looks like time with family over a big meal. For others, it means opening your home to a life group, or having the neighbors over for games or conversation. Or maybe it means going to the park with the kids. Or even, for us introverted types, guilt-free time with a good book. But either way, what if we were intentional about sabbath, and we unplugged (TV, computer, phone), and simply received the day?

  3. Last thought: Take sabbath moments. Take time/s each day to stop and remember Who has you — and Who’s you are. Do this in the morning, when you get up. Do it in the evening, when your head hits the pillow. Tell God: Thanks for being God; I go to sleep, now, giving you the stuff from the day that was, and look forward to seeing where you will be in the day ahead.And other times through the day, stop and remember God’s presence. When you are frustrated, or anxious, or stressed. How about at a traffic light, or in a traffic jam? Instead of getting frustrated, or anxious, or stressed, how about treating a red light as a sabbath moment?

In the end, sabbath is about more than a day; it’s a way of life. A way of life that says: I belong to God, and He is here in this moment, in this space, in this time.

So, where do you need some sabbath?

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Thank God It’s … Thursday

I shouldn’t be blogging today. It’s Thursday, and on most Thursdays, I don’t work. It’s the one full day I try to step away from church stuff. But today is different. I had a meeting today, and so I switched my day off. And I can feel it.

I felt it last night as I finished a long day, and my body said: Hey, tomorrow is a day of rest. Yeah!!!

But then my mind immediately kicked in. No, it’s not. Our goofball guide has decided to swap off-days this week.

Taking a Sabbath Snooze

Still, my body rebelled. When the alarm went off this morning, my fatigued frame said, No way. I’m not getting up. And it wasn’t kidding. Man, was it hard to get moving today.

Perhaps my body was trying to tell me something? I wasn’t made for constant activity. Faithful living isn’t equated with frenzied living.

In the New Testament, Paul is clear that salvation does not come through doing the works of the Law (evidence #1: the second treatise he wrote that we have in our Bibles, his letter to the Galatians). But there is a difference between being saved by doing things, and doing things because we have been saved. If salvation is wholeness – and I believe it is; true wholeness that only comes through Christ – then it changes me, body, mind, and spirit. And while I do not do things to earn wholeness in Christ, when I am given the gift of saving wholeness, it changes what I do – and how I live.

And one of the changes is that I no longer have to try to earn my way – as a minister, as a Christian, as a parent, or as a good American citizen – by simply doing more. The idea of sabbath isn’t a matter for legalistic rule-keeping; it’s a life-giving principle. I am not in charge. My work does not define me. The kingdom of God, or the church, or my family, or my wholeness are not dependent on how hard I work, or how much I do. It is not a badge of honor to work my butt off.

My body already knows this. My mind is continuing to learn this. And my spirit is renewed by this truth. For I am not God. I am not in charge. The church is not dependent on me. And sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do is to not do. But to rest, and remember this truth: He is God.