I want to banish 2 phrases from my vocabulary:
- “I don’t have time.”
- “I didn’t get enough done today.”
Is it funny that, in preaching on the Sabbath the last few weeks, I’ve been preaching to myself?
I started preaching in Exodus in March. Planned a couple weeks on the 10 commandments. Moving right along to other things like golden calves and waterfalls sprouting from rocks.
I spent 4 weeks on the 4th commandment—
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
I came away absolutely convinced that if we don’t get this rhythm of rest right, we get nothing right. We get nothing right in our relationship with God and with others if we miss this concept and practice.
Most people, most Americans at least, have no idea how to rest. And we’re dying for it.
The unique time in our history we find ourselves in right now could also be an opportunity to re-learn the fourth commandment. Unintentionally and certainly against our wills, we are poised to reflect on what rest really is, why we need it, and how we’re going to return to whatever is reality on the other side of a global pandemic.
What do we want normal to be, and how does sabbath rest figure into it?
Sabbath and rest are one of the most important themes in the Bible. Rest interweaves throughout all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. In exodus at the 10 Commandments, we get the first absolute mention of Sabbath rest as a command.
Exodus 20.8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
But that doesn’t mean it was unheard of before. We know this, because the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings were told to recognize the Sabbath rest by not collecting manna on the seventh day.
Let’s take this command apart a little.
Remember—zakar—means to call something to mind in such a way that we act on it in the present.
Sabbath-shabbat = Rest. Stopping. To cease activity.
Holy=set apart—given over for a special purpose, consecrated, dedicated, separate
So putting this all together, the commandment means:
Remember—in such a way that you do something about it right now—the stopping of everything and the separate, dedicated purpose for this day.
What are we remembering?
For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.
It’s an intentional echo of Genesis 2.3—“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.”
The first reason for the sabbath rest is all tied up in creation. I say first, because there is another, but we’ll get to that next week. This first reason is set right after the first three commandments—and there’s beautiful, intentional order to that.
The first three commands have to do with loving God. (Have no other gods but me, make and worship no idols, don’t take my name in vain.) These three commands and the creation—relatedness of the fourth one also neatly coincide with Jesus statement of the most important command – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. That’s what the first three are all about. And that’s what the first reason to keep the sabbath rest is about.
The reminder to rest is set there to make us focus on the fact that he keeps the world rolling on a daily basis, and we do not. God created in six days—he did it all. We had zero hands in it. The first reason to keep the Sabbath is to give us a constant reminder, because we do tend to forget, that we are not the ones in charge of the universe. He is the one who created us and gives us breath.
If we don’t stop and keep our regular rhythm of rest, we start to believe the lie that we not only can keep our agenda running smoothly but we must. If we don’t keep working, it will all fall apart. This is a lie, and it’s right there in the heart of our faith.
We tell ourselves that one day it will be done and we will get a rest. If we worked as a little bit harder and a little bit longer, we can take a break. If we create at least a Plan B, and probably a C and a D, we don’t have to keep spinning our wheels quite as much. We all know how that ends. One day never comes.
This thinking leads straight to breaking the first 3 commandments.
- We have other gods before the one God. Our bank accounts, our jobs, our own daily planners end up getting our real worship in terms of time and priorities.
- We create idols out of productivity and security—those are the things we really trust in.
- And we attach his name, taking it in vain, to things like bigger and better and more. We decide that it’s a godly virtue to work harder and make others do the same—and that’s edging quite close breaking all 3 at once.
Every 7th day we’re reminded to:
- Renounce dominion over our time and our autonomy
- Step off throne we think we’re on
- Recognize God’s dominion over everything
- Interrupt our time, plan, agenda, and god of productivity
- Intentionally be inconvenienced.
The Sabbath rest is instituted to teach us a rhythm of meditating and appreciating God’s constant, active creating and sustaining. It is intended for us to sit back and accept our own inability to sustain our world. It keeps us humble. If we allow it to.
And it truly leads to peace and joy.
Learning more about Sabbath rest has changed me. I have come to understand that a rhythm of ending my day, not only my week, with stepping back as God did, looking at my work, and saying “that was a job well done,” changes the day’s schedule from stressful to peaceful. And it doesn’t depend on how much of that agenda gets done. It depends on whether or not it was a day in which I honored God and did good work. The amount of it makes zero difference. The peace and wholeness God offers from this simple rhythm is beautiful.