In recent days, the subject of Sabbath rest has resurfaced among the Christian community. To say I'm happy with the resurgence is an understatement. The practice of a Sabbath was first recorded after God created the world—six days He worked, and the seventh, He rested.
Think about that for second. The God of the universe, with unending energy, who never tires—He rested. We don't hear about Sabbath-keeping again until 2500 years later, when Moses comes down off Sinai with stone tablets and God gives Israel the big Ten. " Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God" (Ex. 20:8-10). This command of Sabbath-keeping is neatly parked right alongside "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3) and "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Ex. 20:7). So serious to God was this rest that in the following years, if someone was found to be working on the Sabbath, they were killed.
Killed for not taking a break?
Stoned for not taking a day off?
Not a slap on the wrist. Dead.
The New Testament isn't silent on this subject either. Some have asserted that this is the only one of the Ten Commandments Jesus didn't repurpose as part of the Gospel narrative. Some of the prime examples are found in the Sermon on the Mount.
"You have heard that it was said by the ancients, 'You shall not murder,' and 'Whoever murders shall be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matt. 5:21-22a).
"You have heard that it was said by the ancients, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:27-28).
While we never see Jesus address the Sabbath head-on by saying, "You have heard it said, 'Keep the Sabbath day holy,' but I say to you ...," we do see multiple places where Jesus is living in a deeper understanding of the Sabbath than those who were simply checking off the Sabbath box. (See Mark 4:23-27 and Luke 6:1-11.) Jesus loved to take the law and flip it on its head so people could see it in a fresh light and ultimately be free to a greater law—the law of grace.
I bring this up because I stink at resting. In fact, I like to work. I show up early, leave late. I've come to believe productivity is the 10th fruit of the spirit. Six days I work. And the seventh too. If there were an eighth day, count me in. But God rested. And it's hard to ignore that one little fact. He worked. He rested. He created a rhythm of labor and leisure. Six and one. Work and rest. Dirt underneath the fingernails of God makes me smile. God working makes sense to me. God resting? I can't get my head around it. He didn't need to rest, but He did.
Rhythms of Rest
While I've written around this topic before, I got to thinking, why is it important for me to create and sustain a rhythm of rest? God the Father rested. Jesus rested. It seems critical to my heart and health and future hope that I press "pause" on work so I can truly rest. In this age of hyper-productivity, this is why we should have a weekly day of real rest:
1. It is countercultural. Rest, at least a Sabbath rest, goes against the grain. Ask any Christians who have logged more than five minutes in Sunday School and they will tell you that Christians are called to be set apart. We often define that by living holy lives, loving others in deep ways and sharing the beautiful truth of Jesus' death and resurrection that leads to new life. All true. But who's got the time for rest? Soccer practices and business building and hair on fire lives is what we've got. If that's true, is it possible that the most effective form of evangelism might be to do less? Fewer sports for the kids, fewer after hours meetings, less technology, less keeping up. This age of speed, efficiency, high output and working vacations has us running at a pace we can't sustain. And everyone knows it.
Creating a Sabbath—a day of rest—in which we turn off our phones, open a book, say no to harried activity, have a real face- to-face conversation and take a breath may actually be the most effective way for us to say to those who are far from God, "There is a substance to this life that's distinctly separate from our work life. It's found in Jesus and friendship and a kind of community that can only be felt when life slows down." When Jesus invited those who were weary into a place of rest (Matt. 11), He certainly meant a spiritual, eternal rest, but surely he was speaking literally as well. You're weary? Overworked? At the ragged edge? Stop what you're doing. Take a day and realign your heart to what matters most. In doing this, in standing apart from the insane speed of this world, we might actually be given the voice we've longed for.
I'm not suggesting an isolationist, Anabaptist solution. Barn-raisings and buggies are cute, but not the solution that Jesus is offering us. Working hard for six days and then resting a full day is a powerful statement to a world that believes identity comes from accomplishment. Taking a day is a bold statement and it will cost you. But what we will gain is worth the cost. Not only will it give you and me the margin our souls need, but it will also give us the bullhorn for the message we've longed to speak.
2. It is idol killing. Deep down, we know we are all replaceable. My church doesn't really need me. Your job doesn't really need you either. You fill a spot, fulfill a role or accomplish a task. But if you died tomorrow, your company would keep on truckin' ... without you. But when we work ourselves to the bone, it's because our work is a treasure to us. Our identity is painfully wrapped up in our accomplishments or our paychecks. Biblically speaking, that's called idolatry. It's an idol because it's something you feed and bow down to with the expectation that it will make you feel whole and significant. The opposite is true as well. If anything in our lives is taken away (job, health, family, security, friendship and so on) and we are destroyed by its loss, that's a good indicator that that particular thing served as a god to us. An idol. When we create a rhythm of work and then rest, we are taking that idol of self-worth and placing it on the fire and saying, "You no longer rule me. I'm made for more. Jesus is enough for me!"
3. It convinces us that God provides for us. When God set a Sabbath in place for the Israelites, it was also a primer of trust for their hearts of self-reliance. On the sixth day, God told the people they could collect twice as much manna. In doing so, God was saying, "Even when you don't work, I still provide." The application is fairly obvious. When we choose to work every day, we are making the confession, "I have to take care of me. I'm it. No one else will look out for numero uno." In contrast, when we take a full day off, we're confessing with a heart of faith, "When I take a day off, I believe God will still provide all that I need." Create a rhythm of work and then rest. Do it every week and you'll find that God provides in the most significant ways.
4. It's good for our hearts. This is a little redundant, but it's worth saying: You and I need to slow down. Smell the flowers, piddle around in the yard, read a classic novel, take a road trip, plant a tree. Whatever charges your batteries and fills your emotional reservoirs, do it on that one day. Don't wait till you're sitting at a funeral and everything in life becomes clear. Don't wait until you've tarnished your most treasured relationships because work was all you had. Don't settle for the gold watch after 40 years and realize you have no relationships outside of the office. Taking a day off every week to turn off the phone and get off social media is good for our hearts. Good for our lives.
Creating this rhythm is difficult. Staying with it is even more difficult. But in the long run, our lives will be set at a pace that is enjoyable and everything will come into focus.
Jon Quitt serves as lead pastor for Vineyard Community Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of We're All Heroes in Our Own Story (Crosslink, 2016).
This article originally appeared at jonquitt.com.
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