Biblical Sabbath is a 24 hour period where we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God. As my life gets busier I’ve come to realise that while the day of the week doesn’t matter, protecting the rhythm of regular routine does. The benefits are many, and there really aren’t any drawbacks to dedicating time to pause from hurry, unplug from time-consuming technology, and breathe knowing that the world continues to turn without you. But with deadlines to meet, plans to make, small children to care for, limited time for house and yard work, and the effort of preparing for another week, my plans to practice a regular biblical Sabbath can easily be thwarted. Strange as it sounds, I almost found myself needing to be convinced that Sabbath was a good idea. In his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero discusses his weekly Sabbath (he’s chosen 6pm Friday to 6pm Saturday) in terms of these four things:
Step back from answering emails, hold off returning phone calls, avoid social media (especially if it is tied to your work). Don’t give in to the demands of an untidy house that could be cleaned, and resolve not to catch up on unpaid work like paying bills or organising the family budget.
God rested after his 6 day creation work, and we are to adopt the same rhythm. Again, the key is to rest from what you consider paid or unpaid work. There’s intent at play here though, because resting from unpaid work requires careful planning; in order to enjoy a guilt-free Sabbath where you can truly come to a place of peace and rest, there might be some rearranging of the other 6 days in order to get things done in advance. Discipline takes determination, but the rest is its own reward. Free yourself to play sports, have a date night, go to bed early, read something, watch a movie, or enjoy the good company of friends.
What brings you joy? As Christians, we most of all should know how to enjoy and delight in creation and in God’s good gifts. Perhaps it’s nature. Maybe it’s enjoying good food. Libraries and book stores spark my curiosity and inspire creativity. Think about what you love and work within your means to find ways of doing that which is good for your soul.
What sets a Biblical Sabbath apart from just taking a day off is that we are not taking time off from God. This is an invitation to let go of lesser things and remember the goodness of God in the midst of our rest. We recognise that these good gifts come from his hand. It doesn’t mean that you spend the entire day in prayer, but it does mean acknowledging God’s goodness as you practice that which is soul-soothing for you; thank him as you enjoy a good meal, or wake from a nap, or survey the view from a mountaintop. God is good, and he is pleased when we acknowledge him as God and give him thanks for every good gift.
Where to from here?
The danger of Sabbath is to get bogged down in the details. Scazzero encourages us to take a step back, remember the purpose of the gift, and re-frame our thinking into one that has the sovereign God at the centre and me as a dependent, loved child. Some wrongly associate Sabbath with legalism. Constantine actually legally mandated a Sabbath. The Talmud (Orthodox Jewish writing) stipulates 39 prohibited activities (considered ‘work’) that must not be performed during this time. But Jesus says something different. We are reminded by him that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around; we are not slaves to a religious system but rather this 24 hour period was given as a gift to us by a God that knows we require rest. Mental, physical, and emotional peace is found in remembering who God is, and resting in that knowledge.
This practice isn’t essential to your salvation. But neither is reading the bible or prayer—and yet no one would argue the point that you cannot possibly grow as a Christian without these two things. I’m coming to realise that keeping a regular Sabbath is a key spiritual discipline that has much benefit for the believer, and Sabbath is a wonderful vehicle to carry grace from God to us via an intentional time of slowing down and trusting in his sovereignty while the world spins on without us. It takes creativity and commitment to make the leap from simply having a day off to actually having a Biblical Sabbath, and anyone who has tried to do this seriously will tell you that there is planning and the establishment of boundaries needed in order to truly stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God as the loving father who knows exactly what we need.
Sabbath is a good gift, and one that I’ve left unopened for far too long.