“We have what we seek,
it is there all the time, and if we give it time,
it will make itself known to us.” — Thomas Merton
“The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” — Blaise Pascal
“By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted.” — C.S. Lewis
Author’s Note: While this article is written primarily to Christians, I believe anyone can benefit from learning and instilling a practice of the Sabbath in their life, and I would encourage those who aren’t of faith to still read it for that purpose.
Alright, I have a confession to make…
… I lied. I actually didn’t write this on my Sabbath.
But, I would venture to say that more of you were offended by the fact that I lied instead of the potential fact that I had written this blog on my Sabbath… and that’s the reason for this article.
The Ten Commandments are forever sealed into our hearts and minds as the Law of God. They are memorized and depicted in every Sunday School class across the nation, helping millions of children understand that God is against lying, stealing, cheating, and everything in-between.
As we know from Jesus’ words and the New Testament, the Old Covenant that God instituted through Moses on Mt. Sinai has been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant—the Law—has been completely and perfectly fulfilled by the person of Jesus, thus we are no longer “under the law.”
Many often wonder or ask if the 10 Commandments still apply today? The answer (that can be debated) is: yes and no. God’s ways are always best—as the Creator and Sustainer of the world, He knows how we best operate and how we can be most blessed in life. Thus, what He prescribes will always be for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory.
Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. God, through His son Jesus, no longer requires us to offer animal sacrifices for every sin or every failure to abide by His law. Instead, He has accepted the sacrifice of His son—Jesus—as the once and for all payment for our sins, for whosoever believes in Him.
Yet, as Jesus said Himself, God doesn’t just care about the letter of the law, He cares about the “spirit of the law.” It’s not just about the act of committing adultery with someone, it’s about the thought of committing adultery—the committing of adultery in your heart.
God cares way more about the right heart than the right actions, because out of the right heart flows the right actions.
While God no longer requires us to keep His law through the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant, He still desires for us to honor Him in our hearts by keeping the spirit of the law, in response to what He has done for us. God’s way, the way of grace, is always about receiving and responding to what we have been given. Salvation is a free gift of God by faith in Christ through the power of the Spirit—and once we have received that gift, we’re left with no other option other than to respond with lives of faith, love, and obedience.
The Forgotten Commandment
Back to the title.
Out of the Ten Commandments given by God, there is one command in particular that our society and culture within Christianity, especially here in America, has been turning a blind eye toward. This is none other than the Fourth Commandment: “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
The reason why we are more offended in discovering that someone lied instead of finding out that someone worked on their Sabbath is because we have conveniently determined which commandments should matter and which shouldn’t. “Forgetting” is the most sinister of blemishes because it puts on a front of innocence, and my goal is to steal that innocence from you upon reading these words.
Out of all the commands God gave, the Sabbath is certainly not of lesser importance in His eyes. In fact, the Sabbath was so important to God that He had Moses reemphasize it’s necessity by including further instruction to Moses in Exodus 31:12-18, instructing him to tell the people of Israel that: “above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.” God is serious about the Sabbath’s importance.
Not only was God serious about it when He gave the Law to the people of Israel through Moses, He also displayed it’s importance at the beginning of time when He created all of existence in six days and then rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). This was not some trivial detail added to the creation-account in Genesis. This was an intentional design given as an example by God to show how He has designed us to best operate in this world and in our lives here on earth.
In light of this, I believe one of the biggest ways we—the church (and specifically the body of Christ here in America)—are limiting God’s work in and through us is by not remembering, honoring, or practicing the Sabbath. This is the forgotten commandment and it is slowly but surely, week by week, whittling away at our usefulness, resourcefulness, and Spirit-led-ness without us even noticing.
The Heart Of The Sabbath
What is God’s heart in the Sabbath?
Undoubtedly it is NOT about ensuring we don’t lift anything, don’t kill anything, and don’t expend any energy. Even Jesus made this clear through His rebuke of the Pharisees in the temple when He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6 & Luke 13:10-17) as well as when His disciples were plucking some heads of grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).
And since the Old Covenant has been fulfilled, what should practicing a Sabbath look like for us today? Is it about a certain day? A certain activity or lack thereof? Is it just another word for going to church on Sundays?
If we keep it as simple as possible, I believe that the heart of the Sabbath is found in the imperative used, the verb that gives the action we are to follow: “remember”.
Practicing the Sabbath is all about remembering—remembering what God has done, both throughout redemptive history as well as through our own lives and relationship with Him. And in remembering, we can then return to a place of depending on Him for our daily bread, for our guidance through the journey of daily life, and for our strength to endure and run the race well.
The Sabbath is all about remembering, renewing, and realigning with God and His work here on the earth.
Everything in our modern society is creating more and more busyness, noise, and distraction. This, combined with the achievement-driven culture of the western world, leads us to feel forever driven to working or filling every waking moment of our lives with something that will either a) further our career or position, or b) give us the greatest happiness or pleasure possible in the moment (and which option is predominant will largely be driven by the smaller pockets of culture within America). In Los Angeles, Option A is usually the norm.
Swimming upstream is a difficult enough task, but it’s made even harder when you’re swimming alone. This is another added layer to why it is so hard to practice a Sabbath in a place like Los Angeles or many others throughout America. There is a weird sense of pride and accomplishment in sharing how much you worked, almost as if we’re back in the education system and our grade is directly derived from the hours spent doing something we call “work”. In fact, because this is so engrained in our culture, we may even feel guilty for any periods of rest, relaxation, or enjoyment.
Since I am self-employed, my weekly schedule is very abnormal. Without the structure of a 9-5 job, five days a week, making time for a Sabbath is even more challenging. Add to this the fact that I run my coffee business at church on Sunday mornings, and it leads to me feeling like the deck is often stacked against me. Since Sunday isn’t a Sabbath I’ve had to commit to picking a day in the week to set aside as my Sabbath unto the Lord. The feeling of taking a Wednesday to not do any work, but rather to prioritize rest, God, people, and enjoyment is something that can feel so, so wrong.
Yet, at the end of each day I practice the discipline of rest (yes, it is a discipline), I come out the other side refreshed, encouraged, and wondering why I was never taught it’s importance, and why I almost always struggle to believe in it’s value beforehand.
Now that God has helped renew my belief in the Sabbath’s importance, and from the past several months of consistently practicing it, I want to share some practical suggestions on what it might look like for you:
Make it personal — The Sabbath should be a day of rest, but rest looks like different things for different people. The point is: it should be a day filled with things that are restful to you. That may be spending time with people, that may be getting out into nature. It may be exercising, or playing sports, or dancing with friends. Whatever the case, fill it with rest that’s specific to you.
Make it intentional — Since the Sabbath is one day out of the seven days we have each week, it is that much more important that we make sure it is as intentional of a day as possible. This is not a day to be flippant about because we only get one of them every seven days! For a Sabbath to serve it’s purpose, we must infuse it with intentionality—meaning, we have a thought-out, purposeful, and strategic structure and game-plan for how it will be used.
Make it a discipline — We must recognize that a Sabbath will not happen by chance. It must be scheduled and it must be committed to every single week. Life will pile on as much as we can hold and then some. Thus, the only way we can “find time” for a Sabbath is by setting aside that time in advance and committing to it—disciplining ourselves to do something that we know we should do but usually aren’t able to get ourselves to do in the moment.
Make it a joy — The more I’ve practiced a Sabbath, the more I’ve found joy in it. It is, slowly but surely, becoming the day of the week that I look forward to the most (shocking for an Enneagram 3 like myself!). Seeking and finding rest should be a joy, as it renews our energy and our livelihood to go into the next six days with greater joy than we could have found without having a day to remember.
Make it a lifestyle — Workaholism is truly addictive. Over time, we become addicted to the stress hormones that are typically associated with our working lives. The remedy for this ailment, the cure for this disease, is the Sabbath. By practicing the Sabbath, we learn the blessing that’s found in rest and as a result we begin to start infusing rest into our daily lives beyond just the Sabbath. Finding rest in our work is possible too, and practicing the Sabbath helps us make it a lifestyle.
“A commitment is: falling in love with something and then building a structure of behavior around it for those moments when love falters.” — David Brooks
On a personal level, I only have three rules for my Sabbath:
Nothing work/career related
No social media
Beyond those three rules, I let the Spirit guide and direct me in discerning what I need to fill the day with for that week specifically. Some weeks it is simply more rest (sleep). Some weeks it’s more time with friends or in community. Some weeks it’s more time playing—either in sports, or dancing, or exercise, or other activities. Some weeks it’s more isolated time of reflection and in relationship with God in His presence. Some weeks it’s more time reading both God’s word and diving into the books from my never-ending stack to be read. Any and all of these are great options, it just depends on which way God leads.
It Really Does Matter
Rest really does matter. Sleep is a great example of this. Our bodies have been designed to need, on average, eight hours of sleep per night. That is 1/3 of our lives spent in a state of rest.
Sabbaticals are another form of rest that I have heard many successful people praise and prescribe. Taking a prolonged season for rest and recharge after a period of 7-10 years spent working on a career or in a certain direction often provides the needed refreshment and encouragement to begin anew and keep running the race well.
Recovery is essential to physical fitness and performance. If you are putting your body under stress and load in workouts, there needs to be a day when you give your body extra space and care to recover it’s strength and to heal the fatigued muscles so that they can become stronger and hold even greater load the next time around.
Recess and siestas are other cultural inventions and applications of rhythms of rest that help sustain focus and provide the energy to be more productive and efficient within our work, whether as children or adults.
The Sabbath still matters, and it always will. We aren’t super-men/women, we’re merely human. God knew we would forever remain human, as long as we’re here on this earth, and because of that He gave us an example to follow ever since the beginning of time. “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” (Gen. 2:3)
Now go and do likewise.