Studying the Sabbath
I was recently in a group study where we discussed the biblical topic of the Sabbath. It struck me hard that I have rarely reflected on this biblical command or made attempts to practice it on a consistent basis. Why, out of all the Ten Commandments, does this command seem to be the only one that is consistently ignored and overlooked? The other commands have always seemed more straightforward in my mind, but is the Sabbath still relevant or did Jesus do away with it in the new covenant? Didn’t Jesus break the Sabbath and rebuke the Pharisees somewhere in the New Testament? I think I’ve always heard the command for a Sabbath and thought, “Awesome, that’s why we have church on Sundays and I only work Monday through Friday anyways. I can check off the box for that one!”
God clearly says the Sabbath is a DAY of rest to the Lord. But church only takes a few hours, so what should we do with the rest of Sunday? Sleep in? Watch football (or golf or Nascar)? Take a nap? Play golf? Read a book? Mow? None of these things are inherently bad, but shouldn’t one of God’s commands important enough to make the top 10 mean something more than just catching up on sleep, enjoying what life has to offer, or getting done what I didn’t have time for earlier in the week? As I meditated on the Old Testament scriptures regarding the Sabbath in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, it was clear that God set apart the Sabbath as a day of rest to the Lord and he declared it holy, so maybe I shouldn’t be taking it so lightly. These passages also say the Sabbath is an opportunity for God’s people to reflect on what God has accomplished both through creation (Exodus 20) and through their deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5). The Sabbath is not just about what we don’t do (work), but just as much about what we do with this time that God has given us as a gift. As Jesus said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
As I spent time praying about how God would have our family honor the Sabbath, I was convicted that I have been fooled by the cultural idols of busyness and leisure, which has led to my confusion about the very simple word, rest. If you look at my life, you would probably conclude that I don’t really understand what this word means. I have a very difficult time slowing down and not “doing” something, and that something is often not useful. I’ve confused the idea of leisure with rest, and my “rest” is just a continuation of my busyness (which is a useful badge of honor in college and the workplace), except instead of doing work, I’m doing things that I find temporary enjoyment or satisfaction from. This attitude isn’t just present on my Sabbaths or weekends, but carries throughout most aspects of my life. Even during vacations, which most people see as an opportunity for rest, my default mode has always been to squeeze as much enjoyment and satisfaction from leisure activities as possible. This idol of leisure has often led me to use physical vacations as a selfish excuse for a spiritual vacation as well. Even at home, I find that my selfish desires (trying to find satisfaction in lesser things than Christ) are the limiting factor in our spiritual and marital growth. Especially now that we have a baby, I've been more convicted by this lack of spiritual leadership in our household. Our recent desire and prayer has been that the Holy Spirit would transform our household into one that is continually focused on Christ, where our faith is genuine, authentic, and readily apparent to our son and the unconvinced.
So this concern is not contained to the Sabbath, but I think the Sabbath can go a long way as a lead domino by helping us to weekly hit the reset button and aligning our lives with God’s heart. God clearly understands our tendencies as humans and has graciously given us the amazing gift of an entire day off every week dedicated to resting and reflecting on God’s work in creation and in our salvation. Previously, I saw the Sabbath as a spiritual obligation and most of my Sundays have often looked like going to Church, going to lunch with believers, then having a day of leisure to myself. I was looking for the simplest way to check the box and move on to what I perceived (in my own sinfully twisted heart) as more pressing issues. But the Holy Spirit has begun reframing the Sabbath in my mind as a beautiful gift that is intended to help us reset our hearts on God and his purposes for our lives. I am still struggling to figure out what this means practically sometimes, such as whether yard work is work or should I avoid leisure activities such as watching football, but I am encouraged by Jesus’ teachings in Mark 2-3 and Matthew 12 where he repeatedly warns the Pharisees against legalism regarding the Sabbath. Jesus says in Mark 2:28, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath,” so it is clear that God is more concerned with the motivation and attitude of the heart. Whatever it is we are doing on our Sabbath, let us do it to the glory of God while we reflect on his creation and his salvation. So I pray we can find joy together in this gift that God has given us of a weekly day of rest in the Lord.