Practicing Sabbath is hard. There’s no getting around it. It’s hard to slow down. Hard to rest. I listened to a podcast this week where the speaker compared the process of beginning to Sabbath to letting go of an addiction. How accurate!
I remember the first few months of practicing Sabbath. I yearned to “do”. Busyness was all I knew. The appeal and lure were strong. The activities in and of themselves weren’t bad or wrong. I loved them. They were God’s gifts and they were good. Just different than His gift of Sabbath.
God had to strip away my ideas about self, time and trust. He had to replace them with His truth, His principles about Sabbath. This was not an instantaneous event; it was a drawn-out process.
One way God brought about this change was through pondering Scriptures related to Sabbath. Thinking about Scripture in the context of your life and talking to Jesus about it is the basis of biblical meditation. This can actually rewire your brain and change how your mind thinks about life. In this case, about Sabbath.
It was through Scripture that God led me to see Sabbath as a gift. He led me to see the beauty that He offers by ordaining (setting apart) one day for us. He gave me a perspective on the reasons behind it that I had never known before.
Here are three key passages and their accompanying principles that poured truth into me and displaced wrong thinking in this area of my life. They are worth pondering.
#1 – God Ordained Sabbath So We Could Rest and Delight in Life (Exodus 20:11)
Exodus 20 is where you find the 10 Commandments outlined for this first time. When the command to keep the Sabbath is given, a reason accompanies the command.
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
In the very first week of time, God ordained Sabbath. It was instilled into the very fabric of creation. In much the same way that day and night cycle through to give us one 24-hour period, a work week and a rest day were planned out as well.
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter or woken up early and stayed up late for too many days in a row, you understand the consequences of pushing this boundary. This rhythm of life is more obvious than Sabbath. It’s also somewhat compulsory. Ignore it for too long, and your body will wear out from exhaustion!
The soul’s need for Sabbath, however, is easier to ignore. One can go through many years of no Sabbaths without noticing the effect. That’s not to say there isn’t an effect, as these great theologians attest.
A splinter can be small and annoying at times without being problematic. Leave it in though, and infection can slowly seep in. So it is with Sabbath. We ignore it to our peril.
Think for a minute about the first Sabbath. Adam didn’t yet really need a Sabbath. He was only a day old! He wasn’t exhausted from work, nor was he ever exhausted from work while still in the garden. God didn’t need a Sabbath. His creativity and energy are limitless!
So why ordain it from the very beginning? To teach us that there is a time that is different. Time to notice the simple pleasures of life. Time to look back on the work that was done during the week and delight in it. Time to reflect. Time to enter into relationship differently. Time to feed our soul and nourish our lives. God knew what we needed most and set it into motion at the very beginning of time! (Read more ideas about Sabbath time and how it is different.)
#2 – God Ordained Sabbath to Remind Us that We Are Free (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Deuteronomy 5 gives another recounting of the 10 Commandments. But this time the reason behind keeping the Sabbath is different.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Here the people are reminded of the life of slavery that God freed them from. They were enslaved to taskmasters. Rest was elusive. Success could not be found. No matter how hard they worked, there was always more.
But God stepped in. He got them out of Egypt. They didn’t have to do a thing except follow. He fought for them. He moved Pharaoh’s heart. He kept them safe. This event illustrated to the people just how trustworthy their God was.
And now God is reminding them of these truths related to Sabbath. Now that they are free of their Egyptian taskmasters, they can also be free of the demands of their work. Their acceptance and freedom as His people are not dependent on their own efforts. God is still looking out for them. They can trust Him to care for them.
This principle was a hard one for me to come to terms with. It’s easy to say “I trust God” and sincerely mean it but somehow, subtly, to live as if life depends on me. Stopping everything for one day was a very real way to practically test my trust in God.
It was a practical way for me to step away from my taskmasters of work, approval, perfectionism and guilt and find contentment in relationship with God alone. I found freedom to acknowledge my God-given limits. I allowed God space to work on my behalf and found it to be true that success doesn’t depend on my own efforts.
#3 – God Ordained Sabbath to Lead Us to Himself (Ezekiel 20:12-13)
God desires intimate relationship with us. It’s what He intended from the beginning of creation. Intimacy takes time and space. It’s not found in crowded minutes, but cultivated in the regular, vulnerable sharing of hearts. These verses point us towards this truth,
12 Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. 13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.
Practicing Sabbath is only a sign, a day that carries with it a meaning. God gave us this sign that we might know that He is God and that it is He that sets us apart. This Christian life is not because of us. Not because of the way we follow rules. Not because of anything we do to earn it. It is all from God and all of grace.
When we rebel against rules, against signs, against statues, we are really rebelling against God. Think about the context this verse brings up. Israel is in the wilderness, wandering around for YEARS. What does God do for them during that time?
Feeds them miraculously every. single. day. Keeps their shoes from wearing out. Protects them from enemies. Leads them to the Promised Land. He gives and gives and gives in abundance. He pours out grace upon grace. Not because of anything they have done. But because of who He is.
He wants to lead them into life, real life, abundant life. He knows the best way to live life – He designed it after all! He knows that Sabbath will lead them to this kind of life. To freedom. To delight. And yet somehow, they miss Him. They miss His immense generosity. They miss the gifts of grace He is pouring out, His unending love that they can’t quench.
This is our story too. How many times during my busy week do I miss Him? How many generous gifts do I take the credit for because of my own work and effort? How many gifts of grace do I not even see because there is no time? How many crowded moments do I try to fit in instead of sitting at His feet and gazing upon Him?
This is the gift of Sabbath. Time to see God. Time to pour out my heart before Him. Time that I can silence all the other demands and do what is best. Time to be led to Him, to His gracious gift of abundant life and to His immensely generous heart.
Think About It
Do you long for Sabbath? Do you see the value and importance of it? Are you struggling to actually do it? Maybe you need a new lens with which to view and understand this precious gift.
Take some time to meditate on these Scriptures. They can help displace wrong ideas you might have. They can fill your mind with truth which will then filter down into your heart and out into your behavior.
If you’ve never practiced Biblical Meditation before, you can find some tips in my Biblical Meditation series.
I’ve also created a 30 Day Biblical Meditation Guide to lead you through these three specific passages. The verses are written out and 19 reflection questions are included to help you internalize the truths and reflect on them in the context of your life.
Subscribers, access this Meditation Guide now in the FREE Resource Library. (You’ll find it in the Sabbath section.)
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