I was in my late 20s when I was first introduced to the idea of Sabbath as a day of rest, a day set apart and different from the other six days of the week. This season of life found me busy. Too busy. I was working long hours in full-time ministry, leading a major project, taking classes towards a degree and had other weekly commitments as well. It seemed normal at the time.
In the midst of the noise and constant commotion of my life, God began to lead me into Sabbath. He led me gently and slowly. It seemed like a luxury I couldn’t afford, an impossible dream. I wasn’t getting it all done as it was. How could stopping everything for an entire day even be healthy? Wouldn’t that mean that the other days were even fuller? Was there even margin for that?
God persistently pursued me in this area. And I, rather reluctantly, decided to give it a try. It was purely an act of obedience. I wasn’t terribly excited about the idea. I couldn’t see how it would actually work out. My naïve self thought it would make my life more difficult. But, in fact, the opposite happened. I was surprised by Sabbath.
Surprised by the Delight of Sabbath
Sabbath for me began as a duty. Something I knew that God was asking me to step into. I was expecting Sabbath to be rigid, maybe even dull and boring! But instead, I experienced the truth of Mark 2:27,
Jesus practiced Sabbath in a way that was different from the Pharisees and other Jews of His day. He had freedom. They had rules. He embraced life and followed God’s promptings. They tried to measure up and earn approval.
God intends for Sabbath to be rich and full and freeing. He made it because He knew we needed it. We need a time to slow down and see reality for what it really is. Sabbath was made to be an antidote to our harried, frenetic lives. It truly is intended to bring joy, pleasure, satisfaction and delight into our lives.
Sabbath quickly became an anchor in my week. It gave me a rhythm of work and rest. A rhythm of duty and delight. It became a time I looked forward to and guarded fiercely. It gave me permission to say no to anything that would intrude. It helped me prioritize my time on the other days so that this day could be different. I found that I could handle a busy week a lot better when I knew Sabbath was just around the corner.
Surprised by the Lessons of Sabbath
The deepest impact of Sabbath on my life had nothing to do with the external practicing of it, but rather what it taught me about myself. Sabbath was especially hard for me at the beginning. I didn’t know what to do with my time. I felt lazy and unproductive. My mind and body didn’t know how to be still. My inability to disconnect and enjoy life revealed my heart. And I was surprised.
- I realized my identity was tied to what I did. This was hard to accept. I was, after all, in ministry. Serving God and others. Sacrificing many things. I knew I belonged to God and that He loved me, but somewhere along the way, my value and sense of self began to come from the good I was able to do in ministry and not from who I was in Christ.
This is often an imperceptible shift in our hearts. We can know our identify in Christ without living from that identity. I couldn’t realize the shift my heart had taken until Sabbath led me to stop the “doing”. I struggled to know who I was without the work and accomplishment.
And so God led me on a journey. A journey into my true identify. An identity He bestows, not one that is earned. An identity that is constant no matter what my current role is in life. Sabbath taught me I am loved and accepted and adored for who I am and nothing else. It was a truth that led me into deeper intimacy with God.
- I realized I rely on self more than on God. Here in our western world we are taught to be independent and self-reliant. Because of my driven personality and the fact that I was single into my 30s, I became quite adept at taking care of myself. This was not to the exclusion of God by any means. But rather a subtle shift in my heart that I was unaware of until I began practicing Sabbath.
Stopping work and productivity every week meant that I didn’t finish some projects by the time I wanted to. It meant my to do list sat there staring me in the face as I resisted the urge to do one last thing. It meant I had to quiet the voices in my mind crying out for my time and attention. It meant that I could not in any way rely on myself for things to get accomplished. I had to rely fully on God in the most practical way possible.
As God led me into Sabbath, He led me to see that my schedule and to-do list had become my taskmaster. They dictated my priorities and ruled my time. Somehow, I believed that God gave me work and then it was up to me to accomplish it. But Sabbath taught me that God knows what really takes priority. He knows what is pointless to worry and concern myself with. I can trust Him with my time and with the unfinished tasks on my list.
- I learned that God is not limited by time. I still can’t quite explain why or how this truth works but my experience with Sabbath has proven its truth time and time again. When I started trusting God with my time and following Him into Sabbath, I got more done in less time. Partly because I used my time differently and said no more, but partly (or perhaps, predominantly) because God accomplished for me what I could never accomplish on my own.
I remember one time specifically. I was working on a deadline and realized that I was going to miss it if I kept Sabbath this particular week. After wrestling in my heart, I decided to trust God and lay it aside. It was a battle in my mind and heart repeatedly during that Sabbath day. The next morning when I opened my email, aspects of the project had changed and the piece I had laid aside was no longer needed! Had I pushed through to do it, it would have been time that was wasted.
God repeatedly over the years has allowed me to see glimpses of how He is actively at work. He is at work for my good. He has blessings that are for us as we trust Him with the most real and practical parts of our lives. He sees what we cannot. He is orchestrating life. He is sovereignly in control and will work on our behalf if we’ll only let Him.
Surprised by the Flexibility of Sabbath
This surprise came a bit further along in my Sabbath journey. When I learned to practice Sabbath I was single. Time alone in nature, reading, journaling, and being still filled large parts of my Sabbath days. As an introvert, this filled me up. I had time and space to listen to God and let Him work on my heart. Time away prepared me to be with others in a more meaningful way during the rest of the week.
Then I got married. Suddenly it didn’t quite fit to practice Sabbath in quite the same way. I struggled with this for a while. Partly because I had unwittingly come to define Sabbath in a narrow sort of way. Partly because I had to adjust something I held dear to fit around another person (albeit one that I treasured!).
What God brought me to realize (slowly over years) is that there is a different rhythm to Sabbath in various seasons of life. What was possible when I was single was not always possible when I got married. Nor was it even remotely possible once a baby came along!
Sabbath, instead, was a time that I intentionally set apart to embrace God, family and others. A time to exclude what is typical and embrace what gives life. Again, God spoke the truth of Mark 2:27 into my heart in real and practical ways.
And so now my Sabbaths look very different, but yet they still fill me and prepare me for a new week. Sabbath is a day for what is more elusive during the week. Long strolls through woods and creeks. Books enjoyed together – sometimes in a hammock! Leisurely lunches. Spontaneous play and laughter and joy. Still moments for quiet and rest. Dishes pile up. Counters overflow. But time slows and hearts are knit together. And life is good.
Ready to be Surprised?
Sabbath is not a luxury only earned or gifted to a select few. Sabbath is a gift for everyone. A gift that comes with innumerable blessings. A gift that uncovers and reveals truths about yourself and about God that you haven’t yet discerned.
Sabbath brings about a change in perspective. A change in the way you view time. A change in the way you relate to God. And actually, refreshingly, a change that seeps into the other six days of the week.
Is God inviting you into Sabbath? Take the plunge. You won’t regret it. And you just might be surprised too!
Need more help pursuing Sabbath?
- Explore the other 4 posts in this series.
- Subscribe and get instant access to the following resources in the FREE Resource Library! (under the Sabbath category)
- PDF list of 50 typical activities to STOP and 50 life-giving activities you could EMBRACE during Sabbath
- Background wallpaper image of Mark 2:27
- 30 Day Meditation Guide to lead you through the truth of Scripture regarding Sabbath
- 4×6 card with 10 truths to help you cultivate a quiet heart