If you had a chance to read my first post on the topic of Sabbath, A Risk Worth Taking, I have a hunch of what you might have thought after reading it. Wow, that sounds great. It also sounds a bit like a hotbed for becoming narrow and rigid. It looks good on paper but in the realities of ministry, life, family, a house it could so easily become another thing on our “to do” list. I want to address this honest expression of concern with some encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees in regards to the Sabbath and with a practical way to begin intentionally carving out space for Sabbath in your life and family.
Throwing Out Rigid, Legalistic Views of Sabbath
The first step in practically engaging Sabbath rest is getting rid of our narrow and legalistic views of the day. Many of you may remember a day when Sabbath was practiced with diligence to the point of rigidity. All shops were closed. All actions fitting the category of work were frozen. There was no way participating in sports was an option. There were a lot of rules to not break. While this kept the day open, it also became another set of things to keep track of carefully and a box that sometimes snuffed out life.
That reminds me of the religious culture around the time Jesus showed up in Galilee. He messed with peoples’ boxes for the Sabbath over and over and over again. He was criticized because his disciples picked and ate grain ont he Sabbath and he healed people on the Sabbath. He made people downright angry because of this rule breaking. This was the chance for Jesus to say, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) In other words, don’t try to fit into a one-size-fits all “Sabbath” outfit. That will drain the purpose, to meet the needs of people, right out of the day. It will lead you to miss all kinds of opportunities for life and it will lead you to become a harsh critic of others. Rather, see Sabbath as my gift to people, a gift whose purpose is to restore life to your weary soul and the weary souls of others. The purpose is for you to remember I'm God and you are not.
While this text, and many others like it, clearly say don’t use Sabbath as an excuse to not help someone in desperate need. It also, tells us that God had a good, life giving intention for us with creating the Sabbath. When we ignore it, we are proudly turning our back on God's desire to care for our very real human needs. Although, there are a variety of ways He meets our needs, at it's core our need is to find our life in Him.
Engaging in What Gives Life to Your Relationship with Jesus and Your Family or Mutual Friends
God’s commands and ways consistently open the way for His kingdom to be recognized in us and around us. The Psalms say the purpose of them are to bring us joy. (Psalm 112:1) There is life, abundant life, in His kingdom way. (John 10:10) So how can we begin to engage Sabbath in a way that invites life?
In the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas some helpful insights are given on how each of us experience the life of God in distinct ways.
*Some experience God most vividly in nature
*Others meet him most personally through worship music
*Others are most energized when they dialogue with others
*Some experience His touch through serving another in a practical way
The list goes on of pathways that are more likely to help people be present to Jesus. Discovering the way(s) you, and those closest to you, meet Him most poignantly is a first step in designing a Sabbath that gives life.
In my family, rest includes a delicious dinner, sometimes eaten on china (if my husband is up for washing dishes-I’m not), and candlelight. We often follow the Jewish custom of speaking words of blessing over our kids and one another at dinner. Sometimes we talk about a Bible text that reveals our human need to find our rest in Jesus. We love the rhythm of reciting a well known Bible verse or creed together. Our kids are drawn to this in the most beautiful way. So we usually say in unison a couple of our favorite verses. Sometimes we recite the Nicene Creed together. Then the candles are blown out and the lights go up, dessert comes out, and family games invite us to laugh, make jokes with each other and play.
We also continue to try and find ways to incorporate outdoor activities like hikes and bike rides. We meet Jesus in the splendor of nature. One of our kids isn’t always that excited about the outdoors. So at times it’s a stretch to make it happen. Yet, as our kids grow (they are now 10, 8, and 5) it’s becoming a bit easier to enjoy the outdoors together. Now, it's frigid in CO, so unless we are sledding or skiing we most likely won't be outside. The specific shape of the Sabbath will adapt to the realities of our life stage, where we live, and the season of the year.
We know another ministry family who began a regular rhythm of Sabbath practice a few months ago. They simply have 3 elements that are part of their Friday to Saturday night Sabbath. The husband likes spontaneity, so they've designed a flexible structure to their day. Sometime during the next 24 hours they will eat one meal together, have a time of all reading independently but during the same time, and then they will do some kind of physical activity. They’ve found that creating this new space is a conversation in process, but it is encouraging them in their relationshipw tih God and one another and lowering anxiety levels.
Take the Risk of Engaging Sabbath Rest in the New Year
So often at this time of year we are dreaming up the next career goal to accomplish, facing honestly the weight we need to drop, and making a fresh commitment to financial wisdom. We do this with the hope of bringing more of who we are to life. What if the one of the best ways to come to life is to let go of our goals for a day a week? What would it look like to approach the New Year with a simple desire and commitment to begin prayerfully and intentionally creating a space of ceasing? What would happen if we took the risk that our life is truly found in an intimate, secure, and trusting relationship with Jesus?
Honestly, a lot of the texts in which Jesus confronts the Pharisees on their death grip on the rules of Sabbath don’t mean much in a culture that has rejected the value and practicality of the Sabbath altogether. It my family's experience, it was only when we started practicing the Sabbath regularly that our kids knew to express their dislike of missing the Sabbath.
Their new awareness has given me teaching opportunities to share perspective with them. “Let me tell you a story from the Bible. Once there was a man with a withered hand. Jesus healed him on the Sabbath and the Pharisees were outraged. Then Jesus said, The Sabbath is meant to bring life to people, not make them slaves to rules. (Mark 3:1-4) What we are going to do this week on Saturday night will bring life to this person or to that group. After all, bringing the life of God to people is what Sabbath is all about.”
Here are a few recommendations of books that I highly recommend to help you reflect on and engage in the life available in the regular practice of the Sabbath.
The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan
The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero
Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Souls Path to God by Gary Thomas