When I was six years old I got my very first bike at Christmas. It had motorcycle handlebars, and it made the sound of a motorcycle engine. There was just one problem. I didn’t know how to ride a bike.
So, on a cold December day, my dad took me out to teach me. He walked alongside me, holding the bike as I slowly learned to pedal and keep my balance. It wasn’t long before my dad pointed the bike back toward the house and told me I was on my own.
Well, I did great until I arrived. I knew how to go, but I didn’t know how to stop. I panicked and decided the only solution was to run into our car. I wrecked my bike, scraped my knee, wounded my pride and have been trying to learn how to stop ever since. In recent years I’ve begun to understand the spiritual importance of stopping and I have begun to embrace a theology of rest.
In some ways I am the least likely pastor to write an article on Sabbath keeping. For the first thirty years of my Christian life, the concept of Sabbath wasn’t even a blip on my spiritual radar.
I never heard a sermon or read an article or book on the subject. I assumed it was one of those Old Testament things we just didn’t do anymore. I lumped Sabbath into the same biblical category as the prohibition against wearing anything woven together with two kinds of material.
Not only was Sabbath theologically irrelevant for me, it was practically irrelevant as well. I didn’t personally know one person who practiced it. And my philosophy of ministry would have had no room for it. I have a “calling,” and that calling demands sacrifice. Life is short; the needs are urgent. I have to squeeze all I can out of every second of every minute.
I totally bought into the “burn out for Jesus” mentality. When that’s your mindset, there is no room for a theology of rest. All my life, I’ve been taught how to go and go faster; no one ever taught me how to stop.
But in recent years I have come to believe that it is God’s plan for us to stop, and to rest. The rhythm he established from the very beginning was work and then rest. Produce and then restore.
In fact, this rhythm traces its roots all the way back to creation. After God completed his work, he rested on the seventh day. He moved from creation to reflection. He certainly did not rest because he was worn out from six straight days of creating. He rested to model for us this principle of rhythm.
This seventh day, the day of rest, was so important that God blessed it and declared it holy. Did you know that the first thing the Bible ever declared holy was not an object or a place or a person, but a “time,” a twenty-four-hour period called Sabbath.
Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. . . “ Exodus 20:8-10 NLT
Awhile back I hiked my first “14er” (a 14,000-foot mountain peak) in Colorado where I live. It was intense, tiring work. But once we got to the summit, we stopped, rested, relaxed, and took time to soak in the beauty surrounding us. Part of the reward of work is stopping long enough to enjoy what’s been accomplished.
That’s a good picture of the rhythm God designed us to experience. Yes, life (and ministry) involves hard work. It’s intense and tiring. But we must begin to learn that it’s good to stop, rest, and take time to soak in the good gifts of God.
The world or your ministry may not give you permission to stop, but God does. In fact, he has commanded that we stop and rest. God thought it was so important that he put it in His Top Ten List. And without doubt the command to observe the Sabbath is the most violated command by pastors.
If you haven’t done so already, I want to challenge you to study this for yourself. Because if you don’t’ have a biblical and theological conviction about this, the gravitational pull to busyness will always suck you in.
If you are hearing this as just another obligation you need to add to your schedule, you are missing the point. Sabbath is not a “have to”, it is a “get to.” The main thing Jesus taught about the Sabbath was “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Next week we will talk about some of the practical aspects and benefits of observing Sabbath. But I would like to encourage you to spend a little time pondering the two questions below.
In the past, what has been your view of Sabbath?
What are the biggest barriers to you practicing Sabbath consistently?