In last week’s article I talked about the priority of Sabbath and this week I want to talk about the practice of Sabbath keeping.
The Jews have a wonderful tradition that symbolizes the practical impact of Sabbath. It is called Havdalah. At the beginning of the Sabbath you light a candle, and that candle is a reminder that this day is different than the other six days. This is a day that is not about work and productivity, but it is about rest and relationship. When the 24 hours of Sabbath is completed, they would take the candle and extinguish it in a cup of wine. And then they would pour a little wine from the cup into a saucer. This symbolic act was to portray that truth that if you practice Sabbath well it will spill over into the rest of your week and you will be a better person the other six days because you practiced Sabbath on the seventh day.
While Havdalah now portrays how I feel about Sabbath, I have to be honest and tell you that when I first started trying to practice Sabbath, I hated it. It was not enjoyable or spiritual. It felt like de-tox. I kept wanting to check e-mail or work on a ministry project or whittle down my to-do list. I was so driven and overloaded that slowing down actually felt uncomfortable. And even when my body was still, internally I was still amped.
I was like a car that was in “park”, but my engine was running and I have the accelerator all the way to the floor. Even though it may have appeared that I was slowed down on the outside, on the inside my RPM’s were redlining.
Over time I’ve learned that Sabbath is not a have-to, it’s a get-to. This incredible gift from God allows us to reflect, restore, and replenish. During Sabbath God whispers, “I’m in control. The world can get along without you for twenty-four hours.” The core issue is about trust. Sabbath challenges me to ask the question “Can I really trust God to handle things for the next twenty-four hours?”
Sabbath keeping also helps me embrace my limits. God is God and I am not. Sabbath reminds me of that. He is the creator and I am the creature. I can’t do it all or carry it all. There is always more ministry that could be done and our work is never finished. And we can begin to think we can’t afford to stop. But Sabbath reminds me that I am not as indispensable as we think.
When I practice Sabbath I find that I’m more present. I tend to do a better job of living in the moment and enjoying life’s simple pleasures. I notice the beauty of creation more easily. I listen a little better, and I feel more joyful.
Practicing Sabbath is like getting a weekly perspective adjustment. When I stop and reflect and pray and spend time with God, I’m reminded of what’s most important.
Living in the twenty-first century is like being in a jar of muddy river water. Only when the jar remains still will the sediment drop to the bottom and the water once again become clear. Sabbath keeping helps me see God and life more clearly.
Through Sabbath I am learning that my significance is not wrapped up in my productivity. On Sabbath, I am not Lance the pastor, Lance the leader, Lance the financial provider, or Lance the Replenish guy. I am simply a beloved son.
I want to give you a framework for thinking about how you might best practice Sabbath. I have adapted this from Pete Scazzero’s template for pacticing Sabbath.
- Prepare. It takes some planning and effort ahead of time so that we can unplug and not work on Sabbath.
- Stop.Put productivity on hold for twenty-four hours. Try to eliminate those things that feels like an “ought” or “should”.
- Rest.For some of us the most spiritual thing we could do is take a nap. Trying to do ministry from an empty and exhausted place is no fun for us or for the people we are trying to shepherd.
- Delight.Isaiah 58 talks about enjoying and delighting in Sabbath. Sabbath is a day to enjoy what God has created. Ask yourself the question “What is life-giving to me?” Then, try to put some of those things into your Sabbath.
- Worship.Take time to “be” with God. The seventh day is a Sabbath “to the Lord.” So, there should be more time for unhurried prayer, lingering over Scripture, and moments of reflection and gratitude. After observing the Sabbath I should feel more connected to my creator and Savior.
I’m not sure where you are with Sabbath keeping. A first step for you might be to really spend some time digging into Scripture and developing a solid, biblical view of this issue. For some of us, a next step might be to sit down with our spouse and have a heart-to-heart discussion about what it would look like to live a healthy rhythm of life in the midst of doing ministry.
But my challenge to you is to get started. Put it on your calendar. Make it a priority. Begin to implement Sabbath keeping into your life.
Your life and your ministry will be better for it.