Summary: Keeping Sabbath has been called “the forgotten spiritual discipline.” It may be the most important discipline. It's about sanctifying time. We don't "keep" the Sabbath; the Sabbath keeps us, and is one of the most transformative blessings of the Christ
Keeping Sabbath has been called “the forgotten spiritual discipline.” It may be the most important discipline. In a way, it’s the easiest one to keep; there’s nothing to do…and yet most of us are so driven that we can’t possibly imagine doing nothing. We appraise our work and ourselves by what we do. We gauge our worth by quantifiable accomplishments…yet sometimes being is more important than doing.
How can an idle day be valuable? It’s all about sanctifying time. We don’t “keep” the Sabbath; the Sabbath keeps us. The commandment to “keep the Sabbath holy” has a built-in benefit--it keeps us holy and healthy. Sabbath rest is one of the most transformative blessings of the Christian life.
The Japanese are perhaps the most driven people on the planet, so much so that many are literally dying from overwork; they even have a name for it, karoshi, and it has become an epidemic. A driven person boasted, “I’d rather burn out than rust out”…but either way, you’re out! A minister who was told to slow down said, “The devil never takes a break; why should I?” Then he realized the devil wasn’t exactly his best example! Work is a gift from God, but work is not our God. The Sabbath is a safeguard, reminding us that there is more to life than work. We feel guilty when we don’t do enough, and resentful when we do too much. Do you want to get well, or do you want to be a martyr?
A friend of mine confessed that keeping the Sabbath was the commandment he violated the most. He thought about why, and he realized that busyness had priority in his life, causing him to rarely slow down. Life was all about working hard, producing more, never pausing to rest. And then he realized that he was also violating the first two commandments--he wasn’t putting God first, and he had made work an idol.
The Sabbath forces us to trust that God will provide for all our needs, and that He will somehow continue to manage the world without our help. The Sabbath is a practical reminder that we are totally dependent on God. Sabbath-keeping becomes a matter of faith, in that we can stop doing work without worrying if all we’ve built will fall apart. Do we really believe that God is in control? If God works all things together for good, we can relax. If not, start worrying!
This holy day sadly placed a wedge between Jews and Christians. The early church observed the Sabbath as a day of rest, but began worshipping on “the Lord’s Day”, the day marking three events: the first day of Creation where darkness became light, the day of Christ’s resurrection; and Pentecost, the birthday of the church. So is Sunday the “Christian Sabbath,” (as some call it/not Scripture) or should we be resting on Saturday? I’d like to propose that, whenever possible, we take Saturday as our day of rest, and then use Sunday as a day of worship and good deeds. After service and lunch, we could visit a shut-in, write a letter to a missionary, have someone over for coffee, or help a friend in need. We might read a Christian book, log onto some Christian websites, watch a religious video, and maybe attend an evening worship service.
Saturday (or some other designated day) could be our day to recover from the stresses of the week. Sadly, our society values working to the extent where weekends are no longer protected. People in non-essential jobs tell me they can’t attend church because they’re working. I can understand how people in health-care or law enforcement need to be on duty, but some companies that can take a break don’t. Nor do they respect the religious convictions of their employees. We have adopted what’s been called the “tyranny of the urgent,” which keeps us from shutting down.
Lest I get too legalistic, the principle is one day in seven. Many of us have no choice about when we get time off. When I was an Army Chaplain, during field training exercises I would visit units scattered throughout various locations. The joke was that, “In the Army, every day is Monday; but when the chaplain arrives, it’s Sunday.” We’d have an informal field service, I’d spend the night, and then take off for another field site the following day. I saw a lot of Germany that way.
The Sabbath is called a “creation ordinance”; it’ all about re-creation. By resting we’re following God’s example and receiving His blessing. The Sabbath is how we “get back to the Garden.” This holy day we set aside reminds us of God’s past provision and future salvation. The Sabbath commemorates the completed creation…the Lord’s Day commemorates our completed redemption. Scripture talks of Heaven in terms of rest; The Sabbath rehearses Heaven.