Hitting Refresh on Sabbath Keeping

Life is full of pressure to succeed, to make a difference, to prove our worth. We spend all our time blazing from project to project, activity to activity. There isn’t a moment to lose, not a minute to pause. As a culture, we are overworked, under rested, and over scheduled. We can’t catch a breath.

Most of us get two days off from work each week, but we rarely spend them resting. Even when we try to relax, we feel that we have to DO something. We fill our weekends with hiking, sports, home improvement, church activities, meditation classes. We find it difficult to just sit, to rest, to simply BE.

There is an ancient practice that answers this problem, but it is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap: Sabbath. Growing up, sabbath-keeping was presented as a legalistic practice that often got in the way of people’s needs. If the grass needed cut or the milk was running low, you were obligated to wait until the next day. There were watchdogs keeping score, and sabbath-keeping became another way to prove to God and others that we were good enough. A practice meant to bring refreshment became an obligation filled with anxiety, done without any intentional thought toward its implications.

Today, I have come to see the practice of sabbath-keeping as one of the greatest blessings that God has given to humankind. Through it, the divine screams to our hearts and souls, “You are worth more than all of this.” You are worth more than the balance of your bank account. You are worth more than the things you build, the time on your stopwatch, the number of friends on your contact list. These things are valuable, but you are worth more!

Sabbath rest removes the drive to be productive and reminds us of our value as part of God’s creation. Like the brushstrokes in Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, our presence in that masterpiece is value enough. We lose sight of this when we spend all of our time trying to justify our existence to the world around us. It bleeds into our relating to God, and we wind up trying to convince Vincent of the value of his own brushstrokes.

God sets the example of taking sabbath rest for us in the story of creation. Working six days, then resting on the seventh. You can argue about what day that is supposed to be, but most likely we have no idea on which day of the week God took the first sabbath. Pick one for yourself. There are all kinds of rules surrounding sabbath-keeping, and they vary from group to group. Don’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty, Jesus reminds us that God made the sabbath for the benefit of mankind, not mankind to serve the sabbath (Mark 2). Stick to the basics, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide your individual practice.

The principles of sabbath-keeping are these: disengaging from the rat race, setting aside time to cease pursuing both profit and products, resting in a trust that God’s work is bigger than us. Eugene Peterson talks about wasting time with God, and finding the time is not wasted at all. Some of my favorite Bible passages tell us that God is at work when we sleep. Taking a time-out from earning and buying and producing reminds us that the world does not stop spinning when we take a break. It allows us to reset our system of thinking and acting. Instead of acting from a desperation to prove our worth, we begin to live out of a confidence in our worth that goes beyond our market value.

Resting to remind us of our intrinsic worth, how Refreshing!

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