Practicing The Sabbath

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One of the things I’ve regretted most over the last several years as a professional pastor is not practicing the Sabbath. Let’s face it, for a professional pastor, Sundays are the busiest day of the week. Preparing the church property for Sunday worship usually required the staff to be the first people to arrive and the last people to leave. In addition, Sundays were usually filled with meetings, impromptu counseling and administration. It was a rare Sunday when I could enjoy the day with my family.

I know other pastors who took a day off on a day other than Sunday. But for me that would mean taking a day off when my kids were in school. And on top of that, I’ve never been taught how to practice a Sabbath. The Evangelical circles I’ve been raised in deemphasized the Sabbath with verses like Colossians 2:16, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”

But lately, I’ve been rediscovering the biblical sacredness of time and space. Ephesians 5:15-16 states, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” This isn’t a time management principle. In the Greek, Paul is literally telling us to live God’s future kingdom right smack in the present. We are to re-create time and space by living a new way of being human as modeled by Jesus.

I’m discovering that one of the essential disciplines that trains us into this reality is the Sabbath. Dallas Willard writes:

“We strongly need to see the manifest hand of God in what we are and what we do. We need to be sure He is pulling the load, bearing the burden – which we are all too ready to assume is up to us alone. We must understand that he is in charge of the outcome of our efforts, and that the outcome will be good, right. And all of this is encompassed in one biblical term, “Sabbath.’ The Sabbath, Jesus said, was made for man. (Mark 2:27) That is, it serves human life in essential ways. Without it, life cannot be what it should be. That is why it is given in the Ten Commandments, at the heart of the moral law. It is not something we have to do because God has arbitrarily required it of us, a pointless hoop He would have us jump through. It is His gift to us. At the same time it makes clear that our life and our ministry is also His gift to us. Sabbath is a way of life. (Heb. 4:3 & 9-11) It sets us free from bondage to our own efforts. Only in this way can we come to the power and joy of a radiant life in ministry, a blessing to all we touch.”

Dorothy Bass writes, Sabbath “means joining in the song of creation which renews our love for the earth and our gratitude for the blessings God grants through it. Receiving this day means joining in a worldwide song of liberation… No other days can be the same after this one.”

Not being part of the organizational church any more has allowed my family and I to begin experimenting with the Sabbath. We’re learning how to fill our Sabbath with the three “R’s” – rest, remembrance, and relationships.

Here are some of the things we try to practice: We have one or two meals with others in our community. We intentionally turn off the TV and video games so we can read, write, play or rest. We slow down the frantic pace of the day without being legalistic. In other words, some chores and errands get done, but not at the expense of resting, remembrance or relationships.

Also, today, I led my four kids through a time of worship and the Divine Hours. It was a mixture of worship songs, fun dancing and reciting prayers together. And while I’m writing this, my kids are outside playing together, something they don’t get to do very often during the week. We’re also hoping to go for a walk at a park or botanical garden later to enjoy creation.

Sundays are now shifting from “church day” to a more whole-life practice of the Sabbath. We’re still new at this discipline. And it doesn’t mean that conflicts, arguments or discipline issues don’t arise. But I think the rest, remembrance and relationships we’re building into our weekly rhythm will yield some cool fruit.

2 thoughts on “Practicing The Sabbath

  1. Jason,
    I searched for your blog after reading the “Detox” article posted on Next-Wave (Which was excelelnt and hit me at just the right time)and love it. Your writing is very insightful. I wanted to leave a comment after each post because they all stirred up some thoughts. Especially the entry about life not being about “me”. I am having to learn that lesson over and over–reminds me of 4th grade(the best 2 years of my life);-)

    I am wondering if you have heard any of Rob Bell’s teachings (from mars hill bible church) on the Sabbath? I pinched his stuff and taught a class on the 10 Commandments at my old church. The Sabbath command is an interesting one as it rolls out in the context of Exodus 20. Rob Bell comments that this command could be paraphrased as God saying to his people, “Be like me”. It is a reminder that our worth does not come from what we produce (in Egypt the israelites worth came from how many bricks they produced, 24/7) but from our identity as people owned by God. We do not have to use time (40 hours or whatever) to produce stuff (Paychecks, etc…). Instead we are invited to use time to be who we are created to be and live lives of worship. It was an interesting spin on things for me.

    Anyway, thanks for the great Detox article and sharing your thoughts on the blog. I will be surfing back here often. Keep up the faithful work.

    Your Fellow Ecclesial Dreamer,

    James

  2. Jason Mills’ comment about the pressure to produce reminds me of a thought a friend of mine shared with me some time back.

    In the wilderness, the tempter tried to have Jesus prove his worth by turning stones into bread. He said, “IF you are the Son of God…” (Mat. 4.3) As though Jesus needed to prove himself! Only three verses earlier (Mat. 3.17) the Father Himself had declared, “This is my beloved Son.”

    The devil tries to fool each of us into thinking we have to prove ourselves. He would make us all into bakers! Thankfully we know our worth does not depend on anything we do, but only on God’s grace. (Ep. 2.8)

    I perceive it this way: I do good, not to obtain God’s favour or to feel worthy of His love (I’ll never be worthy!), but as a natural result of Him changing my heart. Spending Sabbath with Him means (in part) coming into His presence, inviting Him to do His work in me, perfecting me. (Is. 64.8)

    (Rev. 22.21)

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