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Food for Thought - Musings

Finding the Rest We Were Created For

“The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God.”
(Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)

June 2009 has arrived and on the 21st of this month we will cross the threshold into summertime. Ah, summertime! Summertime is when school is out, and when both the temperature and gas prices are on the rise. It is also the time when many individuals and families make plans for vacation: a time to get away and pursue favorite activities in favorite locations, and hopefully to get some needed rest before having to return to their regular lives.

Being able to find time to rest is an important part of taking time away. Sometimes our vacations can be filled with so much to do that we come home feeling nearly as tired as when we left. We return to our normal routine and begin to look forward to our next opportunity to get away.

Perhaps there is a better pattern of rest than trying to squeeze it all into a few weeks of vacation? Maybe there is a way to pattern our lives during the other 50 weeks of the year that will make the weeks of vacation more restful and enjoyable? Just maybe God’s idea of Sabbath is a missing ingredient in our lives?

The basic idea behind the word Sabbath is to “cease” or “desist.” Listen to what God has to say about the importance of maintaining a pattern of Sabbath rest in our lives:

Exodus 20:8, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

Lev.19:3b, “… you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest.”

Leviticus 23:3
“You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live.”

I know that some will be thinking, “That’s all Old Testament stuff, we are not bound by all those rules and regulations anymore.” It is true that the call to observe the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, (please note that it is the first positive commandment of the ten). But the roots of the Sabbath are not found in the Ten Commandments. The roots go back to the creation account found in Genesis 1 & 2, “On the seventh day, having finished his task, God rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from his work of creation.” It is instructive to observe that the first thing designated “holy” in Scripture is the Sabbath rest.

When God rested on the seventh day, it had nothing to do with his being exhausted and worn out from having created the earth… God was not tired!

In his commentary on Genesis, Walter Brueggemann says the Sabbath tells us a number of things:

The Sabbath discloses something about God

“God does not spend the seventh day in exhaustion but in serenity and peace. In contrast to the gods of Babylon, this God is not anxious about his creation but is at ease with the well being of his rule.”

The Sabbath is also a statement about the world

“It announces that the world is safely in God’s hands. The world will not disintegrate if we stop our efforts. The world relies on God’s promises and not our efforts. The observation of Sabbath rest is a break with every effort to achieve, to secure ourselves, and to make the world in our image according to our purposes.”

Because the Sabbath is rooted in the creation, it tells us that the cessation of work is part of the created order. This rooting in the creation account indicates a universal significance; everyone needs the rhythm of a Sabbath rest because it is the way that God has made the world. God’s rest (Sabbath) is woven into the essential fabric of who we are as created beings, and it is intended to be a natural part of who we are and how we live.

One aspect of God’s rest was his personal delight in his creation. He had joy as he looked at what he had made. It really was “very good.” I believe that part of our Sabbath rest is to delight in the created order. It is taking time to look with joy on God’s world and to say, “This IS good!” Sabbath is a part of God’s invitation to stop, rest, relax, and engage with him and his creation.

The practice of Sabbath is not intended to be a wearisome legalistic restriction. Sabbath is God’s gift to us (see Exodus 16:29).

I do not think our Sabbath has to be restricted to any particular day of the week. The important issue is that we actually take a day for rest, refreshment and renewal; a day to slow down and reflect on the goodness of God and his creation.

This practice of Sabbath is clearly at odds with our culture, which is characterized by a “go, go, go” mentality. Many in our culture would ascribe to the words of actress Helen Hayes, “If you rest, you rust.” I believe that the Roman poet Ovid provided better advice when he wrote, “What is without periods of rest will not endure,” and his advice applies to our 21st century lives as well.

To begin to integrate the practice of Sabbath into our weekly routine is an act of faith and trust in God and his wisdom. As we take God at his word, we find that our lives, our work, and our ministries actually will carry on and even be benefited by our taking a day for rest. “To act as if the world cannot get along without our work for one day in seven is a startling display of pride that denies the sufficiency of our generous maker.” (Dorothy Bass)

Practicing a pattern of Sabbath rest entails not only stopping certain activities. “To obey the fourth commandment is not only to desist but also to embrace; to enter into a different kind of day, whose repose gives meaning and energy to the other six days. Both the anticipation of the rest to come, and the aftermath of the rest enjoyed, inject proper rhythm into our lives, and ensure that life is not driven by the tyranny of the urgent but by the sovereignty of God.” (Ian Stackhouse, The Day Is Yours)

As summer approaches and you look forward to a time of vacation, consider the following: how would it be beneficial to begin to think about integrating a pattern of weekly Sabbath rest into your life? Would your vacation be more enjoyable if you entered it from an established pattern of Sabbath rest?

Taking some practical steps:

What adjustments would be necessary in your weekly routine to see one day a week set aside for rest and refreshment? What non-essentials might need to be eliminated from your routine to make space for Sabbath?

What day of the week would work best as your personal Sabbath? Why not pick a particular day of the week and begin to use it as your Sabbath day? Try it out and see if it will work for you. If not, rethink which other day might work out better. The issue is not to get it right on the first attempt; the issue is to see Sabbath established in your weekly routine. Keep trying until you find what works for you.

If you have a family, be sure to realize that you cannot make this decision in isolation from others. Enter into a group discussion about what a weekly Sabbath for the family might look like. What would need to be adjusted or changed? If children are in the picture, take the time to talk about both the idea and importance of Sabbath. Make a group decision on what your Sabbath day might look like.

Use Psalm 8 and 19 as a starting point for taking time to ponder, reflect and practice the noticing of the created order.

Set aside some time to just be quiet and to enjoy the created order. Take a walk in your neighborhood, in the mountains, in a park, at the beach. As you walk, notice the beauty of God’s creation: the plants, the flowers, the clouds, the water, the trees, the grass, the birds, and most of all the pinnacle of God’s creation: people! Thank God for each of them. Ask him for sight to see things that you have not noticed before.

Taking a deeper look with God:

Some who are reading this might think the idea of a weekly Sabbath is pure fantasy. If you feel that way, I can assure you that you are not alone. Perhaps all you can see before you are reasons why this would never work for you? Enter into dialogue with God about your questions and resistance to the idea of Sabbath. If they are based in practical concerns, ask God for wisdom and insight as to how those things might be changed or worked around.

If resistance to Sabbath revolves around how everything will get done, how will you ever get caught up, etc., ask God for the grace to begin to experiment to see if things actually will work out without you being busy 24/7.

If you are feeling some resistance to taking a weekly Sabbath, consider if there is some sort of fear, in addition to not getting everything done, which may be driving your resistance. What do you fear losing or what do you fear you may not get if you were to enter into a weekly Sabbath? Talk with God about your fears, taking time to listen to what God may speak to you about those fears.

Walter Brueggemann (as quoted above) said that, “The observation of Sabbath rest is a break with every effort to achieve, to secure ourselves, and to make the world in our image according to our purposes.” What drives your ‘doing’? Could it be that your value, your self worth, your security and/or your identity are rooted in what you achieve? Or are you keeping busy to avoid something, some person, or some thoughts? What might you be trying to hold onto or control rather than trusting that, as Walter Brueggemann noted, “…the world is safely in God’s hands?” Spend some time talking with God about all that may arise as you ponder these questions.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.” John Lubbock

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that the Sabbath is “an opportunity to mend our tattered lives.” Ask God’s help in seeing Sabbath established as a part of your weekly routine. In doing so, you might find that our Redeemer God can redeem your time and refresh your life.

The above musing was written by Steve Summerell. Steve leads retreats, gives spiritual direction locally and designs and leads spiritual formation seminars/retreats for missionaries throughout the world.

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