Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)
Why is the concept of Sabbath- which almost seems foreign to us today in our 24/7/365 world- so essential to God that He commands it? Why is Sabbath still as important for 21st century Jesus followers as it was for ancient Jews?
Part of that answer can come from the natural cycles of the world that God created such as- day and night and the seasons of the year. As the Teacher of Ecclesiastes – who was most likely King Solomon- teaches us:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)
God built in cycles for activity and rest and he built a rhythm into nature. Spring is for planting, new beginnings and birth. Summer brings growth and coming to fruition. Autumn brings the harvest and preparation for the deprivation and dormancy of winter. Winter brings a sort of mini-death, a rest period in which the world recharges and prepares for the planting and growth of spring. There is a time to work and a time to rest that is built into even day and night. We are called to work and do the good things God created us for, but we are also called to rest and to just be sometimes. That is what Sabbath is for.
Sabbath gives us that recharging and rest time we need to disconnect from the world, from work, from the temporal cares of the moment and focus on simply being in the presence of God. The consequence of non-stop engagement and endless work is burnout. God knows we need to connect with Him to be renewed and to have Him restore our strength. Observing the Sabbath is not so much about “doing something for God,” but it is part of His provision to take care of us. Jesus had to remind the Pharisees that God made the Sabbath command not for people to have to observe a laundry list of man-made restrictions, but so that people would see the need to take time out to simply be in the presence of God.
Then He (Jesus) said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28 (NRSV)
How do we make a conscious effort to observe the Sabbath, even knowing that some people must work on Sundays?
Take an alternate day- one who must work Sundays can take a day not scheduled for work to observe the Sabbath. Those who have Sundays off should make weekly worship in a church with other Jesus followers a priority, along with receiving Communion when it is offered. Even those who must work Sundays can find ways to connect with the Jesus community- through audio or video sermons and through study and discussion groups online, or with groups who worship or meet together on days other than Sunday.
Take Sabbath moments every day. Observe a time of prayer, meditation and conversation with the Lord for a set amount of time every day. Such a simple practice can easily become a part of our spiritual disciplines and part of the cycles and rhythms of our lives.
Sabbath is God’s gift of rest and recharging for us. It is part of the rhythm of life that He created. We need to work, but we also need to rest and reconnect with Him.