I took some much needed time off this week. It was a brief respite away from home and my daily grind but it yielded great benefits.
Given a few days away, I began the gradual unwinding process that is always needed and required for me to find true rest.
Today, I am back at home and I am much more in touch with my need for rejuvenation and restoration and the need for us all have to have Sabbath-rest for our souls. As a result of contemplating the topic of rest, reminding myself of the basic info and doing a little research; I came up with the following post.
The Bible orders us to rest. In fact—one of the “big ten” in terms of commandments is the charge “to remember the Sabbath rest and keep it holy.”
Ex 20:8-11, tells us, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The root idea of Sabbath rest is simple. It is as simple as the changing of seasons and as basic as the inhale-exhale process of breathing— living things were designed by God to flourish only with a pattern of regular rest and rejuvenation.
The Bible specifies the need for one day of rest out of each seven day interval. And a day in Scripture is always measured from one evening to the end of the following day-light period. Gen. 1:5 states, God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. In accordance with this the Jewish Sabbath began in the evening and ran from sunset to sunset.
Jewish tradition also dictated that the weekly “rest interlude” was always preceded by a time of preparation. Beginning at 3 P.M. every Friday the faithful would prepare their food for the next day and perform all labors which were forbidden on the Sabbath and yet had to be done. Before sunset they would bathe and purify themselves, dress in their festive apparel, set their tables, and light their lamps.
The observance of the Sabbath always began with the Hebrew family partaking of the pre-prepared Sabbath meal followed by prayers and the compulsory call for the whole household to sleep. The arrival of night and the opportunity to sleep was not only a necessity but symbolically it provided a natural relinquishment of control. A good night’s sleep broke the cadence of work and set a rhythm for the entire Sabbath rest period. When we are sleeping, we cannot be working, we cannot direct anything, or control anything and we give ourselves temporarily over to God’s care. A believer shuts his eyes and believes that the Lord will take care of him through the night. Appropriately the first hours of Sabbath observance were spent sleeping.
Sabbath rest is a time that is supposed to be sanctified or set-apart for God’s use in our lives. However in our present day American culture few of us have really understood or appreciated the concept. What we don’t seem to understand is the fact that Sabbath rest is not just discretionary free time. It is not just a block of open time to be utilized as we see fit. Sabbath rest in actuality is to be used in a deliberate manner for rest and restoration of body, soul and spirit. And in remembering the Sabbath, we are to put aside work but we are also to put aside our own time agendas and even the act of creating.
Many people miss the importance of taking into consideration the Sabbath that God Himself modeled for us. God initiated Sabbath rest first and foremost by resting from creating. In Gen 2:3 we are told “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” If God needed to rest after creation how much more do we also need to be re-created after our creating? Working wears us out and creating pulls from our pool of resources and literally empties us out! We do not have unlimited resources as God does and as humans beings our finite resources are limited and must be restored. We cannot be creative, fruitful, and productive or reach our long term potential without Sabbath rest.
One of the largest obstacles to true Sabbath-keeping in contemporary life is leisure. Leisure competes with the concept of Sabbath and is what Sabbath-rest tends to become when we don’t know how to sanctify our time. The definition of leisure is “vacant time without occupation to be used at one’s will.” Leisure is an attempt at Sabbath rest without any focus on the sacred aspects. One author has rightly stated that “the Golden Rule of Sabbath Rest is to cease from what is necessary and instead embrace God and what truly gives life!”
Some present day believer’s may bristle under the call to Sabbath rest because they believe it to be an antiquated Old Testament ritual. The necessity of rest however is not just an Old Testament pronouncement; the need for rest is emphasized throughout the entire Bible.
Jesus promised that knowledge of Him would bring rest for the soul. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt 11:28-30 (NKJV). And He insisted that his disciples should rest. The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:30-31 (NIV)
The Bible proclaims that a pattern of sanctified rest is a vital and needed practice because it supplies us body, soul and spirit with what is needed to survive and thrive as humans. The Bible teaches that rest it is an important vehicle for “making contact with God. God tells Moses in Exodus 33 that rest and His presence go hand in hand, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Psalm 46:10 states clearly, Be still, and know that I am God. The central nature of rest is underlined for us in psalm 23. In the familiar psalm David speaks of the Good Shepherd’s dogged determination to make his beloved sheep rest, He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; Psalms 23:2-3 (NKJV).
Rest is a physical reminder that we are not in control of everything and that at the end of the day; we are not the ones who have the power to hold it all together. After all, ultimately managing things—being in control– is God’s job and we need to remind ourselves of that regularly (say at least once a week). During busy times it’s easy to be distracted from our relationship with God and treat our work as if it is our God. We must not however fall prey to work-worship for very long. If we make work our God we can in an incredibly short time find ourselves reaping some very serious consequences.
Work-worship has the ability to take an incredible toll on a human being and can jeopardize our physical, emotional and spiritual health. As Christians living in this incredibly stressful era we must repent and hear the clarion call back to one of the most basic principles of life and give God the time that is due Him. When we practice sanctified rest we focus back on God and allow Him to restore us—and that is a very good and necessary thing.
What are the culprits in your life that keep you from realizing the divinely ordained benefits of Sabbath rest? Have you fallen victim to inserting leisure into the place of Sabbath rest in your weekly routine? What is your opinion about the priority you believe Sabbath rest should play in the lives of contemporary believers? Please feel free to reply to these questions or any other question this post spurs in your mind. As always any comments are encouraged and welcomed!