Last year I asked a friend and elder preach on the Sabbath. It wasn’t really fair of me, because he was quickly overwhelmed with the divergent views on the topic. It’s one of the many ways that we’ve lost this amazing gift. If we can’t think straight about the Sabbath, then we’ll never enjoy it.
There’s another common way we lose this gift. It’s by seeing it as a burdensome law rather than a generous gift. I’m amazed by my own ability to turn something that was given as a gift, and to turn it into an obligation that sucks the joy out of my soul.
So first things first: the Sabbath is still a very important topic for today. One of my friends, David Barker at Heritage Seminary, suggests that rather than breaking the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial, we think of the law in terms of form and function. All laws are fulfilled in Jesus; the forms may change, but the function endures. This means that we’re not tied to observing Sabbath on a particular day, but we need to give serious thought to the function of the Sabbath. How can we enter into God’s rest on a regular basis, anticipating the ultimate rest we have in Jesus Christ? It seems that a 6:1 pattern is hardwired into us. Barker says we should aim for this but be flexible. Maybe 2 days of Sabbath rest after 12 days of work is going to make sense for some of us.
Most of us are so lost on how to observe the function of Sabbath as a joyful gift that we need help. Here are some ideas that I’ve picked up and found helpful.
First, see the Sabbath as a time to cease work and to enter into joyful activities that refresh the soul. That means that Sabbath is a no obligation day. I can look at the mess in the house and leave it without guilt. I can forget that the oil needs changing or that the bedroom needs painting. I don’t feel obligated to check my email or do anything productive. As much as possible, I remove the burdens of all obligation from my life for that day, and engage in activities that refresh my soul. That looks different for all of us, but it is an amazing gift.
Second, Sabbath begins to set the pattern for my entire life. My friend Earl Marshall reminded me that in Jewish thought, the entire week is lived in light of Sabbath. The three days before Sabbath are days of anticipation, looking forward to that day. The three days after the Sabbath are days that we live out of the joy and rest we experienced on the Sabbath day. For me, this means that from Tuesday to Thursday my week is building toward my Sabbath. From Saturday to Monday I’m living off all that I enjoyed the previous Friday.
Ultimately, Sabbath is an act of trust in God and a statement about ourselves. It reminds us that we have value apart from our work, and that we trust God to ultimately provide when we aren’t working. When we refuse to take this gift, it’s really a theological statement that we don’t think the world can survive without us for a day. That’s arrogant. I know because I’ve been there.
Sabbath reminds us of the ultimate rest we have in Christ. The work has been completed; we don’t have to prove ourselves; even now, we can enter into joy that the work has been done on our behalf.
There’s lots more, but let me urge you to be radically counter-cultural and figure out how to enjoy the gift of Sabbath in your own life. I know very few people who do this. I’d write more, but I’m off to enjoy this gift myself today.
I’m sure there are lots of good books on this, but one I appreciate is The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. You can also download a PDF on the topic by David Barker (taken from the FEBCentral site). Matt Chandler preached on this last Fall, and did a great job.