We live in a culture where it's hard to really take a day off. We are attached to our phones. It's tough to rest with kids. It seems there is always something to complete around the house. How does a person really take a day off and rest?
To answer that question I want to look at the Sabbath from the Bible;
What does the Sabbath mean?
During Bible College was the first time I began to study the Sabbath. Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat meaning repose. Repose is a state of calm, peacefulness or rest. The Sabbath means it’s our chance to have a day of calm with no regular work. From what I’ve read about history the Jews would start their day when the sun set. This way the first part of the day would be spent with the family. This is not necessarily a spouse and children; but time with their entire family. Next they would sleep and conclude their day with work. It’s a fantastic way to view the 24-hour day.
In his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero gives a definition that I really like. He says: “Biblical Sabbath is a 24-hour block of time in which we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God.” The phrases: “stop work,” “enjoy rest,” “practice delight,” and “contemplate God” give us a perfect road map to help us understand what the Sabbath really means. The Sabbath is more than a day off of work. The Sabbath is more than not working. It involves much more. The Sabbath means we get into a state of peaceful rest with the Lord. We avoid work and truly rest. This is how you can describe Sabbath to others next time someone asks you. (Special thanks to Cathy McIlvoy for her thoughts on this paragraph!)
To further help you understand what the Sabbath means let me explain a little more. The Sabbath is intended to be practiced weekly. One day a week is meant to be dedicated to the Lord. It’s a day where no regular work is to be done. Many people practice their Sabbath day on Sunday. This allows you to go shopping on Saturday, get the house chores done, wash the dog, clean your car and do other things that are work but not your regular job. If you don’t have Sunday off from your job you can be creative on what day you take. When I was in college I had Monday and Tuesday off so I would use Monday as my Sabbath day. The goal is not to be legalist on the day.
Now there are some questions about what is really work. When we talk about the meaning of Sabbath it’s a complete stopping of work. I do my best to take my Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. It’s a time where I don’t check email, I won’t slot meetings, I don’t do laundry and I won’t write a sermon. What I will do is clean the garage, wash the car or do yard work. Those are things that don’t feel like work to me. I’m a little OCD so having a clean car feels amazing. When my garage gets cluttered it stresses me out. It’s tough to clean it on a week night so I need to wait until the kids are resting on Saturday afternoon so I can clean it. Yard work actually refreshes me and doesn’t feel like work. There is something, for me, about raking the leaves, trimming the bushes and helping my backyard look more presentable. For you, this may sound stressful. The point of the Sabbath is do no regular work and rest. These are not my regular work and refresh me.
Why was it given?
Once we understand what the Sabbath really means is when we can begin to figure out why it was given. The first time the word Sabbath appears in the Bible is in Exodus 16:23. The Nation of Israel had been working their fingers to the bone. They were under the oppression from Pharaoh. They were required to make bricks so Pharaoh could expand his power and build up Egypt. God rescued His people from Egypt and after crossing the Red Sea the Lord commanded the people to take a Sabbath day (read Exodus 16:23).
Although this is the first time the word “Sabbath” appears, the term “rest” is used earlier in the Bible. In Genesis 2:2-3 God saw all He had made, and then He rested. How come an all powerful, all knowing, God stopped to rest? God didn’t have to rest. The Bible doesn’t say that God was tired. The reason that God rested was to set an example for us. God modeled a rest-filled life for each of us. God knew that He created us as human beings and not human doings.
The Sabbath protects people from burnout and being used for all they accomplish. During the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Sabbath was abolished, being substituted with one day’s rest in ten. Each person was expected to work for nine days and then take one day off. Apparently the experiment was a complete disaster. Men and women crumbled under the pressure and strain of the expectations. Animals were literally falling over in the street and dying for being pushed so hard. People need a Sabbath and that is why it was given.
There is a Bible Scholar who I really respect and he wrote a great part of the Sabbath. His name is Eugene Peterson. He started as a church planter and then became a teacher. He is also known for writing the Message version of the Bible. Listen to what Eugene Peterson has to say about this: “Sabbath: uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God was and is doing. If we don’t regular quit work one day a week, we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brow blinds us to the primal action of God in and around us.”
There is an old story about two men who went into the woods to chop down trees (axe picture). As the sun began to rise the men walked into the forest together. In a fun spirit one man challenged the other as to who could chop down the most trees. The bet was set and the day began. After a few hours of chopping down trees one of the men sat down for a quick rest. The other kept working. A couple more hours and the man sat down for a quick rest again. The other man kept working. As the day neared the end the man sat down for another rest! Finally it was time to go home and the counted up the trees they fell. To his shock the man who worked all day long had actually fell fewer trees than the man who rested. As they walked home he asked his friend how he worked less and dropped more trees. His response was quite simple, “While you keep chopping, I choose to sit, rest and sharpen my axe.”
Let’s a quick recap from the first two questions.
The first question was what does the Sabbath mean. Who can give me a sentence answer to that question? The Sabbath means to have a day of rest. The second question we grabbed from the fourth commandment is; “Why was it given?” Who can give me a quick answer to that question? The reason the Sabbath was given was so we can rest and not burnout from the load of work.
How do you rest?