The Christian Sabbath is God’s gift to me, one that gives rather than takes ; a day of rest to engage uniquely with the LORD and all that he has provided; a special time of reconnection, remembrance, revival, refreshment, refocusing and resurrection; a set apart day of the week, given to God’s people that they might live a holy, rest-filled life of worship. It involves stopping the “to do list” and the taskmaster’s drumbeat of “it’s never enough.” This day’s tone and pace and content and purpose are all set by the Lord of the Sabbath, who went about doing good even on the Sabbath, who desires mercy not sacrifice, and who brought to us a new measure of liberty, grace, new creation life and rest.
During Jesus’ day, the Sabbath became an anchor to an oppressive religious structure, a yoke that came as a burden and left in its wake religious but weary lives. Jesus, of course, came against such a system, an action that made the spiritual leaders of his day conclude that his Sabbath-keeping was really Sabbath-breaking. But Jesus’ defiance of the religious rules of his day was actually reflective of the LORD’s heart of love and life that enables us to enter God’s rest.
For me, the Christian Sabbath is “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing. If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brows blinds us to the primal action of God in and around us.” With Peterson, I too am not a strict Sabbatarian, allowing exceptions in the midst of a desired goal of a day of rest per week, which includes not forsaking the “works of necessity and mercy.” (Cf. E. Peterson’s book Working the Angles)
Though this isn’t the place to debate fully whether Christians should observe a Sabbath Day, you can read more by clicking here. However—per Paul’s three different letters written to those in Rome, Galatia and Colossae—I and many others realize that the teachings about a Christian Sabbath Day vary but still see it as something vitally important for their own personal lives. I paraphrase from Paul: “Be careful that your praxis in this matter doesn’t become a stumbling block to others but also don’t let anyone judge you with respect to the Sabbath: some may practice it, others may not; let each person do so by faith and as unto the Lord, for new creation life brings love and liberty. Beware of religion that says, ‘Do this and live,’ for it will result in either quick failure or culminating pride — both of which bring about condemnation and death. “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'”
Many Christians, when challenged to take one day a week to shabbat, quickly retort, “That’s a Jewish law not applicable to a Christian’s life of liberty. Interestingly, this same attitude isn’t as quickly applied to things about adultery or thievery. Further, others just want to know the Christian game rules and get on with it. Okay. Here’s God’s one “rule”: Love God, love others. But we can only properly love God and others, when we live our lives in response to God’s love to us. The Bible and those called to teach its meaning help us understand what this looks like.
What’s my response to Paul’s above advice and my deliberations about the Sabbath? The Christian Sabbath is a day that is a priceless and helpful gift from God that I ignore at my own peril. For me, keeping in mind God’s Creation pattern of rest and work, allows the Fourth Commandment to continue forward into Jesus’s new commandment. For me, a life of worship arises from Christ’s finished work that has brought about “rest” and “peace.” For me, given the below scriptures, I pray for those who know no end to work; those endlessly going and doing, buying and selling, even well-meaning good people, even Christians. Yes, like Paul let’s declare, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Yes, Paul knew kingdom living from a platform of “righteousness, peace and joy,” but I’ve seen too many Christians whose striving knows no end, whose hearts know little of God’s “peace and joy,” and whose Christian efforts are more for their glory and their kingdom or a messiah complex. I used to be one of them and was totally blind to self-driven ambition and self-importance, all done in the name of Christ. I still have a long way to go, but now I am more aware of the need for myself and those that don’t know rest nor the God of rest to grow in the knowledge of him, who is rest, and hear that resting one day out of seven before the Creator and Redeemer can be “peace and joy.”
For me, some Sabbath days may involve rescuing an “ox that has stumbled into the ditch”; others, though I am tempted to take one more day to work down that never ending list or address the “squeaky wheel,” by faith I shabbat and declare to my soul that God is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Worker of good. Then there are those days, that I collapse with exhaustion into my Sabbath and arise the next day with vigor, fresh hope, and renewed vision. Regardless, each one of them represents a reacquaintance with Paul’s Roman doxology in hopes that it’s theme rings loudly throughout my upcoming week: “Oh, the depths of the riches of God … Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” This pastor still needs reminding that God is the answer and Savior of the world, not me; he, not I, “holds all things together”; he’s the one, as Alpha and Omega, who is moving his-story forward. At best, I’m just his co-laborer. However, when tired, visionless, … or filled with self, I’m just not at my best for the LORD.
For this pastor, Sundays represent privilege but not rest: the unique opportunity, not given to many, to be a servant–leader to God’s beloved people. Therefore, my “Sunday” normally falls on another day. Regardless, will you worship the God of rest, with me, and live a life of rest that is possible because of Christ’s finished work? “Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. … Taste and see that the LORD is good; … those who seek him lack no good thing. … The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.”
Next week, I’ll post my prayer from which my typical “Sunday” starts.
(Gen 2:2–3; Exodus 20:8–11; 23:12; 31:12–13, 17; 34:21; Num 15:32–36; Deut 5:12; Isa 12:1–6; 58:1–14; Jer 17:22; Ps 62:5; 34:1–22; 63:1; 92:1–15; Matt 11:28–30; 12:1-13; Mark 2:23–28; 3:1–5; Luke 5:16; 6:6–10; John 5:1–17; 9:13–16; Acts 10:38; Rom 8:1–39; 11:35–36; 14:4–5, 16–17; 15:1–4; 1 Cor 6:12; 8:9–13; 10:23–11:1; 2 Cor 4:1–4; Gal 4:10–15; Phil 1:6; Col 1:17; 2:16–17; Heb 4:1–13; 1 John 2:15–16; Rev 1:8)