“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NIV)
Fundamentally, Sabbath is not about rest but about work. Sabbath is a corrective that helps keep us in proper relationship to our work. Some people tend to wish they could win the lottery and escape the need to produce any work ever again, freed instead to pursue their own interests. Others come alive at work, finding their identity in what they do and what they produce. Sabbath helps to correct both of these extremes.
At its core, Sabbath is restful time spent conscious of God’s presence where we recognize that it is God that keeps the world in motion, not us. Sabbath is where we cease doing and rest simply in being. Sabbath speaks of our limits. Sabbath pushes us a little to the side, making room for God’s sovereignty, reminding us that he is in control of all the little and big things whose outcomes are the substance of our burdens. In the space created by Sabbath, we open ourselves up to be flooded by the peace of God. We realize that we are not carrying these burdens alone. Other hands than ours carry the heavy end.
The Sabbath was made for man, and properly observed, it is a powerful blessing.
All that said, it’s important to keep Sabbath in proper perspective or it can become one more burden to carry. In the first century, Jesus came into a world where observing the Sabbath was an enforced cultural pattern, a crushing “have-to” that resulted in all sorts of ridiculous situations that Jesus called out as such: no picking among leftovers for a meal when you’re hungry, no healing, no doing good even when the situation urgently calls for it. Ridiculous! Jesus made it quite clear that Sabbath was to be a blessing for man, not another burden. It must not become another occasion to ostracize, judge, or punish others or ourselves.
Sabbath in Scripture is a rhythm: one day in seven set aside, a kind of punctuation mark in each week. It gives shape to our work while keeping it in proper perspective. Sabbath rest gives us both an endpoint to our toil and a wellspring of prepared strength out of which to begin anew. When we find ourselves running out of steam toward the end of the week, we remind ourselves that rest is only a few days away. And if we face a difficult task in the week ahead, we allow ourselves time to rest and time for God to restore us to our full faculties for the work he has planned for us.
Many of us have some kind of Sabbath rhythm built into our week. If setting aside a whole day is too difficult because of family concerns or some other obligation, we might set aside part of a day. It need not be Saturday or Sunday, though most people find such a practice most compatible with the cultural rhythms around us. The key is to make time to rest in the presence and love of God.
But Sabbath is more than a weekly practice. Sabbath is a mindset, a way of perceiving and experiencing time, a rhythm of rhythms. What if we could carry this kind of rhythm into our chaotic days? Just as rests in a musical score give shape to the music, taking small moments out from our day to pause and rest can help us give shape to the tasks that we face. To do so, we break our day into pieces, moving between periods of work and short punctuations of rest.
Rising from Sabbath Rest
If we are not careful, mornings can run away with us. We set the rhythm with our alarm clocks, giving ourselves just enough time to prepare for the day and get out the door. What if we brought a little more shape to our mornings, orienting them as a kind of liturgical practice of rising from the gift of a night’s rest and receiving the day from the hand of God?
This aligns well with those of us who practice a morning devotional of some kind. As part of our prayers and the daily reading of Scripture, we might take a brief moment to wait patiently in silence, perhaps with our palms upraised, physically symbolic of receiving the day from God. We receive the day as it is, a gift—no matter what we anticipate that the day might bring. We acknowledge and give thanks for the fact that God goes with us even as we rise and grab our keys. This takes only moments, but can turn a chaotic morning into one that we perceive as secure in the hands of God.
Midday Sabbath Rest
In today’s busy workplace, people are taking less and less time for a lunch break. Many will eat a quick bite at their desks while working or eat on the run between meetings or engagements. Some miss lunch altogether in their rush. We all know this is unhealthy, but the demands of an over-full day and the constant pressure of all the communication channels that clamor for our attention threaten our midday rest.
We must recover this practice! Even if we take 15 minutes, it is vital to our health, to our work relationships, to our long-term productivity, and ultimately, to the life of peace all of us seek. So far as it is possible, we should disconnect from cell phones, email, and other communication channels. Take a moment and give thanks for work done so far in the day and give the remainder of the day and its concerns into the hands of God.
If you have longer than 15 minutes, you might return to the Scripture you read in the morning, spend a few minutes in silence, take a walk outdoors, or read something that energizes you. For some, it may be possible to take a 20-minute nap around this time. The important thing is to disconnect fully from your work, placing it for a time in God’s hands. Allow his presence to re-orient you toward your work, your co-workers, and the great value you possess in God’s eyes.
Evening Sabbath Rest
When the workday ends, we transition into a the last stretch of our day. Often, we find that we have spent the majority of our strength at work and are very tired. What then of the important relationships with family and friends that are relegated to this portion of our day? If we are to make the most of this time that remains to us, then it is vital to pause for a moment and rest before our evening begins.
Since our evening schedules take so many different shapes, it is often simplest to build in a time of rest into our mealtimes, either immediately before or after. If at all possible, it is best to delay pressing family concerns until after this time of rest so that we can give our best attention to the matter. This also ensures that we have fresh energy to spend with those we love the most and who deserve our best. Taking a few moments at the end of our workday to thank God for his presence and aid, we then have an opportunity to see our family and friends through his eyes and to love them with the fresh strength he pours into us.
Falling into Sabbath Rest
When our day draws to a close, we have the opportunity to spend a moment in quiet thanksgiving, recognizing all that God has done in the world and in our world. We also have the opportunity to place any concerns for the coming day fully into his hands; for some, this is a prerequisite for a peaceful night’s rest. We enter into silence and darkness, trusting that God will watch over us and our concerns as we sleep.
Seeking God’s rest one moment at a time
Putting these kinds of Sabbath practices requires time and energy! Embedding Sabbath practices throughout our day and week requires a shift in mindset as well as the formation of new habits and new ways of interacting with coworkers and family. But the end result is well worth it. We will find new strength in the midst of our days, a greater awareness and appreciation of God’s enduring presence, and we may even find that we accomplish more while struggling less.
What ways have you found to seek God’s rest during the midst of a chaotic schedule?