A Neglected Commandment
By Shannon Frank
Don’t murder, of course not! Don’t commit adultery, I know that’s wrong. Don’t steal, stealing is bad. These are things a Christian generally finds easy to follow, as does most of the world. Then there are a few commandments that are harder to follow, but we generally want to keep: like don’t worship idols, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, don’t lie and don’t covet. But there is one commandment that we have no trouble blowing off. We hardly even think about it.
God says in Exodus 20, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” He thinks it is so important, he puts it in his top 10 list. He even explains it so we can understand better what he means. “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall do no work, you or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
From this verse we find five things we need to remember about the Sabbath:
1. We are to remember it. Don’t forget it! Put it on your calendar!
2. Keep it holy. Set it aside from all other days as special. Make it different. Focus on the holy God.
3. One day out of every seven. It doesn’t say on Sunday or Saturday specifically, but there should be a cycle of work 6 rest 1.
4. No cheating! Don’t get someone else to do your work in your place. You miss the point if your personal work goes on while you rest.
5. God set the pattern for Sabbath. He didn’t need to take a Sabbath. He never grows tired or weary. When we practice Sabbath, we are following the example that God set for us.
Why did God command Sabbath?
First of all, he knows how we are made. He created us. We have limitations on the amount of work we can do at a given time. We have to sleep. He is the one who made day and night and created our bodies to fit well into that cycle for rest. He also created us to function best within the seven day cycle of work and rest. Ceasing work on the seventh day helps our bodies and our minds to be refreshed. It is essential to our well-being both physically and mentally.
Also, when we rest from work, it is a ceasing from the cares of this world, a ceasing from the need to be productive, from enculturation, and also from the hum-drum and meaninglessness that can creep in when we do the same things day in and day out. Taking a day to rest can reset our souls and help us to remember all the reasons that life is worth living.
Ceasing from work is also a matter of trust. Just like the Israelites had to trust that God would provide their “daily bread” with manna in the desert, we can demonstrate and reinforce our trust in the Lord by setting aside our productivity during the Sabbath. In doing so, we proclaim that we trust that the Lord provides for our needs, makes a way for us, that he is in control, not us. It is not in our power, but in his, that things are accomplished. Sabbath reminds us that we are limited, but God is infinite.
If we are not careful to rest, we run the risk of idolatry. It is easy to begin to place work before God. If we work day in and day out without respite, we are placing productivity before one of God’s commands, essentially saying, “My boss, my career, my home, my ministry, my lawn…is more important than obedience to God. Even more, we risk elevating ourselves as idols. What a distasteful idea! Even though we may not be conscientiously thinking it, when we are afraid to step away from our work and trust God with it, we are declaring with our behavior that we think we are too important to the tasks at hand to entrust them to the Lord; that things will fall apart in the hands of the LORD! I am astonished as I write this. It’s a new revelation for me. This fear has been hidden in the recesses of my heart, and I know that I must get rid of it and remember things will not fall to pieces without me if I place them into the hands of the good and almighty God.
Healing can take place when we get into the rhythm of setting aside a day to rest. We learn to let God take care of us and give up our own attempts to be the God of our own lives. We recognize that God is in control and then we can receive the freedom that comes from casting our cares upon the Lord and trusting him with our well being. And when we go even further with our Sabbath day and use our extra time of rest to increase prayer, bible reading, and worship, we can draw closer to God, receive healing, peace, joy, and all of the fruits of the spirit that come from being in his presence. That sounds like abundant life to me!
What does a Sabbath Day look like?
Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is meant to help people, not to burden them. The Pharisees added lots of extra rules and restrictions to what God’s law said, making it a burden for people to follow. What was meant as a day to refresh the people, became a discouragement. So when we ponder what a Sabbath day might look like, we shouldn’t be legalistic in our thinking. What is restful and feels like a Sabbath to me, might not be restful for you. The shape that a Sabbath takes will be different for each person depending on our lives and temperaments. What feels like work differs for each person.
Sunday is often a great time for people to Sabbath, but maybe it’s not. Another day of the week may be better for you. Because my husband is a pastor, Sundays are our busiest day of the week. So we take our Sabbath on Mondays. Maybe you want to spend your Sabbath with lots of people or maybe with just family? I have extra people at my house almost every day. My life as a pastor’s wife is relationally full. So, a day at home in the quiet feels like vacation to me. I like to have alone time…you may want to be with people. Does exercise energize you and make you feel alive? Do it! Do you love to be in nature and want to be outside? Go for a hike! Would you love to cook a big meal that someone would actually eat and not complain about? Have a meal for friends. I cook for a large family every day so this often feels like work to me. But if you live off of mac and cheese and chicken nuggets, but are a gourmet chef at heart a big meal may bring you joy.
A Sabbath Day can help you to experience more of the fullness of who God created you to be, by releasing you from the constraints of work, and the need to feel productive. Also being released from the constraints of work can give you the freedom to spend time enjoying the people you love. Time to cuddle on the couch, read another book, take a walk together, go to the park, play a game, sip tea and have a long conversation. You can do all this without feeling the struggle that you should be doing something more productive or worrying about the tasks on your to-do list. Sounds wonderful.
A few more words to remember, distraction does not lead to refreshment! Drowning yourself in technology and entertainment will not be as life giving as you think. But God is gracious and kind. He meets us in our Sabbath’s even when we are not looking for him. Sabbath keeping is a journey and you will not have it figured out all at once. So if you already take a Sabbath day, I encourage you to keep on going knowing that it will lead to abundant life! If you don’t, I encourage you to take the first steps and begin to figure out how to work Sabbath keeping into your life and family.
Two additional questions:
How can you take a Sabbath with kids?
I don’t have all the answers for your personal situations, but this is what I have learned for myself. And while with children your day may not be 100% relaxing, you can make the most of it by planning ahead.
First pray that God will give you a plan for what a Sabbath should look like in your family then you can try some of these things…
1. Have your house relatively clean the day before your Sabbath, so you don’t feel that you must clean on your Sabbath.
2. Lay out clothes the day before. Know what everyone is wearing, and put shoes by the door.
3. If it is church day, give yourself ample time to get ready so that you don’t have a stressful mad dash out the door. You can get to church with a smile on your face!
4. Get a good night’s rest the night before so you can feel your best on your Sabbath.
5. Be satisfied with simple. Cereal for breakfast (or bake something the night before), sandwiches for lunch, dinner can be order out pizza. (It is in our house)
6. Use paper plates. (Dishes will never be done on Sabbath day in my house!)
7. As much as you can, don’t look at or answer phones, texts, emails. Inform others that this is your plan.
8. Have the kids do their homework before the Sabbath. (So you don’t have to do math on your Sabbath day, and neither do they!)
9. Learn the art of conversation. Talk about things that are not work related. My husband and I struggle with this because we work together at our church, and most of our friends are involved in church and ministry, also our kids require lots of work. What do we talk about if not those things? We watch lots of documentaries. Then you can discuss the history of mathematics, the new planet that NASA found, and how amazing Tesla cars are!
10. Get your kids excited about Sabbath. Make a plan with them. Discuss what the day will look like. Tell them it is a no chore day and they will love it.
What if my spouse doesn’t want to keep a Sabbath?
1. You can’t force change on your spouse, but you can make changes in your own life.
2. Pray that God will put the desire in your spouse’s heart.
3. Talk to him or her about what you are learning and how you are going to implement Sabbath keeping into your own life. Ask if they would like to join you.
4. If not, tell them your plan (what day it will be, how you will simplify meals, plan ahead, not talk about work, etc.)
5. Do not expect him or her to do things differently, and don’t get angry if they don’t.
6. Lead by example.