A number of years ago now, I was thinking through the 10 commandments one by one…
Don’t lie. Yes!
Don’t steal. Right!
Worship and serve God alone. Amen!
Don’t murder. Absolutely!
But, in my mental list, I was able to name 9 of the commandments from memory, and couldn’t figure out what the 10th one was. It took singing a song I learned when I was a kid in order to remember… “Number 4, the sabbath is for worship and for rest.” Hmmm.
As a worship leader, I have always seen Sunday as a day of worship. For as long as I can remember, I have been on worship teams, playing the piano, singing, playing the guitar, leading people to sing praise to God. But, rest? Not at all. As a worship leader, Sundays were the busiest and most stressful day of my week.
I often remember arriving at church at 6:30am… kind of hard to have my normal 1-2 hours of quiet time with God before that. Then, a flurry of decisions and details and sound checks and lights and last minute changes and people who forgot what we rehearsed and making space for everyone else to just be in God’s presence. After the service, we often turned around to do it all again, one or even two more times. And after each service came a lot of brief interactions with dozens of people who wanted to tell me something important. In my head, I had re-written the song: “Number 4, Sundays are for worship and for stress.”
I decided that since I believed in keeping the other nine commandments, I might as well try to figure out how to keep number 4. And so began my journey to celebrate Sabbath. To enter into a weekly rest that somehow models itself after God’s own resting after 6 days of creation. I read every scripture about sabbath. I read a few books on sabbath rest. And, my family and I have been practicing every week for at least 13 years. Honestly, the practice of Sabbath has sustained us through our most stressful times—including this COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few suggestions from what I have learned.
#1. SET ASIDE THE TIME INTENTIONALLY.
24 hours might be a bit much for some of you. You might need to start with a 4-hour “sabbath” each week. For my family, Sunday is typically not a good day. So, we chose Thursdays. (Since we homeschool our kids, they can be off school on Thursdays and do schoolwork on Saturdays instead.) I recommend celebrating sabbath as a household, so you can encourage each other, learn/process together, and not interrupt each other’s sabbath. 🙂 Please don’t argue about when sabbath should happen and fail to take a sabbath.
Some of you are at home all day every day during this global pandemic. You might have assumed you would have plenty of time to rest. But, it’s not that simple, is it? Start by setting aside a time this next week for sabbath rest. Block it on your calendar. Protect it.
#2. AVOID WORK.
This is easier said than done. Exodus 20:10 says that on sabbath no one should work… not you, your children, your livestock, or your guests. Sabbath is a rest from work. Not because there is no work to be done. I have never once felt like I was finished with work. I have never once felt completely “caught up” or “on top of things.” I sabbath anyway. On sabbath, I avoid email, phone, text messages, and Facebook. Why? Because for me, work happens in all those spheres. I communicate a LOT for work, on all those platforms and more. Sabbath is a time for me to take a break from that. We take a break from household chores on sabbath. No washing dishes. No folding laundry. No work.
“We can refrain from activities that we know will summon worry, activities like paying bills, doing tax returns, and making lists of things to do in the coming week.” [Dorothy Bass; Receiving the Day] During a global pandemic, taking a break from worry is especially important.
When we refrain from work, we realize that it is God who sustains us and provides for us, not our own work. (Ps. 104:13-15, 27-28)
Some of us don’t know who we are if we aren’t working. Sabbath is a chance for us to find out. (And it may take some time. So don’t give up too soon!)
#3. DO SOMETHING REFRESHING/LIFE-GIVING.
I’ll never forget when I was explaining to our kids that we were going to start celebrating sabbath together as a family. Our oldest daughter looked at me and said, “What are we going to do? Sit around all day and do nothing?”
For some of you, that sounds delightful. To others (like me), that sounds like a punishment. Exodus 31:12-17 has a lot to say about the sabbath. But, it ends with the statement that “on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.” God was refreshed? Let that sink in.
Find some things that are refreshing, that replenish your energy, that give you life. For some of you, this may take trial and error. You may think that binge-watching Netflix is restful but actually find yourself more tired afterwards. And, please note: what’s refreshing to you may not be refreshing to someone else. For me, one of the most refreshing things I can do on Sabbath day is take a 6 mile run. For my wife Jennifer, while I am running, she is refreshed by an afternoon nap. Try some things you think might be refreshing… and keep trying until you come up with at least a handful of options. Here’s my short list:
- a long run
- drinking coffee and having a long conversation with Jennifer
- creating something (writing a song, drawing a picture)
- good food
- the great outdoors
- reading for fun
#4. CONNECT WITH GOD.
How do you enjoy spending time with God? For me, I could sit with my journal for hours, pouring out my soul to God and listening to what God is speaking to me. Turn on some worship music and dance. Read long portions of scripture and lose yourself in God’s story. Read a few words of scripture and meditate on them. Go on a walk and talk with God. Study the bible with a friend. Sing your heart out. The sabbath is unto God. (Exodus 20:10) Whatever you do on sabbath, be consciously God-ward. Knowing God is more important than producing, doing things for Him. (Psalm 46:10)
Mark 2:20 says that the sabbath was made for us. We were not made for the sabbath. What started off as a duty has turned into a delight for me. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to sabbath days. May you discover the gift of sabbath that was made for you.
[written by Josh Davis]