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Find Freedom through the Sabbath

Find Freedom through the Sabbath

Jesus promises you an abundant life. But you can’t fully access it if you’re trapped inside the demands of a 24/7 culture. Observing a Sabbath day will free you to find the peace and renewed energy He wants to give you.

Here’s how you can start keeping the Sabbath:

* Open the gift. Realize that the Sabbath is a gift from God, not a burden. This weekly day of rest and worship is meant to help you live in a healthy rhythm rather than struggling against the natural rhythms of creation. Understand that if you don’t stop for a Sabbath each week, you’re harming your spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health. Trust that the Sabbath will help you clear away distractions so you can rest in God and experience His grace in new ways. Ask God to help you overcome your fears of unstructured time. Ask Him to make you willing and even eager to observe the Sabbath. Accept God’s gracious gift of a Sabbath day, and thank Him for it.

* Choose a day. Decide on one day each week to observe the Sabbath. Remember that it doesn’t have to be Sunday; if you have to work on Sunday, you can choose another day when you’re off. Look at the rhythms of your week and decide which day makes the most sense for your Sabbath.

* Choose a time, and mark the beginning and end of your Sabbath. Schedule when you’d like to begin your Sabbath – at sunrise, at dusk the night before, or some other time. Plan when you’d like to end it, keeping in mind that a full 24 hours of Sabbath break is best. Engage in a simple ceremony or two to mark the beginning and ending of your Sabbath: a worship service, a candle lighting, a festive meal, a special prayer, a walk, etc. Prepare for your Sabbath by getting tasks such as grocery shopping and laundry in advance done to free you up to enjoy the Sabbath.

* Decide what to stop doing. Cease from whatever activities are work for you. Stop both paid work for your job, and unpaid work like household chores. Don’t multitask. Consider taking a break from at least one of your heavily used appliances (such as a car, washing machine, or computer) and from media that draws you away from holiness. Stop shopping, and ask God to help you break free from the chains of consumerism and find fulfillment in your relationship with Him. Try not to compete with others (such as through sports or other games) on the Sabbath. Stop talking unnecessarily and find renewal in the silence. Break free of anxiety by refusing to spend time worrying on the Sabbath or doing any type of activities that summon worry (such as paying bills). Cease negative self-talk and criticizing other people. Give yourself three to six months to try out your plans for the Sabbath before changing them, so you’ll have adequate time to see transformation occur in your life.

* Decide what to do. Be sure to spend time worshipping God with others in a community of faith on your Sabbath day. Spend some time alone as well. Breathe deeply and slowly to get yourself in a healthy physiological state. Engage your senses by getting out in nature. Talk with and listen to God in prayer. Consider journaling, painting, or some other creative way to record the inspiration you receive. Celebrate with food, music, laughter, and playful activities. Ask God to help you relax, have fun, and notice Him operating all around you.

* Discover God’s grace. Let the Sabbath help you remember that God loves you for who you are rather than what you do. Know that you can’t do anything to earn God’s love, and that He will still love you just as much if you’re not productive. Ask God to help you break free of the urge to constantly achieve something or to strive to be perfect. Ask Him to loosen the pressures you feel to be constantly busy. Pray for Him to release you from whatever enslaves you, such as: possessions, productivity, pride, fear, anger, insecurity, or unresolved pain. Don’t wait until you feel like stopping your work to start a Sabbath, because you may never feel like it. Instead, just decide to lay down your work – ready or not – when your Sabbath day arrives. During the Sabbath, ask God to show you what’s truly necessary, and what’s not. Remember that it’s God – not you – who is in ultimate control of your life. Ask God to help you trust Him.

* Be grateful. Use the Sabbath as a time to ponder the many ways God has blessed you. Notice what you have and ask God to help you be content with it. Take time to thank God for the greatest gift of all – Himself – and for other blessings He has given you. Rejoice that God faithfully provides everything you need. Celebrate the freedom Jesus has given you from sin, death, and evil.

* Reflect on your life. During the Sabbath, take time to think and pray about important questions such as: “What do I really care about?”, “What are my deepest feelings and longings?”, “In what areas of life do I need God the most?”, “What do I need to confess to God?”, “What do I need to explore that has great potential for growth?”, “Who am I, anyway?”, “Why am I here?”and “What purpose does God have for my life?.”

* Don’t lapse into legalism. Be flexible and gentle with yourself when observing the Sabbath. Remember that it’s meant to be a gift rather than a burden. Don’t feel guilty if you sometimes need to do something on the Sabbath that you normally wouldn’t do. Look to Jesus’ example of keeping the spirit of the Sabbath without conforming to its rules in an unhealthy way.

Adapted from Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest, copyright 2005 by Lynne M. Baab.  Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.    

Lynne M. Baab (M. Div., Fuller Theological Seminary) served as associate pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church before leaving the active pastorate in 2004 to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of several books, most recently A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife and Beating Burnout in Congregations. She and her husband live in Seattle.