How Does Biblical Sabbath Apply in Today's 24-7 World?
- Dale Chamberlain Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 15 Nov
God created the world in six days. And on the seventh day, he rested.
Not because he was tired. He’s God. He has infinite energy. But he ceased from his work to set up this model for us: six days you will labor, and one day you will rest.
Later, when God established the nation of Israel as his representative people to the world, he codified this principle in the laws of Moses, perhaps most succinctly in the 10 commandments.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any 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. (Exodus 20:8-11)
For generations to come, the people of Israel would treat the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath (or as we know it, Saturday), as a very special day. They would not work. They would spend this time with their family and friends. They would worship. They would rest.
How do we obey the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath?
As Christians, the question often arises as to how we are supposed to keep this ancient commandment to keep the Sabbath.
Many Christians believe that it means that we need to go to church on Sunday. But I believe that this understanding falls short of fully understanding the meaning of the command. For one thing, Sunday is the first day of the week, while the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. (In Hebrew, it literally means seven.) For another, the command to rest is far more than a Christian mandate. It’s a creation mandate.
While we are no longer bound to the Old Testament law, it still has plenty to teach us about how to live. If your work schedules you on a Saturday, it may be a bummer. But you need not worry that you are living contrary to the will of God, so long as your life reflects the creation mandate of working and resting rhythms.
As we see how God commanded the people of Israel to rest one day in seven in a culture that knew nothing of a 5-day work week, we can see that God’s heart for us is to embrace rest. We embrace rest as an act of faith, as well as an act of practical wisdom.
Here are 5 practical reasons to embrace a regular sabbath:
1. You are built to only function when you have adequate rest.
There’s a reason that healthy people spend a third of their life sleeping. Your body was built for rhythms of rest. It’s the natural order of things. In ancient times, this was more obvious to us. Before electricity, you went to sleep when the sun went down. What else were you going to do?
But now that we live in a world that continues to offer food services and entertainment opportunities around the clock, the idea of a rhythm of rest is often lost on us.
We need to be reminded that we were never meant to burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. It’s not good for us. It’s not the way we were created to function.
You are a better person when you’re rested. You’re kinder. More patient. More creative. More joyful. More productive. You do your best work when you are rested.
This sounds incredibly counter intuitive, but when you are chronically overworked, behind schedule, and needing to get more done than you think is possible, sometimes the best thing you can do for your productivity goals is to begin with a nap (or just a really good night’s sleep). The hours you “lose” in sleeping will quickly be made up in the extra output you are able to produce when you’re rested.
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2. Tiredness and busyness are not badges of honor.
It’s a common interaction. We have the same conversation so often that it’s completely rote at this point.
“How are you?”
We wear it like a badge of honor. We act like we don’t, but we secretly enjoy being martyrs of tiredness. Refusing the rest is the only sin that we get praised for. It helps us get promotions and pay raises. It makes people think highly of you--that you’re a hardworking and effective person.
In a 24-7, high achieving culture, we need to be willing to set limits. Being burnt out doesn’t honor God. It only serves to increase our pride. And pride, along with exhaustion, come before the fall.
3. Your schedule is your fault.
It can be easy to blame others for the fact that we don’t rest. Your boss is demanding. You have six kids who play two sports each. You’re starting your own business and can’t afford to fail. You’re a full-time student who is working to financially support yourself through the process.
These are really legitimate excuses not to rest. But legitimate or not, they’re still excuses.
You have far more control over your schedule than you often think. Learn to say no to that extra meeting or added task. Cut back on how many activities you commit yourself to. Learn to build margin into your schedule. You have the power (and the obligation) to do it.
4. Effective rest is worth preparation.
The interesting thing about the Jewish Sabbath is that it doesn’t actually begin on Saturday morning. It starts on Friday night. And therein lies such deeply practical wisdom: to rest well, you need to prepare to do it.
When the people of Israel were living in the wilderness, God provided daily food for the people. Every day, they would gather bread that God had given them from heaven. But on Friday, they would gather a double amount so that they would not need to gather on the Sabbath. They had to prepare to rest.
We need to do the same. If you’re going to take time to rest, you need to be prepared for it.
Spending the day doing laundry, cleaning your kitchen and bathroom, raking the leaves in the yard, and emptying out your inbox is not a day of rest. These are all necessary tasks. But that’s just what they are—tasks.
To rest well, you need to be ready for it. And that might mean that you need to be more productive with your working hours in order to have fruitful rest. Other times, it means that you need to let certain tasks wait.
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5. Rest is holy.
When God commands his people to keep the Sabbath, he reminds them to keep it holy. The act of resting is itself holy.
Holy is an interesting word. We often assume that it means that something is morally virtuous. And I would agree that there is something morally virtuous about the wisdom of rest.
But even more so, the word holy means that something is set aside, set apart for something special. That’s what our rest is. It’s this time that is intentionally set apart for something special. It’s reserved for rest.
Will you try to replace busy with intentional?
In a culture of busy, we would benefit more from being intentional.
At the end of the day we need to truly believe that God is working even while we’re resting. You are not the Savior of the universe. That role has already been fulfilled by Jesus.
Jesus is honored by your work. But he is also honored by your rest. To value one to the detriment of the other is to live a life that’s imbalanced and ill-fitting to the way you were created.
The life that honors Jesus is the life that is committed to working hard and resting with just as much devotion.
Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) and his wife, Tamara, are authors and speakers who are passionate about loving and serving Jesus together. They love having conversations and creating community around the abundant life that Jesus promised us. You can connect with Dale and Tamara at herandhymn.com.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/bernardbodo
Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) and his wife, Tamara, are authors and speakers who are passionate about exploring what it means to live life to the full in Jesus. You can connect with Dale and Tamara at herandhymn.com.