One area where I really struggle is the right balance of work and rest.
Over the past few months, I have transitioned to a new home and a new job. I have been gradually trying to work on building healthy patterns into my life. Without these patterns, well, let’s be honest. Life was falling apart: physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually. It’s not something you can fix all at once. So I’ve built in a walk on my lunch break nearly every day at work. I have a monthly budget committee meeting with myself, and I’m trying to be more intentional about planning time with family and friends.
I tend to go all in…so I’ll be working at my job, and then come home and jump into working on this blog or ministry or some other project, and totally lose the time. It’s not that I never rest, but I don’t have a healthy pattern for rest. I have to keep getting back to God’s plan for work-life balance. So I decided to spend a few weeks focusing on Sabbath as a spiritual discipline. Spiritual Disciplines are things we do to grow in maturity and get closer to God. I talk about a few of my favorite spiritual disciplines in this post.
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Sabbath as Rest
Sabbath for Israel and the Jewish community was a day of rest from the labors of the week, and many Christian writers have suggested that believers can squeeze in a Sabbath hour or a Sabbath minute here and there. While those short times of rest are precious and valuable, they may miss out on the fullness of the gift of Sabbath as a spiritual discipline. The gift is more than just rest, but a lifestyle of work and rest in proper balance.
Sabbath as a spiritual discipline leaves us mentally, emotionally rested to tackle the challenges of the week, and brings our whole week into the right balance to be prayerful people. Even though we may have to do less “stuff,” we will do a better job at the things we still do. This is probably what people think of first when they consider sabbath as a spiritual discipline: you need to set aside a regular time in your life to rest. It isn’t about the Old Testament law or ritual, but we should aim for something regular and intentional.
Sabbath as Trust
As mentioned in last week’s Bible study on Exodus 16, Sabbath was introduced to the Israelite community with the falling of manna from heaven. Manna was more than just the caring for physical needs; it was a forty-year lesson in trust. If the Israelites tried to keep manna overnight on any day except the sixth, it would rot, but on the sixth day it would stay good, and those who went to gather on the Sabbath would find nothing. When the people again settled into their mostly agrarian society, Sabbath required trust: trust that if Israel did not work the fields on these days, there would be enough food to survive. Trust that if the people did not sell their wares on the Sabbath, God would still provide enough money for them to live.
Sabbath requires – and teaches – the same for us. In choosing not to work or study or run errands during that time, we trust that the world will keep functioning if we do not get everything done. And this trust is transforming; we begin to trust God in other areas of our lives as well.
Sabbath as Identity
Israel’s Sabbath ritual was an identity marker; those who were once slaves in Egypt were now granted freedom. Ezra called the Sabbath a sign between Israel and God, and determined that its violation had brought disaster on the people (Muller, Sabbath). In the same way, Sabbath should be an identity marker for Christians as well! When we practice Sabbath as a spiritual discipline, we admit our human limits (Barton, Sacred Rhythms).
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In our new identity, we start to see the world through God’s eyes. We see a world with different priorities, where we do not live to work, but work to live. In this world, people are more important than possessions. Our value comes not from success or accomplishments or wealth but rather from our identity as beloved children of the Most High God. Sabbath declares these truths and also teaches them to us as we engage in the beautiful rest given us by God.
Sabbath as Celebration
For the Jews, Sabbath was worship, praise for God’s delivery from Egypt and for his provision in the present age. The early Christian Church carried this spirit of celebration as the practice of Sabbath shifted to a celebration of Sunday, “The Lord’s Day,” the day of resurrection (Kittel, Bromiley, and Friedrich, TDNT, Vol. 7, p. 31.). We come together in worship. We join in potluck suppers and laugh and play. We have something to celebrate! As we engage in Sabbath, we are set free from our bondage to work. Work itself is something to be celebrated when it no longer enslaves us. This is something to sing about!
Some Christian traditions have exchanged the habit of dressing in “Sunday best” for “come as you are.” This is okay. But I think the original idea of dressing well for the Sabbath was not about impressing God or others, or even about respect. It was about celebration, just as we dress up for a wedding or a holiday or a party. True Sabbath spirit is not just about getting all the work of church done, or about stopping all activity; it is about celebration, about joy, a heart thankful to God for his salvation and provisions and community.
What is your experience with Sabbath as a spiritual discipline?
And which of these aspects of Sabbath draws you the most? For me, the hardest is trust. If I set aside time, will I still be able to manage work, ministry, home? As I write, I’m asking God what Sabbath as a spiritual discipline should look like in my life. It’s not about rules and regulations. A few weeks ago we discussed how to know if Old Testament laws apply to our lives today. We learned the ritual aspect of Sabbath is no longer binding for us. But, the original command and the original gift are still there. Lord, how do you want me to practice Sabbath in this season?
Lord, how do you want me to practice Sabbath in this season?
Start asking God the same question! Let us know what Sabbath as a spiritual discipline might look like in this season of your life.
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