Sabbath

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I’m reading a book called The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel who was a practicing Jew wrote the book in 1951. He has a unique take on what it means to weekly break away from our work and practice the commandment of keeping the Sabbath Holy. There is perhaps nothing more frustrating for me than trying to rest. Stopping is hard when you are moving fast.

It is fascinating to me that part of God’s rhythm is this holy day of rest. One of the things that Heschel mentions;

“ Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for enhancing his efficiency to work…The Sabbath is not for the sake of the week days, the week days are for the sake of the Sabbath.” (p. 14)

Those two sentences are paradigm shifting for me. There may not be a more subversive act of allegiance to Christ in our culture then keeping Sabbath. We have allowed ourselves to believe that we are in fact “beasts of burden” relentlessly needing to answer texts, emails, deadlines, the next thing then the next thing and we almost celebrate success as the one with the biggest burden wins. We worship work.
Sabbath confronts our understanding of ourselves and our work through the lens of how we treat time. Time is given to us to call our attention to God. For six days we work then we rest. The Sabbath is there at the end of our week reminding us whose we are and whose world we are living in.

It is so tough to do. Turn off your phone for a day and find out what I mean.

Perhaps there is something that Heschel gives us that will help us. In that last line he tells us “the weekdays are made for the Sabbath”. That subtle shift in realizing that I am working so I can take Sabbath. I am moving toward something not looking forward to a break so I can work some more, but moving toward a day where I can celebrate God, his creation and remember who I am in the context of time.

Eugene Peterson and his wife Jan decided that their Sabbath would be a day to pray and to play. I like that. It’s an easier way of looking at it. Instead of a list of things we are not going to do they simplify it. We pray and we play. We talk to God and we recreate.

Jeanne and I are trying to take this seriously. I don’t think which day you do it matters but what we have grown convicted of is the need to anchor our week in something larger than the things we need to do, and the places we need to be. We want our week, our time, to reflect and be centered on Christ. I am hoping that we can learn to do it well. So far it’s tough and rewarding. I don’t think keeping Sabbath was a suggestion though. I think it is an often-disregarded commandment that if we can keep we will know God in a profound way and understand ourselves better too.


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8 Comments

  • Neil says:

    This is something I needed to hear. Most often I find myself treating the Sabbath (and even the special 5am prayer time) as something necessary so that I can perform at my best during the working day.

    With stress and burnout so easily achieved by this (ultimately meaningless) lifestyle), I believe that God is showing me more and more that the real reason we are here on this Earth is to live for Him – and this includes both quiet rest with Him (‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10) and a balanced work life tot he best of our ability (‘And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men’. Colossians 3:23)

    Thank you for being someone that God has spoken to me through.

  • Annie says:

    Really appreciated your post on “Sabbath”. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book also had an impact on my appreciation of the 4th commandment.

    One thing in your blog I didn’t understand, however, was the comment that it doesn’t matter which day we choose as Sabbath. How is our liberty to choose which day we keep holy in line with the idea of God’s position as Creator and Redeemer (Deuteronomy)? To be sure, it doesn’t seem rational that He would arbitrarily choose one day over another, but Exodus 20 says He did, as do many other verses in the Scriptures. And, the 7th day Sabbath wasn’t first set apart at Sinai, it was set apart at creation.

    It’s pretty easy to see the logic behind each of the other 9 commandments, but the 4th is based only on faith that God as the Creator has a purpose for commanding observance of a particular day.

    As well, there is nowhere in Scripture that even intimates a change in God’s mind about the day of the week to observe.

    Would love a response. Thanks

  • Erik says:

    I have been practicing Sabbath seriously for about ten years now. When I do it, it rearranges my life around Christ. That makes Sabbath one of the miniature pictures of the Christian walk: the week of work is for Sabbath, not the Sabbath for the work. My life is centered on Christ, not Christ fit in wherever I like.

    Response to Annie:

    Sabbath is the 7th day. Cool. So, which day is the first one?

  • Christina says:

    Response to Erik:

    Sunday (source: the calendar). :-)

    I guess the point is: God alone define what things are holy or common.

  • Elaine says:

    I also think it’s important to keep the Sabbath but have fallen off as life has gotten more stressful. But yes, the Sabbath is Saturday, the seventh day, or at least always was. Why the change to Sunday?

  • Weston says:

    This is an incredibly important topic, your life literally depends on not working on the sabbath and absolutely figuring out the right day…

    Because if you get it wrong, “you’ll surely be put to death”

    Exodus 31:14,15

  • IMHO says:

    As was said above: the point is GOD alone defines what is holy and what is common. That pattern is all throughout God’s Word, and He still works that way. Praise God he sees believers in Christ as holy or we wouldn’t stand a chance! By the way, the change to Sunday came from Constantine who purposely wanted to distinguish Christianity from the Hebrew roots of faith. A major disservice for modern day believers, I think, since knowing about the culture, the Hebrew language and thought process provides deep meaning to what we read in the New Testament.

  • Rick Cordell says:

    Several of you have made interesting statements (rather dogmatically) and raised interesting questions. If you are interested in careful study of the issues, you can find no better resource than a book by D. A. Carson titled From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.

    Remember, a (preaching) pastor can hardly celebrate Sabbath on a Sunday, since that is usually the heaviest day of his work–no matter how satisfying–and typically leaves him physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

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