In our increasingly ‘always available’ 24/7 world there seems to be little time for rest. Whether by phone, email, text, Twitter or Facebook, we always seem to be switched on. For others, the incessant busyness of mind and heart about all manner of issues ranging from weekly shopping, work, health and the welfare of family keeps us constantly occupied.
When you hear the phrase ‘Sabbath rest’ you might think of the era when nothing was open on Sundays, when everyone wore their ‘Sunday best’ and spent most of the day attending church! A time when the pace of life was slower and less complicated and families still lived under the one roof. Surely this is a phrase disconnected from and not relevant in our busy modern world?
More than ever before, we need to re-discover the value and place of ‘Sabbath rest’ within our individual, family and community life, lest we become exhausted and overwhelmed by all that daily life contains.
Where does this phrase come from? It comes from the Hebrew word “shabat” for ‘rest’, and draws its origin and inspiration from Genesis 2 :2-3 And on the seventh day God…rested…from all the work that he had done (in creation). So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.
Genesis 1:31 also says that God rested on the seventh day because God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. “Very good” has a sense of enjoyment, satisfaction, wholeness and of completeness; and because of this no more work needed to be done!
Sabbath rest is not just about personal renewal but also includes time for renewal for all of creation, as reflected in Exodus 20: 10: But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
A world embracing Sabbath rest will then be a place where humanity lives as good and wise stewards of God’s creation and where consideration for all that lives and all who work on this Earth is also central.
The following are some examples of what a Sabbath rest might look like:
Sabbath rest is a break from the daily routine.
In the midst of our busyness & achieving, God calls us to rest, lay aside our to-do lists and let the Sabbath be different from the rest of your days. It allows us to ‘waste’ time just being with God.
Sabbath rest is a break from achieving and an opportunity to renew relationships.
Competition and work deadlines pervade much of our world, always pushing us to try a little harder, do a little more. On the Sabbath, we can be content just to participate in and enjoy the quality relationships we may have for their own sake. This is how our community life is built.
Sabbath rest is a break from buying.
We are often told by our political and business leaders that we must spend, spend, spend not just for our sake but for the sake of our economy and for our country!
Extensive retail sales held at Easter & Christmas don’t help us break free from such consumerism.
Sabbath rest is a break from being in control. If you carry heavy loads of responsibility at work or if you are fiercely independent, then trusting others may prove difficult! And when push comes to shove, can you trust God, or anyone else, to take care of things on your day off?
Sabbath rest brings spiritual and physical renewal. Where you include a deliberate time of worship, of prayer, of ‘being still’, a time when you focus your full attention on God in ‘wonder, love and praise’. It may mean allowing yourself for at least that day to listen to your body’s urging to take that nap or to visit a place that reminds you of Creation’s beauty and faithfulness.
This physical renewal can also involve activity and stimulation of all of our senses.
In Psalm 23 David says that God restores his soul. David’s language also reveals God ministering to him in a very physical way with his mention of ‘green pastures’, ‘quiet waters’, a ‘table prepared’ (feast), and ‘you anoint my head with oil’.
Some people may say, ‘But I don’t need a rest, I have lots of energy’, ‘I have important work to do’, or that ‘I am called by God to this work’ and that therefore ‘God will sustain me’.
However, God not only commanded the sabbath but also took the very first Sabbath rest.
Jesus also followed the general Sabbath practices of his day and also regularly took ‘time out.’
So, simply put, if God rested on the seventh day, then so should we!
In Hebrews 4: 9-11 it says “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest, also rests from his own work, just as God did from his”. What this passage is in effect saying is that Jesus IS our Sabbath rest!
If Jesus is our Sabbath rest, if all our daily striving to achieve, to be of value and worth has been won for us on the cross and through the empty tomb then life no longer needs to be ‘driven’.
If we ‘burn out’ it is ultimately because we do not trust or allow Christ to be Lord of our lives.
And in Matthew 11:28 Jesus says ‘come to me all who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest’. This weariness is not just physical, but can also be emotional and spiritual; and the ‘rest’ Jesus offers is “easy and my burden is light” (verse 30).
Five minute Sabbath rests:
Because Sabbath rest in our risen Lord Jesus is not just restricted to one day a week, you can practice ‘mini rests’ at home or at work. This could include – a walk around the block, closing your eyes, praying, listening to music, reading a favourite passage of Scripture, turning off or placing on silent your mobile phone. Having computer and TV free times at home especially around meal time are also other ways for you to proclaim Jesus is Lord of your Sabbath.
Enjoy your Sabbath rest, may it transform and renew you and deepen your faith. It is part of God’s hope for us and for God’s world.
Rev Paul Bartlett, UnitingWorld.