INTRODUCING PRACTICING THE SABBATH
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On Sunday, we introduced our new series called “Practices of Grace”—time-tested ways to enjoy and love God. The first of these practices is Sabbath Rest. We’re starting here precisely because we all need the skill of saying no in order to create space for the most meaningful things in life to exist. In many ways, the practices of grace—as well as our ability to love God and neighbor—are built upon the foundation of sabbath. Can we say no to the frenetic pace of life? Can we trust that six days of work has been enough? Do we have the humility to acknowledge that life will not crumble when we step away?
As we try on this practice of sabbath together my hope is that we will see and experience refreshment, relief, and delight. It may be challenging and awkward at first, but after a few reps, I pray we find space to enjoy God, rest from our toiling, and play in all the unique ways God’s designed us. Truly, I hope the sabbath becomes the most anticipated day of the week!
“It is only when we slow down our lives that we can catch up to God.”—NT Wright
WHAT IS THE SABBATH?
The Hebrew word sabbath literally means stop. If six days are for working, sabbath is for ceasing that work. As God instructs in Exodus 20: “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…” In our culture, we generally hate being told what to do. We prefer autonomy. Any command—even one to rest—can feel oppressive. But that couldn’t be further from the reality of this passage.
For the Hebrew people who God had just liberated from slavery, rest was a foreign experience. All they knew was forced labor from sunup to sundown. But then they learned the law of the land under a new King—and to their astonishment, the law was to rest. Not once a month but every single week. Sabbath is a gift of God where we cease from our ordinary work one day out of seven.
Yet the sabbath is not only a restful ceasing from our labor. The sabbath is also a delight. It is meant to be wholly refreshing. Just as God “rested and was refreshed” (Ex 31) as he enjoyed the “good” labor of his hands, we too follow his model, enjoying his creation and the labor of our hands, finding refreshment and delight in the Lord and his good gifts.
The purpose of Sabbath is not simply to rejuvenate yourself in order to do more production, nor is it the pursuit of pleasure. The purpose of Sabbath is to enjoy your God, life in general, what you have accomplished in the world through his help, and the freedom you have in the gospel—the freedom from slavery to any material object or human expectation.Tim Keller
HOW TO PRACTICE THE SABBATH
It’s helpful to begin discerning what things what will lead to sabbath delight for you. To get practical, here’s a tool to help you discern how you might sabbath well. It’s two fundamental questions to consider both now and in the months ahead. (I recommend writing down your answers so you can come back to them and add to them.)
1. What ordinary work can you cease?
We all have ordinary work—the stuff required of us throughout our week. Simply naming it is helpful. The gift of sabbath ceasing means you can set these things aside—you can rest from your toils. (Granted, there are some acts of necessity and mercy that can’t stop. (Ex: Aiding a neighbor with an emergency; helping pull off a Sunday worship at a church plant; basic parenting.) That said, much work remains from which we can rest. And those we cannot, perhaps they can be reframed with a new sabbath lens.)
As you think through that main question, here’s some related sub-questions that might help you answer it from a few different angles.
- What could it look like to rest from your vocational labors? Your domestic chores? Your digital activity? Your mental activity?
- What helps you cease/rest? (Ex: turning off your phone; taking a nap; walking at that favorite spot.)
- What needs to be done in order for you to cease your work? (Ex: tidying your common spaces; shopping a day early; making a reservation at that restaurant or RMNP.)
2. What fuels delight in you?
Even though we all want delight, it’s a much tougher question than the first. Think about how God has uniquely made you to create things, to push back against darkness, to play and laugh. You have tears just for this life, but you’re made to delight into eternity. So as your unique, divinely-designed self, how did God make you to delight?
Again, here’s some ways of asking the same question from a few different angles:
- What are places, people, activities, things that you love and enjoy? Be concrete.
- What is rejuvenating to you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? We’re whole people. Be wholistic in considering rest & delight.
- Is it more restful to have a planned structure to your time, or to have unstructrued, unplanned time?
- Are you introverted or extroverted? Knowing whether you recharge by being alone or with others can be very insightful when thinking through the sabbath.
“The Sabbath is routinely rejected because it is one of our most profound tastes of grace.”— Dan Allender
In these next three weeks, here’s a manageable path for trying on sabbath rest. Start small and reasonable and build to a more robust sabbath. If ever there was a time to see what sabbath rest could be like, why not now?
Week 1 – Start Small
This first week, think through the two questions above regarding what you can cease and where you can delight. As the weekend comes closer, start small. Choose just one thing to cease and one thing that might be a delight.
Week 2 – Fill It Out
Try it on more fully. This may be a challenge, but find a day to try to sabbath. Ideally, this is a 24 hour period, but if you need to grow into it more gradually, give yourself the freedom. Again, the sabbath isn’t meant to be oppressive but joyfully liberating.
Week 3 – More Robust & Enjoyable
Now that you’ve had some experience with sabbathing, take note of what worked and what didn’t. See if there’s ways you might gleefully anticipate the sabbath.
If you’re interested in exploring this more, here are a few resources:
- Six Ways to Practice Sabbath by Tim Keller (short article)
- Wisdom & Sabbath Rest by Tim Keller (article)
- Sabbath: The Ancient Practices by Dan Allender (book)
- Living the Sabbath by Norman Wirzba (book)
- Margin by Richard Swenson (book)
If you missed it or want to revisit it, here is the sermon audio from Sunday.