My senior year of college the campus ministry I was a part of began encouraging its leaders to take a dedicated time of intentional rest, a Sabbath, each Sunday.
When I heard that some of my friends were doing this, I thought, “That’s great for them. But I don’t have time for a day of rest.” My social life, involvement in clubs on campus, part time job, and academic career kept me extremely busy. And on our college campus Sunday was the day everyone could easily put in numerous hours of uninterrupted academic work at the library. I felt threatened by the idea of taking a day off. I’d lose a day of productivity. I’d fall behind others academically. I’d look lazy. So I didn’t take time for a Sabbath day while an undergraduate.
I was rewarded for all of my hard undergrad academic work with a scholarship to seminary. In one of my first classes there, Introduction to Christian Spirituality taught by Lauren Winner, we talked a lot about the idea of Sabbath. Some budding theologians argued that this intentional time of rest had to be on Sunday as it was put forth in creation and Exodus. Others argued that the pattern of intentional rest called for in the bible could be lived out in chunks of time on whatever day(s) you chose. Either way, while most of us thought about the meaning of a Sabbath, few of us lived it out.
Now I’m serving as an Assistant Pastor at a church. For the first time in my life I’ve begun a regular practice of Sabbath each week. God’s grace and my fear of becoming another burned-out or scandal-ridden pastor helped prompt this change.
Here are some things I’ve been learning in my first five months of Sabbath taking:
1. Sabbath is “a time of being in the midst of a life of doing.”
This line, taken from Awakening Grace, sums up the idea of Sabbath. Sabbath is a time of shifting our attention from everything we are busy doing in the world to being present with God—our creator, redeemer, and sustainer. Being present with God here doesn’t necessarily mean spending 8 hours in prayer. It means living in a way that intentionally reflects who God is, what God has done, and what God will do.
2. Sabbath is a time of being content with God’s sovereignty.
Friday is typically my day of Sabbath. Often this is difficult because there are tasks to be done and sermons to be written. But when I step away from all the work that could be done and rest, it is a living reminder that God is sovereign. I’m able to see more clearly that God’s Kingdom is not going to come about because of my individual efforts. I’m able to see that the church and the world won’t fall apart without me. And these revelations help me to not take myself and my work so seriously that I forget to enjoy God and other relationships that are in my life.
3. Sabbath is a time of being reminded that God loves us without regard to what we accomplish.
In the work place, school, athletic field, home, and church we’re tempted to think that what we do and produce gives our lives their ultimate value. In creating the Sabbath, God reminds us that he is what gives ultimate meaning and value to our lives and this world. When I practice Sabbath, I’m reminded that God’s grace is not something to be earned but a gift to be received.
Martin Luther summarized this well when he said, “The spiritual rest which God especially intends in this commandment is that we not only cease from our labor and trade, but much more—that we let God alone work in us and that in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.”
4. Sabbath is a time of being intentional.
If I didn’t guard my days of rest, then they wouldn’t happen. People try to schedule things on these days and I feel internal pressure to accomplish my undone to-do list. As a pastor whose biggest day of responsibility comes on Sunday, I intentionally wrap up urgent items late on Thursday and push everything else to Saturday. On Fridays, I typically let my body rest by sleeping late—one of my favorite past times. Then I try to do something that energizes my soul like taking photos of nature, exercising, calling old friends, spending time with friends in the area, or exploring the new community I live in.
5. Sabbath is a time of being a witness to a different way of life in the world.
Before this year, I was always envious of people who took a regular Sabbath. I wanted to be able to rest like they were, to trust God’s ways of doing things, and to escape the world that taught me that every second not being productive was a second wasted. I’ve begun to escape, but each week I’m tempted to go back to the place where I was. Often I have to remind myself that I’m being watched as a pastor and that the world is watching us as Christians. When we live a different pattern of life—remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy—we testify that God has ordered this world, work is not our master, and our lives are not our own.
If you’ve ever tried taking a Sabbath, you already know that this pattern of life isn’t easy. We need each other to help live it out. I’m still trying to figure out what Sabbath looks like in my own life. And I hope you will join me so that we can grow together.
What are some ways that you keep a Sabbath?
What have some of your challenges been?
“Sabbath Keeping, it’s about time” – J.D. Walt
“Sabbath” in Awakening Grace – Matt LeRoy & Jeremy Summers – This is a great new book that covers a number of other Christian practices as well.