One of the characteristics of our host culture here in the United States is that we live in an atmosphere where our worth is often determined by our ability to produce and achieve. This has a tendency to shape us into slaves of production.
I have especially experienced this an apostolic leader who is always creating and starting things.
In the first church I planted, it was rare for me to take a day off. I was like the rat running in the wheel with no rest. The problem is that when we enter the rat race, we often become rats in the process. I had little patience, which, according to I Cor. 13, means I had little love. I thought patience was for under-achievers. Being an Ennegram three, the Achiever, one of my basic desires is to feel valuable and worthwhile, while my basic fear if of being worthless. The corresponding weakness is that I can try and find my value and worth through achievement, which make Sabbath for me (and other apostolically gifted leaders) a needed concrete practice that can act as a counterforce to our dominate culture, which is trying to squeeze us into its mold.
In Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson gives a beautiful description of Biblical Sabbath. He says that Sabbath is, “Uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing. If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week, we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brows blinds us to the primal action of God in and around us.” I’m happy to say that since being in L.A. I have religiously taken a day off.
The key task for an apostolic leader is to help people connect with their calling so that mission can be carried out. If we are not slowing down and taking days off with God to remember that He is in control and the one in charge, we become as Peterson suggests, blinded by our “moral sweat” and we cannot properly see how God is at work and help others step into that.
Part of what it means to become more like Jesus is walking in the Spirit and living a life more and more characterized the by fruit of the Spirit, including patience. It is interesting that the Chinese join two characters to form a single pictograph for busyness: heart and killing. Could it be that they understand that busyness kills the heart and makes us stop caring about the things we care about?
WAYS TO OBSERVE SABBATH
Jürgen Moltmann shares a great thought about Sabbath: “The Sabbath opens creation for its true future. On the Sabbath the redemption of the world is celebrated in anticipation. The Sabbath is itself the presence of eternity in time, and a foretaste of the world to come.” So how can we practice Sabbath?
Here are a few suggestions that Eugene Peterson, author of The Message gives us in Working the Angles, suggestions that have helped me immensely. He says, ” Sabbath means to quit. Stop. Take a break. Cool it. The word itself has nothing devout or holy in it. It is a word about time, denoting our non-use of it, what we usually call WASTING time.”
While the reason for keeping Sabbath in Exodus is to imitate God in order to remember we are not God, the reason for keeping Sabbath in Deuteronomy is to remind us that we are no longer slaves. As Eugene says, “While the Israelites were in Egypt, they went about 400 years without a day off. As a result they simply became hands, work units. Not people made in the image of God, but equipment for making bricks and building pyramids.”
He goes on to give us some very practical advice – “The Biblical idea of the Sabbath is about praying and playing. It’s not like the Puritans Sabbath that eliminates playing altogether and it’s not like the secular Sabbath that eliminates prayer altogether. The true Sabbath combines both prayer and play and makes the day more complete. I have found that it replenishes the soul. God wanted us to see the importance of rest and replenish so much, that He commanded it, though He has not commanded which day.”
What I do on the Sabbath
If you follow God’s example, you will take time to rest, find refreshing things to do, do things that rejuvenate your soul and allow you to refocus your life. Here are some of the practices that I have engaged in:
- Catching up on my rest, by not setting an alarm to get up (Of course if you have kids that may not be possible, since they are natural alarms. Maybe you need to encourage a family nap time during the day.)
- Engaging in those things that recharge me emotionally
- Engaging in what refreshes me physically
- Engaging in what renews me spiritually
- Engaging in Sabbath with other friends, remembering the gifts and goodness of God
I like what Ruth Haley Barton says in Sacred Rhythms – “I would say do not make Sabbath keeping a weighty exercise. Explore it with delight, as though you are learning from God together how to make the day special for both of you. Then, be as intentional about protecting it as you can be, but do not become rigid and legalistic about it, which ruins the spirit of the day.” After all it was Jesus who said, “The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
Marva Dawn in Keeping Sabbath Wholly gives four helpful concepts for a Sabbath way of life that have helped me to develop my Sabbath in practical ways. Here they are:
CEASING – ceasing work, ceasing productivity and accomplishment, ceasing anxiety, worry and tension, ceasing our trying to be God, ceasing our possessiveness, ceasing our enculturation, and ceasing the humdrum and meaningless.
RESTING – spiritual rest, physical rest and emotional rest.
EMBRACING – intentionality, the values of Christian community, time instead of space, giving instead of requiring, our calling, wholeness, and our world.
FEASTING – on the eternal, with music, with beauty, with a meal with others, with affection, and with festival.
The Sabbath should be a time of rest, refreshment, rejuvenation and refocusing. I like how Walter Brueggemann describes Sabbath, “Periodic, and regular disengagement from systems of productivity whereby the world uses people up to exhaustion. That disengagement refers also to culture-produced expectations for frantic leisure, frantic consumptions, or frantic exercise.”
Want to Learn More?
If you want to learn more about how to observe Sabbath, here are ten sites I have found helpful on the web:
God’s Counter-Cultural Invitation to Sabbath Rest from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Resources for Sabbath Keeping and Sabbatical Taking from Duke Divinity School
Practicing our Faith – Sermons, Essays and Study Guides about Sabbath
Keeping Sabbath: Reviving a Christian Practice by Dorothy Bass
The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics by Ched Myers
Judaism 101: Shabbat – A Jewish understanding of Sabbath
A Palace in Time by Abraham Joshua Heschel – Abraham meditates on the day ’that can soothe all sadness away’
Celebrating the Sabbath! Learning to celebrate Sabbath the Messianic Jewish Way
Remember Sabbath by St. John in the Wilderness
Sabbath Keeping – An interview with Lynne Baab who has authored a book about Sabbath
If you are an apostolically gift leader, sabbath is a crucial life-giving practice to engage. I’ve learned through the years that Sabbath is a gift from God to open every week.