“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” // Exodus 20:8-11 (NLT)
God gave His people some commands to live by. Not so He can rule over them with an iron fist, but so He can display His love and care for them. One of the commands is the Sabbath command to keep the seventh day holy (or “set apart”) to God. For hundreds of years, the Hebrews were in slavery to Egypt. They didn’t get a day off. Their whole life was centered on slave work day-in and day-out until their death. Once God delivered them out of slavery, God commanded them to rest one day out of the week. They were relieved! This command doesn’t seem bothersome, but actually fulfilling! But they had to adjust to it. I bet it took them a while to instill this practice of ceasing from work-related activity to allow their bodies to rest in the Lord with good food around the table and family to enjoy. So as they practiced the discipline of Sabbath, they got better at it and used it submit everything they have to God.
We have lost the spiritual practice of Sabbath in our culture today. If you’re new to it, you’re going to have to learn about what it is first. Here is what Sabbath IS and ISN’T and how we should practice it as followers of Jesus.
Sabbath is First
The Sabbath isn’t the last day of the week, it’s the first day of the week. No matter what day you plan on practicing the Sabbath, it should be viewed as a new beginning. In our culture, we work to play. We live for Fridays. But having a Sabbath view doesn’t mean you work for rest, but rather, you rest so you can work. If you start with spiritual rest and rejuvenation in the Lord, the remainder of your week is built on that foundation. The Jews practiced (and still practice) their Sabbaths from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset; a full 24-hours of rest. We are not bound by the details and preciseness of how we practice the Sabbath because of the new covenant of grace in Jesus, so find a day that works best for you (most Christians choose Sundays) and start there.
Sabbath is Rest
Many people think that Sabbath is just a day off from our day jobs. That is not what it is. We all have paid work that we do in order to make a living, but we all also have unpaid work we do. We clean the house, pay the bills, go grocery shopping, pick up the kids from school, fix the dishwasher, cook dinner for the family, and so much more. These tasks are needed, however, when people follow Sabbath, they usually abstain from tasks that strain them, such as the ones mentioned above. That doesn’t mean we’re lazy all day and don’t do anything. Some people do a light workout or go running, or meet some friends at a coffee shop and talk, attend a church gathering, or read books. You’re supposed to do what allows you to rest your mind, body, and spirit.
Sabbath is Ceasing
The word Sabbath literally means to cease. I don’t want to be legalistic about it and give everyone a list of what you can and cannot do, but there are great advantages to allowing limitations in your life. Maybe it’s best for you to eliminate phone usage or watching TV on your Sabbath. Technology usually makes us more anxious, which doesn’t make it a good fit for resting in the Lord. If you know you have to have a difficult conversation (that isn’t an emergency) then schedule it for another day. Put your emails on “away mode”. Let those calls go to voicemail. If it’s an emergency and someone needs to contact you, don’t worry, they’ll find a way to contact you. Learn to cease. Learn the spiritual discipline of saying “no.”
Sabbath is Delight
My wife grew up in a family that viewed the Sabbath as “do-nothing” days where they just sat at home all day after church, which had caused her to see it as a legalistic ritual. That is NOT what the Sabbath is. It’s a day of delight! It’s a day where you can do anything. Break your diets on your Sabbath and eat whatever you want. Take your family to that new lunch place that just opened up. Go see a movie with the kids. Do things that fill you up with delight! Some of you will say, “My work fills me up with delight.” Well, then, it’s time for you to find a hobby. Pick up woodworking or painting, or something else that fills you with delight. You know you’re doing Sabbath right when you and the family start counting the days until the next Sabbath. Have fun!
Sabbath is Holy
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Sabbath is holy (meaning “set apart”) and should be a day where you feel closer to God. Many non-Christians follow some ideas listed above and feel “spiritual”. But I believe the Sabbath should incorporate aspects of Bible readings, silence and solitude with the Lord, meditation prayer, practicing the presence of Jesus throughout the day, and other spiritual disciplines. You can’t rest in the Lord without inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of the day. It doesn’t have to be 24-hour prayer (I don’t recommend that), but more constantly reflecting on the character and nature of God throughout the day.
Resources and Actions
Some things I mentioned here break some Sabbath rules according to some who practice it (like eating out because that means you are buying things, which is usually not allowed), but this spiritual practice takes wisdom and guidance from the Lord that you have to be willing to experiment with along the way. The way you practice Sabbath in 20 years should be different than today because we learn and grow with it. To get you started with learning even more about it, here are some books I recommend to read: