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Why Sabbath?

whysabbath_insShabbat—the Hebrew word for Sabbath—means “to come to an end, to cease, to stop, to pause.”  Notice these are active commands for which a person needs to take responsibility—something one has to do. To experience Sabbath rest, you must make a decision to stop something, to push away from something, to rest from something. You must say “no” to something!

We live in a culture that finds it difficult to set aside a day to rest and delight in God. Keith Drury writes, “We are addicted to hurry. We rush from one double–scheduled appointment to the next, making a quick call on our cell phone to cover our late arrival. We dash around panting so that everyone knows they should not interrupt us because we’re too busy. Someone asks, “How’s it going?” and we respond, “Oh, I’m just so busy.” Sometimes we wear our busy schedules as a badge of honor.

In Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath, he says, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”  We dare not think we can abuse our bodies without affecting our hearts—they are interconnected. The answer: Sabbath keeping!

Eugene Peterson shares this definition for Sabbath keeping: “Quieting the internal noise so we hear the still small voice of the Lord; removing the distractions of pride so we discern the presence of Christ.”  Ruth Haley Barton, author of Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, writes, “Sabbath keeping is the discipline that helps us to live humbly within the limits of our humanity and to honor God in our use of time. When we order our lives around a pattern of working six days and resting on the seventh, we are living within sane rhythms of work and rest.  Sabbath keeping gives us regular time for rest, worship, and delighting in God’s good gifts. The practice of Sabbath keeping is the kingpin of a life pattern that is ordered to honor God and open ourselves to His goodness and love.”

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” —Exodus 8-9
Jesus himself seemed to understand how quickly our passions, even the most noble ones, can wear us out if we’re not careful. Early in His ministry with the disciples, He began to teach them about the importance of establishing rhythms of work and rest. In Mark 6, Jesus had just commissioned the disciples for ministry and had given them the authority to cast out demons, preach the gospel, and heal the sick.  After completing their first excursion, they returned excited about their newfound powers and crowded around Jesus to report on all they had done and taught. But Jesus didn’t have time for their ministry reports. Immediately, He instructed them, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31 NLT).  He seemed to be more concerned with helping them establish rhythms that would sustain them in ministry than He was in their ministry reports. He was more interested in helping them not to become overly enamored by ministry successes or inordinately driven by their compulsions to do more than He was in sending them back out to do ministry.

“One of the most important rhythms for a person in ministry,” says Ruth Haley Barton, “is to establish a constant back–and–forth motion between engagement and retreat—times when we are engaged in the battle, giving our best energy to taking the next hill, and times when we step back in order to gain perspective, re-strategize and tend our wounds—an inevitability of life in ministry.” Times of Sabbath keeping and retreat give us a chance to come home to ourselves in God’s presence and to bring the realities of our life to God in utter privacy. In faithful Sabbath keeping and times of retreat there is time and space to attend to what is real in one’s own life—to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed tears, sit with the questions, feel the anger, attend to loneliness—and allow God to be with me/you in those places. These are not times for problem–solving or fixing, because not everything can be fixed or solved. During times of Sabbath and retreat we rest in God and wait on Him to do what is needed. Eventually we return to the battle with fresh energy and keener insight.

God gave us the Sabbath to refocus our attention—to cause us to bring to the center stage of our minds and hearts the Person whom we have placed at the periphery far too long. Sabbath keeps us from marginalizing God.  “A great benefit of Sabbath keeping,” writes Marva J. Dawn in Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting, “is that we learn to let God take care of us — not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.”

by Major Faith Miller

Sabbath Recommended

Reading List

LXXXVII. — The Sabbath
William Booth (The Field Officer, 1901)
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly
Marva Dawn (Eerdmans, 1989)
Give It A Rest — Reclaiming the Sabbath for Modern Times
Victor Parachin (The War Cry, November 20, 2010)
Stop in the Name of Love: The Radical Practice of Sabbath Keeping
Susan S. Phillips (2011 vol. 47, no.3)
Sabbath
Wayne Muller (Bantam, 1999)
Living in the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight
Norman Wirzba (Brazos Press, 2006)

Spiritual Life Development will be continuing the conversation on Sabbath Keeping at SAConnects.org/sld, on the Spiritual Life Development page. Stay tuned for longer excerpts from each of the papers commissioned by the Task Force, further biblical exploration of the practice of Sabbath Keeping, book reviews and recommendations and blog posts on how you can “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” in your life.

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