Let’s talk about what it means to rest and what it means to cease from activity.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Sabbath is a Hebrew word that simply means, “rest.” We’re told from the beginning that the context for our taking a rest is that it is the model given us when God created the world. He spends six days creating and rests on the seventh. That’s kind of funny—does God need a rest? Sometimes, I get this funny picture of God sweaty and out of breath after spending six days working. I can imagine God saying,
“Hey, Gabriel, I just need to chillax for a second.”
We treat Sabbath like a mini-vacay. I’m not going to do anything! God told me to take a break! But that’s not what we’re talking about. God is not so weak that he needs to catch his breath. God is not so puny that he can’t go more than 6 days without a breather.
Sabbath means ceasing from activity. It’s not about God being tired. It’s not about God needing a break. It’s about God having brought to completion all he set out to do, so he simply stops his activity. That is what Sabbath is—to pause, cease, and terminate your activity.
There are no other parallels with any other ancient culture. The idea of Sabbath rest is unique to God’s people. He tells us that it’s one of the ways that his people are set apart from everyone else. It’s not about kicking back and putting your feet up—it’s about stopping our work to focus on him. It’s holy time.
Everything and everyone is supposed to stop. In the same way that God said, “I’ve done what I set out to do—this is good,” we’re supposed to step back from our activity and say, “God is good.” It’s not to catch up on sleep, but to focus on God.
It’s easy to feel overloaded. Our schedules burden us. We are like a crazy little surge protector that is loaded to the max with plugs and wires. It’s a mess, about to start a fire. That’s what our lives are like without Sabbath. We become so overloaded. God asks, “Where do you make time for me? Where do I fit into your life? Let’s create a special place—a sacred space for you and me.”
You get all these days to do your work, but every seventh day humanity is supposed to unplug. We create special space to be with God. There are no other distractions. No one else gets that space. It’s his.
In the New Testament, we get a little different picture of Sabbath. All God said in the Old Testament was to set apart the Sabbath—create the space. But there isn’t a whole lot of detail as to what it looks like. So God-fearing religious people set up rules and regulations about what it looks like. What can we do? Is it okay to save somebody’s life? Sure, we can do that. What about if my donkey falls into a hole? Well, if it’s within a certain radius of your home, sure, but if it’s outside the radius, no. What about lighting a fire in my home? No, that’s creative work—no making fires.
More and more, I’ve seen that God has given us simple religion yet humanity comes along and mucks it up. Where God says something small, we turn it into a massive thing. Rigid observers of Sabbath law won’t even flip on a light switch on Sabbath. They bring in a gentile to do the work for them.
There’s a story in the New Testament where Jesus breaks Sabbath law by plucking grain to eat.
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
It’s about the heart, not the letter of the law. Are we creating sacred space for God? Are we making room in our busy and hectic world to stop and focus on God? If you unplug everything this world is going to keep driving on. It doesn’t need me to keep turning. What are we REALLY losing if we unplug and say, “God, I’m giving this time to you”?
The New Testament does not give us Sabbath as a command to obey. Paul says, “Some people consider one day special…,” but the principle of Sabbath still applies. Are we making sacred space for God? The principle of ceasing is still good. More rest means more productivity later on. More rest now means less stress-related problems later on.
There are physical benefits to Sabbath rest. God’s not trying to demand time because he doesn’t want us to do nothing else. He cares about us! More rest means a better, healthier us. Jesus was in the habit of unplugging and resting. Jesus took time by himself or with his disciples to get away to go rest. But it wasn’t about watching the game and having a cold one. Anyone can have a secular day off. Sabbath is about unplugging from the world so that you have that God-space.
But how do you build Sabbath time into your life? It starts with a conscious decision. We have to decide make that space. In our world we have a disease called “When I have time.” I’ll do that “when I have time.” I’d love to learn another language. I’d love to clean out the garage, sweetheart. I’d love to…
Pretty soon our lives are so cluttered that there is no time for anything! Is it any wonder that God tells us to take Sabbath rest? I’ll focus on God when I have time. God’s reply is, “Hey, dummy, I’ve built that time into the week for you.” So we cease all regular activity so we can unplug and focus on God. Spend the time in prayer. Put on a Christian cd and meditate. Go to worship services. Don’t worry about the world – it will keep spinning. If we let it, the world will keep driving us.
Get centered mentally and spiritually. It’s not about legalistically saying, “I can’t do X, Y, and Z on Sunday.” It’s about finding sacred space. It’s about finding time to unplug from the world and plugging into God.
We will be happier. We will be healthier. We will see better homes, better families, and a better us. This week examine your schedule. Where can you find time to unplug from the regular world and make Sabbath space? It doesn’t matter what day or hour – we’re not going to be legalistic about it. But we need to learn to unplug from regular activity and make sacred space.
Questions for Reflection
What controls and drives my days and weeks?
When was the last time I tried to unplug in order to create sacred space?
Am I willing to drop everything on a regular basis to cease from activity and focus on God?
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.