How to observe the Sabbath even during these challenging times.
The fourth commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God… For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11
If you’ve been around church for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the word “Sabbath” thrown around. Most of us have a vague idea of what the Sabbath is – something about resting and going to church, right? But what is the Sabbath, really, and how can we practice it under the New Covenant?
According to Come Unto Christ, “The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that means “to rest from labor.” The word holy means something that is “sacred or dedicated to God.” God wants us to make the Sabbath day, feel different from the other days of the week by resting from our normal daily routine and dedicating our thoughts and time to Him.”
Some people are sticklers about Sabbath always being on Sunday, while others claim it should be on a Saturday since that’s technically the seventh day of the week. We could discuss it to death, but then we’d blow right through both Sabbath days trying to drive our arguments home! Plus, there are lots of people who work on the weekends (pastors & church administration included) who don’t find either Saturday or Sunday to be peaceful or restful. The big takeaway for me, and hopefully for you, is that the Sabbath is less about a specific day of the week, and more about dedicating one full day (whenever that may be) to resting in the Lord and recharging yourself for the rest of the week.
With that in mind, let’s go over a few tips to help you observe the Sabbath. Life is much different today than it was thousands of years ago, so how we go about Sabbath Day will inevitably look different too. The heart of the Sabbath remains the same – taking a scheduled time out of your daily activities to spend dedicated and purposeful time with God.
This is one of the hardest things to do, and yet one of the most powerful. Our brothers and sisters who lived in Bible times had their own share of distractions, but we might have them rivaled with how easily we can waste hours of the day on our phones or in front of the TV. That’s why it’s so important to unplug on your Sabbath.
I’m not saying to never look at your phone. You’re an adult who likely has responsibilities, a family, and friends who might worry if you went off the radar. However, maybe a good solution is to set an alarm and check in with the people you need to check in with. When the alarm goes off, put your phone on the nightstand and resolve to leave it alone for a few hours if not the rest of the day. As for TV, email, and social media? I think you might be surprised at how little you need (or even miss) those things for just one day!
This is another hard concept, but ultimately so helpful. If you’re anything like me, when you finally get a chance to rest, that trusty to-do list is still running in the back of your mind. I may be resting physically, but mentally I’m calculating how much laundry I have left to do or what’s for dinner. While these things are important and will need to get done eventually, thinking about them constantly isn’t helping. Not only are the tasks themselves not getting done, but you’re still distracted from your rest and time with God. So, as difficult as it is, I would encourage you to write out your to-do list… and then put it in a drawer and take it out when your Sabbath is over.
The easiest way to connect with God on the Sabbath is to go to church – that is, if Sunday is your Sabbath day. Church looks differently these days with restrictions in place in some areas of the country, but even if it’s “attending” church via Zoom or Facebook live, that connection is so important. The Sabbath doesn’t end after church, however. How will you spend the rest of your day connecting and communing with the Lord? Perhaps you could go on a walk or write in a journal. Some people find connection through worship music, others through reading books that make them think deeper about the nature of who God is. It doesn’t have to be anything monumental or unique, just find what works for you and stick with it.
Resting here doesn’t necessarily mean taking a nap or going to bed early. We can rest and rejuvenate in all sorts of ways. Maybe it’s painting or playing the piano. Maybe it’s reading to your kids or taking the dog on a walk. Perhaps what really fills you up is having a deep conversation with your spouse or a close friend. Just like how connecting with God is individual, so is rest on the Sabbath. Go ahead and try out a few ideas and see what works for you!