Sabbath rest, in the form (so far) of worship hikes with God, has become a regular and much-anticipated part of my week. It has become entrenched in my schedule since I first committed to it last November, and I can’t think of another discipline that has had more impact on my spiritual life. I find myself jealously protecting it, setting aside time several weeks in advance to make sure nothing encroaches on it.
Let me point out a few basic principles about Sabbath that I have learned as I have walked this path (pun intended):
Sabbath rest is a gift from God, not a duty or an obligation
Jesus said “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). There is something in it for us, something that we need. We are designed to crave it, the same way we crave food and water. When we deprive ourselves of it, we cut ourselves off from a gift that God designed for our good and for His glory. We are poorer when we neglect Sabbath, and richer when we honor it.
Sabbath reminds us of who we are, and who God is
All of the reading I have done on the Sabbath points this out. We live under the self-centered delusion that our world needs us to be productive 24/7, that we are somehow too important to disconnect and stop. Sabbath reminds us how silly that is.
The best book I have read so far on this topic is The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan. He defines Sabbath as “imitating God, so that we stop trying to be God” (p. 87). A regular period of intentionally “unproductive,” contemplative rest reminds me of one of the most important principles I know: He is God, and I’m not. I can disconnect from my world, because I know that He won’t.
Sabbath is more about what you do than what you don’t do
Some who grew up in strict Sabbath-observing families tend to have negative memories of long, boring Sundays with nothing to do because everything is forbidden. It’s true that a Sabbath day is meant to be different from the others, but it can be different in what you add to your day, not just in what you take away. Your season of life will determine what works for you – as an empty-nester, I have a broader range of possibilities than some. The options are many, as long as the goals of rest, spiritual reflection and refreshment, and connection with God are kept in the forefront. I find I need to resist the Pharisee in me who wants to make Sabbath all about rules and prohibitions – I strive to make it about God, and His gifts in my life.
Sabbath rest impacts the whole week, not just the day
One rabbi encourages his people to spend the first part of the week basking in the glow of the previous Sabbath, and the second half of the week eagerly anticipating and planning for the next one. That has become my experience, as the delight of my Sabbath hikes splash out into the rest of my week. Like the mud that remained on my shoes after a recent post-rain hike, the benefits of that time with God stuck with me – in fact, I purposely left the dried mud on my shoes as a reminder. And I’ve spent the last couple of days eagerly anticipating my next walk with God later this afternoon.
I’ve found these words of Buchanan to be true: “Sabbath is the stranger you’ve always known. It’s the place of homecoming that you’ve rarely or never visited, but which you’ve been missing forever. You recognize it the moment you set eyes on it. It’s the gift that surprises you, not by its novelty, but by its familiarity…It’s been asleep in you all this time, waiting for the right kiss to wake it” (p. 104).
I highly recommend Buchanan’s book as a great resource for potential Sabbath observers. And I humbly hope that this blog will be the “right kiss” that will wake in you a desire to begin to experience the Sabbath rest that God designed for you.