My sabbatical in 2011 was good in ways I had hoped, and excellent in ways that I never imagined. Two years later, the “excellent” part continues to impact my life on a weekly basis.
During a retreat in Ohio’s Amish country, God gave me a second chance (I like that about Him) to get serious about rest. I had first considered becoming a Sabbath-keeper three years earlier, but I never followed up. No, that’s a cop-out. I dropped the ball. I gave up. I willingly stepped back into the hamster wheel and allowed busy-ness to win. Eugene Peterson’s book about pastoral ministry, Working the Angles, gave me a second chance. Since I knew there was no guarantee of a third one, I came home to Santa Clarita determined to become a diligent pursuer of God’s gift of Sabbath rest.
This week marks the 2nd anniversary of that decision. Since my October 2011 worship walk in Rice Canyon, almost 90% of my weeks have included some kind of Sabbath moment – a few hours, a half-day, occasionally a full day of rest, contemplation, refreshment and prayer. It is now hard to imagine my life without weekly rest. I plan it in advance, put it in my calendar, and protect it with a passion.
Why am I so enthusiastic about regular, contemplative, Christ-centered rest? Here is a list, incomplete but I hope significant, of the benefits that I have experienced.
- Sabbath is a reset button for my picture of God. I see Him in ways that I believe are clear only to those who rest in Him.
He is the Shepherd of Psalm 23, the One who provides green pastures, quiet waters, and restored souls. I have relaxed in those pastures, been refreshed by those waters, and had my soul regularly restored.
He is the Jesus of the gospels, who invites His people to come away to a secluded place and rest a while (Mark 6:31), and who promises rest to the weary and heavy-laden who come to Him (Matthew 11:28). I have found Him to be true to His promise.
He is the God who, according to Psalm 149, takes pleasure in His people, and about whom King David could say (Psalm 18:19) “He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” It has boggled my mind to realize that I am among those in whom He takes pleasure and delight.
- Sabbath is also a reset button for my picture of me.
I’m not Superman. I have limits, and I can’t keep going 24/7 (a recent book on Sabbath is called “24/6” – I like that).
I’m dispensable. My world gets along just fine for a while without me. That discovery could be discouraging or refreshing. I have chosen to see it as refreshing.
When all the responsibilities and titles are stripped away, I am simply a child of God. And I REALLY enjoy spending time with my Father.
- Sabbath keeps me from falling into a task-oriented perspective of my relationship with God.
I still have a lot of Martha in me, but once a week I release my inner Mary. I set aside the “stuff I do” so I can just sit at His feet for a while. I am committed to choosing what Jesus calls “the good part” and the one thing that is necessary (Luke 10:42). It’s amazing how much I enjoy that.
Please understand, I don’t claim have this thing nailed. Two years does not qualify me as an expert. Some of my Sabbath hikes are “more hike than Sabbath,” and unlike my wife, I have trouble finding rest amid the distractions of home. It’s a continual challenge to keep things fresh and vibrant, and avoid the routine and the rules. I need to grow as a Sabbath-keeper.
But it’s exciting to think that I am just scratching the surface of this discipline, and I can’t wait to see what will come from another year, not to mention MANY more years, of Sabbath rest.
Two down. Twenty-five (or so) to go!
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