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Rest

Did you realize that the God of the universe, with the infinite number of ways He could have created us, actually made it necessary for us to rest? Of course, God Himself rested on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:2), and we are made in His image. But what is rest to us?

Rest is a time of restoration for our bodies, minds, and spirits. While our busy hours of work and exercise help to keep our bodies healthy and active, our times of rest rebuild and rejuvenate us down to the most minute levels. It is a time for our bodies to cleanse themselves, repair themselves, and recharge themselves.

I’m sure you are well aware of how your body is affected by a lack of rest. There’s probably been at least one period of your life when you couldn’t sleep well, and during that time, you just couldn’t perform at your best. After a while, your body started to ache, your thoughts became confused, and you found it increasingly difficult to focus. If it went on long enough, perhaps you got sick. Perhaps you lost control of your emotions.

And so God called us – commanded us even – to rest. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” He said. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

There are two elements to this command that we need to be aware of. The first is to remember (or keep and honor) the Sabbath day, and the second is to keep it holy. Both can be equally difficult in the midst of a Western culture and upbringing.

Remember…

To remember the Sabbath is to take a day of rest. In Christianity, the typical Sabbath day is considered to be Sunday, but God’s Sabbath day is and always has been on Saturday (which technically begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday). Sunday’s Sabbath was born out of rebellion to the Jewish heritage of the early Church, so to honor God and the heritage of my faith, I prefer to take mine on Saturday whenever possible. Sometimes a ministry event or emergency situation keeps me from this, in which case I find another day throughout the week. And I don’t think it’s at all legalistic, but I do believe that God gives special honor to those who would break away from cultural norms to align themselves with His commands and His calendar.

But putting aside the actual day and time when you take your Sabbath, the most important thing is that you remember it. Having remembered the Sabbath diligently for the past many years, I now cannot live without it. If for some reason I miss a week’s Sabbath, I feel it for the next seven days. I need that day of rest to be able to make it through the following week with enough energy, focus, and strength to keep up with God as I follow after Him.

So what does the Sabbath look like from a practical understanding? That’s where the second part of the command comes in, to keep the day holy unto the Lord. And if it were not enough just to say that, God is so kind to explain it to us in the following verses, summed up by saying, “You shall do no work.”

Keep It Holy…

I don’t know about you, but it can be quite difficult for me to “do no work.” It actually feels like a lot of work just trying not to work sometimes. We’ve been taught to be productive, and we fear idleness, either because we find identity in what we do, or because we want to avoid the thoughts and feelings that have time to surface when we’re not distracted by our labor. Both of these ring true for me.

But what actually constitutes itself as work? In Jewish culture, this is clearly defined, and there are so many rules and boundaries in place to keep you from even getting close to work (like not turning on a light or using an elevator on the Sabbath, because turning on electricity constitutes creating fire, which is strictly forbidden in Exodus 35:3). For Christians, however, we see through Jesus’ example that the letter of the law and the spirit of the law are separate, and that sometimes following the letter of the law is breaking the spirit of the law or of the greater good (for example, a doctor who ignores healing a dying man on the Sabbath is not loving his neighbor as himself and is therefore putting more value on God’s law than on God Himself).

This leads us to something else very important about the Sabbath, found in Mark, chapter two. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (verse 27). The Sabbath is for our benefit. It was given to us as a gift, and we should receive it as such. But this gift looks different for each of us in our unique giftings, personalities, and circumstances.

For some of us, our idea of rest and connecting with God is caring for a garden, but for a professional landscaper, that would be considered work. For some of us (like me), doing a load of laundry on the Sabbath is not work, but for my friend Sue, who does fifteen loads of laundry a week, that’s work to her, and she refrains from it during her day of rest. Some people can enjoy checking personal email on the Sabbath (catching up with family and friends and the latest forwarded jokes), but for me, opening up my email is work, and even if I don’t do work because of it – if it even causes me to think about work, I’ve lost the rest and peace of my Sabbath. In your unique situation, you know what is work and what is not. Take the Sabbath off. Don’t work. Just relax and enjoy the day.

Enjoy…

It’s interesting and exciting to me to realize that God spent His Sabbath (after creation) enjoying His work. Six days He spent working and creating and laboring, and the seventh day He spent enjoying all that He had made. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially when you work for someone else, and when your work is of no personal benefit to you and your family. Even then, you can enjoy the satisfaction of all that you did during the week for other people, and you can take joy in the fact that you were able to enhance someone else’s life through your labor.

But we all have things we can enjoy on the Sabbath. Perhaps it’s a garden that you worked on during the week. Perhaps it’s your family that you worked to provide for and to raise and build relationship with. Perhaps it’s a friendship that you have been building over the last few years. Perhaps it’s the remodeling or decorating you’ve done around the house.

And even if you can’t find anything like that to enjoy, you can still enjoy God’s work. God for a walk. Hike through the woods or find a bench in the park where you can sit and read a book. Find God in His creation. Find God in His provision. Find God in His people.

And this is the other part of keeping the Sabbath holy: spending time with God, and devoting the day to HIm. Now, this doesn’t  mean you need to spend the whole day on your face, crying out to God and reading Scripture (though there are times for that). It simply means that the Sabbath is a day to encounter God. Take time during the Sabbath to journal, to pray, to listen, or to read (Scripture or other books that draw you closer to God). Spend time with people who draw you closer to God and engage in meaningful conversations that will help you grow and will help you fall more deeply in love with your Creator.

And most importantly, enjoy your Sabbath. It was created for you, after all. It is a gift to be cherished, and if you remember it and make it holy – if you make it a lifestyle – it will bless you, encourage you, strengthen you, fill you and renew you, helping you find a much richer, deeper, and more meaningful walk with God.

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