Surrendering to Sabbath

It’s when I’m sitting on Monterey’s sea cliffs — doing nothing but feeling the breeze, smelling the salt, and watching the waves — that I feel shalom. At peace, whole, one with God. It is my Sabbath.

In these days, I move slowly:

  • taking my time to wash my hands and treating it like a massage.
  • reading each line of the Word with savor.
  • sipping coffee and holding it in my mouth, appreciating the warmth and flavors.
  • walking with little steps to observe all the curious people around me — God’s children.
  • driving extra miles to bask in the wonders of abandoned coastal routes.

Incorporating Sabbath into my life has increased my confidence in The Plan, boosted my productivity for the rest of the week, countered my idolatry of ambition, and deepened my love for my Father.

It’s debated by scholars whether Christians are held to the Sabbath under the New Covenant. For me, it really doesn’t matter (though I lean toward nah). This is a day I choose to have.

Regardless, there are Biblical points to consider when thinking of Sabbath in our modern context.

Let’s start with what it was.

Despite being one of the ten famous commandments of Mt. Sinai, Sabbath was created before sin even existed in this world: Genesis 2:3 tells us that God designed the world in six days, then rested on the seventh. He “blessed it” and “made it holy.” (Due to the Sabbath’s roots in creation, I choose to spend the day in nature to dwell on His art.)

Later commandments affirm that holiness:

“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.

Exodus 20:8-11

Many interpret the Sabbath as a day for simple pleasures and fun, but the day was clearly dedicated “to the Lord” and intended as “holy.” It is a day of God-centered rest and preparation for the pursuit of His callings. In honor of that, my Sabbath includes loads of prayer, Bible reading, and worship music. I often take off my cochlear implants so I can sit in silence and solitude with Him — two of my favorite yet most difficult spiritual disciplines.

It’s a gift, not a burden.

OK, silence and solitude are two of my most difficult-to-perform disciplines, but so is Sabbath itself. I skip it many weeks. Despite all the joy it gives me, my flesh still rebels before the day has begun or when I design my weekly schedule. I idolize ambition and career. I pride myself on being available at all times for work messages (and for youth group mentorship). To release a day to Him — to put aside my phone and computer — is frightening.

1 John 5:3 confuses me when in this mindset: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

The following verse helps to counter my fears because it rings with promise:

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on My holy Day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 58:13-14

According to some fancy scholar, the Hebrew word used for “your own pleasure” means “one’s own daily business or personal affairs.”

Like … a job or volunteering commitments. Interesting.

Isaiah writes that honoring the Lord by focusing Sabbath on Him results in joy. Clearly, this is not a burden, but a blessing. When I treat the Sabbath as a commandment, it is a burden. When I recognize it is a gift with promised blessings, I love it. (I guess I’m just selfish that way.)

The Sabbath reminds us that God blesses us through His grace, not our labor. God, through Isaiah, describes a life of Sabbath as one with magnificent blessings of delight.

What’s Jesus gotta say?

In Matthew 12:1-8, the Pharisees are up to their usual shenanigans. They’re trying to catch Jesus red-handed in breaking the Laws. They accuse Him and His disciples of unlawful acts during the Sabbath — eating heads of wheat from a farmer’s field.

Jesus answers simply, recalling that David and his companions ate bread meant only for priests, because it was necessary. He then follows up with a radical statement.

“Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, cites Hosea 6:6 to clarify the law was made for mercy, not for oppression via legalism. Keep in mind He declared the law is summed by, “You shall love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Love.

The Pharisees missed the Sabbath’s point — it is a time for good, not for misery or burden. (This theme is later revisited when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, in Mark 3:1-6.)

The Sabbath was made for us.

 “… the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

We must be still and know God will handle all matters of the day if we center ourselves on Him. With Sabbath, our lives grow easier, not harder, because his yoke lightens our load. I know that’s an absurd idea in a world where we’re barely keeping afloat despite our hard, constant work. But having experimented with Sabbath despite my way-too-overburdened lifestyle, I can confirm the truth. God has shifted and plucked the lines of my life to ensure Sabbath does not throw my life astray.

Are all Sabbaths the same?

I don’t think so. It should contain essentials, like being God-centered and restful, but I believe it’s also dependent upon your heart.

God didn’t hand down a huge list of do’s and don’t’s for Sabbath, other than a few examples (like those in the aforementioned Exodus passage). He seems less concerned with the surface rules and more with the status of the heart (I glean this partly from Matthew 12:1-8).

Something unusual about my Sabbath is I try to avoid going out of my way to help people, unless someone in my immediate vicinity needs it. Sounds very un-loving, huh? But, see, my heart has a special problem: I help too much. (Any other Enneagram 2s here?) I’m addicted to helping people, and that’s where I source most of my value. I don’t feel loved unless I’m helping. And I don’t pursue God’s calling for me, but simply what seems “good” and “right.” It’s all unhealthy.

It leads me to neglecting my most important identity as a beloved son of God, burning myself out to the point of being unable to help effectively, and disrespecting the body God crafted and rescued from death many times.

Sabbath helps me to dwell on God’s love for me and refocus/reenergize myself for the rest of the week’s ministry. Remember what I said earlier? “The Sabbath reminds us that God blesses us through His grace, not our labor.” When I put God’s Sabbath above my obsession with helping others and working hard, I fight those idols.

On Sabbath, I trust God will take care of my friends and youth mentees for me. I trust He will take care of me. He does. The world doesn’t stop spinning when I sit on those Monterey cliffs and watch the seagulls. It’s on those cliffs that the world continues spinning, and I meditate on God as the creator and controller. I am but a servant who has been commanded to rest. So, I do.