Our western culture is celebrating extreme busyness more with each coming year. Productivity and success are assumed to be the outcomes of constantly being on the move, so we fill our schedules to overflowing and write impossible to-do lists.
Our conversations start with listing off the things we have done or are scrambling to do, and we esteem one another based on what we have achieved or what our next step is. We’ve lost the beauty of the sabbath.
Sabbath. It’s the label we toss on Sunday afternoon naps and breaks from social media – when rest is convenient and neatly packaged. It’s the action that we take when we are burnt out and continuing simply is not an option. We seem to have confused sabbath with sabbatical because, the instructions for the sabbath were to make it rhythmic and regular.
The original command
The original sabbath was a command given by the Lord as a routine practice for the Israelite people. It was meant to provide rest for the people and their land and was a command for the whole community – people and animals. It is a command to not do any work and to keep the day holy by resting and allowing our whole community to rest.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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 chapter 20, verses 8 to 11)
The beauty of the command is that God practised the sabbath first in the account of creation. While many of the commands to live without sin are seen in the character of God and the life of Jesus, like the command to love since we were loved first, the sabbath command is an instruction to directly follow the footsteps of our Creator.
God of the sabbath
There is sometimes a rhetoric amongst Christians that the God of the Old Testament seems different to the God of the New Testament, though we know that they are one and the same.
The sabbath is one of the instances in scripture where we can clearly see that the righteous, law-giving God of the Old Testament is the same as the compassionate God of the New Testament, as the law has our well-being in mind.
I have written about the beauty of life rhythms, home, and jubilee before – how this is a healing and important practice to maintain our God-given identity. The sabbath command similarly is meant to bring us closer to the Lord and rejuvenate our spirits.
The sabbath is meant to be a day or season of stillness with no work, limited movement, and maximum connection. The purpose was not only to rest but to keep the day holy. I would argue that it was designed to be a day or season to reconnect with our community and to focus on our God. To draw near to the God who promises that as we do, He will draw near to us.
“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” (Jeremiah chapter 29, verses 12 to 14)
People of the sabbath
If the purpose of the sabbath is to rest and reconnect with Christ and one another, and if it is commanded by God, why do we run from rest?
As a society we talk of the importance of rest, emphasize mental health, celebrate sleeping in and holiday feasts, and in the nineteenth century we established the idea of weekends to give regular, rhythmic rest to our workers. Yet, we simultaneously avoid stopping at all costs.
Why? Because life is so loud that silence sounds scary.
Busyness and constant bombardment with news, media, and communication with others has become so normal. We crave rest but are so unsettled when it comes because it feels uncomfortable. Yet, the voice of God is often likened to a whisper in the wind and even Jesus demonstrated escaping from the craziness of life in order to seek out the whispers of God.
Life has thrown us into a series of forced breaks in the form of lockdowns, travel restrictions, limitations on gatherings, and for some in the loss of jobs and opportunities.
While many of these situations can be incredibly stressful and hurtful, we can find beauty in the stillness and silence. We can find the voice of God in a new way and draw near to our Father like never before, if we embrace the sabbath rhythm.
Learning the importance of stillness, the sound of silence, and the reconciliation of the sabbath can be an uncomfortable process because it looks so different to how we run through our lives. Yet, keeping the sabbath is commanded of us and demonstrated by God himself. It is to be a holy day or season, not a fearful one – because we have not been given a spirit of fear.
So, whatever life looks like for you at the moment, whether your breaks or forced or chosen, let us all endeavour to schedule sabbaths into our lives.
Sabbaths to have enough time to sit comfortably in silence and listen for the whispers of God, to seek His truth above the truths being thrown at us, to be renewed by His holiness and love, and be reminded of why we were created – to bring Him glory and worship.
Petro Swart is a currently completing her masters degree in Sport Leadership at the University of Miami (Oxford, Ohio). Originating from South Africa and growing up in New Zealand has given Petro a love for all things sport and travel. Writing is Petro’s way of making sense of the world around her and expressing the words God places on her heart.