Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been dwelling on the command to keep the Sabbath holy. You know the command. It is one of God’s top ten. It falls between the command to not misuse the name of the Lord and the command to honor your father and mother. The full command from Exodus 20:8-11 reads,
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 foreigners 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 (NIV).
I’m not an expert at keeping Sabbath. In fact, I’m not even good at keeping Sabbath. I confess that at times I’m horrible at it. I’ve been dwelling on this because my morning devotionals from Celtic Daily Prayer have been focused on Sabbath. The title of the devotional entries is “The practice of saying no: Sabbath.” One of the excerpts, written by Barbara Brown Taylor, hit very close to home when I read it. She writes, “It is hard to understand why so many people put ‘Thou shalt not do any work’ in a different category from ‘Thou shalt not kill’ or ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me,’ especially since those teachings are on the same list. The ancient wisdom of the Sabbath commandment—and of the Christian gospel as well—is that there is no saying yes to God without saying no to God’s rivals’” (An Altar in our World quoted in Celtic Daily Prayer Book II 1302).
In dwelling upon the Sabbath command, I’ve been confronted with my lack of saying no to God’s rivals. The biggest rival (and I suppose this has been so since Adam and Eve) is myself. I, like many of you, get caught up in finding worth in what I accomplish and produce. In her writings, Taylor encourages us to “test the premise that we are worth more than what we can produce—that even if we spend one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight—and when you get anxious and you are convinced that this is not so, remember that your own conviction is not required. This is a commandment. Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the command is to woo you to the same truth” (1301-02).
Of course, technology has compounded our struggle to say no. Our work is accessible from just about anywhere these days. And then there are all those seemingly endless opportunities for adults and children to fill up their schedules. Please don’t get me wrong—most of these opportunities can be extremely worthwhile. But here is what I’ve noticed about myself when those opportunities come my way. I have a hard time saying “no.” In reflecting on the Sabbath, I’ve come to this assessment about myself: instead of Sabbath being the number one priority on the schedule each week it ends up as the last. I fill up my week and see if there is anything left to honor my human limits by “resting my body, replenishing the spirit, and restoring the soul,” as Ruth Haley Barton says (Sacred Rhythms 142-43). This is especially true in the beginning of the fall season when there are so many good options being presented. Yet, does saying “yes” to those options allow me to keep the command of Sabbath? God gave this command because he loves humanity and all of creation. He knows we need rest, replenishment, and restoration. The command to keep the Sabbath is not meant to be a burden. The command to keep the Sabbath is a gift…a gift I often struggle to receive.
What are ways we can receive the gift of the Sabbath? Of course, worship is always a great way to replenish and restore our souls. In worship, we are “re-created” as we worship our Creator. Another way is to do nothing. Doing nothing is revolutionary! Give yourself permission to take a nap, to sleep in, or to sit or take a walk outside for 30-60 minutes to absorb the sights and sounds of God’s creation around you. Sabbath is a gift of God that’s often missed and a gift for which our souls long. Will you join me in taking steps to practice Sabbath?
-Dr. Steve Pulliam
Central's Executive Pastor