Need a break from election-season stress? How about embracing the break God built into creation from the beginning? The Sabbath day is such a beautiful gift from God. Through it, the giver of every good and perfect gift calls us to “cease”, to step away from life as we live it Monday through Saturday, to rest our souls in our Savior through public and private worship, and to rest our bodies through laying aside the work and recreation appropriate to the rest of the week. This election season especially, more than any I can remember, maybe more than any in our nation’s history – that’s for historians to decide – we are a stressed electorate. We need a break.
It’s a stressful time for the nation and for the church within it. It’s stressful because in the current state of politics, we can’t make our intentions in deciding to vote a particular way, or deciding not to vote at all, match up with the actual consequences of our decisions. Our desires likely won’t line up completely with the reality our decision will help to create. And even if we are among those who will eventually get what we vote for, what’s there to truly celebrate? One way or the other, to one degree or another, we will as a nation be exalting and therefore enabling profound wickedness. In this process, as we see it play out before us now, there’s no happiness not conjoined to some deep shame, no victory which is not also a reason to weep bitterly. It’s a stressful time because our nation’s further plunge into godlessness is being led by powerful, morally ruthless people, and many of them claim to be Christians. We’ve twisted our faith inside out in order to find something in Scripture which could help us believe their claims, but their actions (and words) speak louder than our distortions of God’s holy Word. It’s stressful because no one can vie for the honor and integrity of the tops of the tickets without calling their own integrity into question. Instead, proponents have to settle for this kind of ringing endorsement: “Okay fine, my candidate does that and it’s horrible. But at least my candidate doesn’t …” It’s stressful because things are so bad, and so shameful, that the argument over how best to move forward is revealing the worst in all of us. Our Enemy is having a field day in the Land of the Free. As God’s people, let’s not give him any more room to play.
To keep the prowling lion from doing any more devouring among us, and through us, sometimes we just need to cease and desist. We shouldn’t cease to care about these issues, but we should cease to address them unproductively, as happens in our boiling, frenetic, sharp-tongued, spiked-blood pressure state of mind, or in our cool, nonchalant, detached frame of mind which criticizes others for not being chill in Christ as the daily parade of our nation’s wretchedness plods on before us. We should care deeply about these matters, and as they play out, we need from time to time to do what’s become a mantra in my household: “Pause, pray, and walk away.” And this is where the Sabbath is so helpful.
The Sabbath is a day of rest. God does permit work on this day, but work that is a necessity (we likely put more into that category than actually belongs there) and work that extends merciful help to others. May I humbly suggest that it is both necessary for us, and a mercy to others, to step away from stern social media pontifications on politics – and not just on the Sabbath Day? Self-righteousness, oversimplifications and slander abound, and that’s among Christians!
Desperate to justify our respective approaches to participation in the political process or our abstention from it, we so vehemently decry the brethren with whom we disagree as compromisers, as those who do not truly trust in Christ’s sovereignty over the nations, as those who refuse to actually do anything about the encroaching evil ready to rise on election day, as those who are bowing to Nebuchadnezzar or the like, perhaps aggrandizing ourselves and our situations and thus ironically, failing to see and feel the true and awful severity of our national situation.
The ninth commandment forbids slander. So much of our online activity seems not only to fly in the face of the ninth commandment but to flat out smack it in the face, along with the sixth commandment as well. The positive requirement of the prohibition against murder is that we do everything we can to preserve the good name and the wellbeing of our neighbors. Perhaps instead of blasting particular conscience-stricken believers and the choices they feel they have to make, regardless of consequences, we can sympathize by our social media silence, or better yet, by actively extending words of love and encouragement, especially in the midst of disagreement over deeply complex matters. Ceasing and desisting from our verbal violence would be a blessing on any day, and on the Sabbath day, we can do that and so much more.
What if, as God’s people in this nation, we were not only to put aside our work as best we’re able to, but to also put aside the fun and games of the wealthy West? We could use the Sabbath to take a sobering look through the lens of Scripture at our nation’s desperate spiritual poverty, but also at the freeing fullness of our Savior’s grace. What if we spent the whole day, once a week and week after week, seeking the face of our true King? I love sports and my favorite teams. They’re gifts from God, especially the 2004 ALCS. Remember that one Yankees fans? But the Sabbath reminds us to love the giver more than the gifts. It allows us to focus on more ultimately important things, and we need that in these especially important days in our nation’s history.
What if we who know and love Jesus Christ, God’s people who are called by His name, would humble ourselves, deny ourselves, and call out in earnest and together, united in worship throughout the day and across the land, for our Lord to hear from heaven and heal our land from its limitless idolatries, starting first with those idolatries we cherish in our own hearts? What if we called our own bluff about desperately wanting more time in Scripture, more time in worship and close Christian fellowship, more time extending mercy to the needy, and more time seriously engaging our national woes in prayer – by taking a whole day every week to do it? And what if the Lord meant for us to be doing this all along, and that’s why he gave us the Sabbath not only as one of his moral laws (Exodus 20:8-11), but as a foundational principle and pacesetter for creation itself (Genesis 2:2-3)?
The Sabbath has always served as a diagnostic for the true spiritual condition of God’s people – isn’t it amazing that we could resent God’s call for us to rest and worship for a whole day? And honoring the Sabbath, from the heart, calling it a delight even when we don’t feel that it is, can’t help but grow God’s people in the grace and knowledge of our Savior, demonstrate our distinctive identity in God’s world as his redeemed people, and build us up so that we can exert Christ’s redemptive influence everywhere we go and in all that we do throughout the week. And God is so good that he promises to bless such faithful efforts, efforts which strain against some of our natural desires but which result in God giving us even deeper and greater desires to replace them (Isaiah 58:13-14 and Psalm 37:4). He promises “Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you” (James 4:8) and he promises his special presence upon faithful obedience (John 14:21).
James reminds us that to break one part of God’s law is to break the rest, because it’s all grounded in the character of our relentlessly righteous God (James 2:10-11). It seems logical that our failure to heed this commandment partially explains or at least coincides with our failure to honor the rest, as God’s people and as a nation. That the church and the nation would benefit from God’s people honoring the Sabbath is indisputable. Whatever form those benefits would take – it’s possible that things would get more difficult for Christians were we to more clearly display our identity in Christ – it is always a blessed thing for everyone that God’s people walk in greater faithfulness to our Lord. And the Sabbath presents a regular opportunity to do just that. Our gathering for worship on this day calls attention to our Savior’s resurrection from the dead, and in the sound and fury of our search for a new national leader, issues a clarion call for the world to worship the true and eternal King.
Perhaps the simplest and softest way to encourage Sabbath keeping is this: why would we not pursue this opportunity for holy rest, and accept this good gift from God, and honor this command from our King, in such a wearying, weep-worthy time as this?