Reclaiming Sabbath Rest
What is the biggest problem facing American Christianity? “I think, in all honesty, it is hurry.” That’s what megachurch pastor John Mark Comer said in a recent interview. I don’t know if it’s the biggest, but busyness is certainly a significant problem. The tempo with which most of us live our lives leaves very little time for an unhurried commitment and devotion to God. Interestingly, Comer believes one of the solutions is reclaiming the practice of Sabbath: “It’s an ancient human practice that has been lost in our culture since the 1960s and I think it’s had disastrous consequences for Christian and non-Christians across the soul of our society,” he said. Adding “What we’ve lost has been emotionally, spiritually, and mentally devastating.”
Sabbath keeping has always had an important place in Reformed piety. Not simply as cultural appropriation, but something that is driven by an understanding of the Bible. Sabbath is grounded in creation (Genesis 2:2), is enforced by the law of God (Exodus 20:8-11), and affirmed in the gospel both by Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (see Mark 2:23-28, Hebrews 4:9-10, Jeremiah 31:33, and Revelation 1:10). We should, as God has clearly commanded: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
Remembering the Sabbath is important for our physical but also our spiritual wellbeing. Spiritually, the Sabbath is a day of rest not for idleness or inactivity, but so that unconstrained by the demands of daily life we can worship God. Nicholas Bownd helpfully wrote: “The principal end of resting is that the day and time might be sanctified in the holy worship of God.” But it’s also for our physical benefit. Because of sin our bodies are prone to pain, weakness, and death. Again, Bownd said: “[The body] stands in need of ease, and craves rest (as that without which it cannot long continue) — therefore, in respect of this, men had need to rest so much the more […] that being refreshed, might be more enabled even in the strength of their bodies, to do the works of their calling cheerfully.”
That command isn’t legalism — the ever present Bogeyman everyone seems to be afraid of. After all, obeying and delighting in the law of God isn’t legalistic. It’s Christian. The Psalmist has taught us to sing: “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:47). Thankfully, the Sabbath command is also accompanied by the promise of God. As the Prophet declared: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day […] then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth” (Isaiah 58:13-14).
Devastatingly, we live in a culture whose demands continue to intrude on that day. God has given us six days for ourselves and in a unique way claimed one for himself. Yet our jobs, schools, sports, hobbies, and entertainment aren’t content with only six days. Rather, they’re selfishly vying to claim all seven days. Instead of retreating to the command and promise of God saying “No” to the demands, too many Christians yield. On the whole very little of our hurried schedules belong to God. The result is no break, no pause, no interruption, and no rest — no Sabbath.
This, of course, has adverse effects. Let’s be honest, sin always does! We weren’t created to give ourselves to a non-stop cycle of our worldly employments and enjoyments. Instead, we’ve been created to stop the cycle one day a week. When we exchange the rhythm God has woven into our creation and redemption for our own schedule we deprive ourselves of the very blessing he has given. The blessed life — or, if I can, the happy life — isn’t found in despising God’s blessing but embracing it. No wonder we live in a culture of physical and spiritual burnout. The tragedy, however, isn’t that we’re helpless victims but that we choose to do it to ourselves.
We need to reclaim Sabbath rest. We need one day a week where our jobs don’t get to make demands of us. One day when school isn’t bossing us around. One day when sports don’t require our allegiance. One day when entertainment doesn’t crave our attention. One day when we say “Stop” to our hurried life and busy schedule, and enjoy a day of rest freeing us — body and soul — to enjoy the worship of God.