In Search of Sabbath: What is Sabbath and Why Would I Practice It?
Last week I introduced a new blog series on Sabbath. This idea has been a passion of mine for a while now. And I’d love to tell you I’m an expert on the Sabbath tradition and practice it regularly, but I’m just not there. I’m still searching. But not just for myself, also for you. For Missio. I’m working hard to form this practice into our DNA because, one thing I do know, Sabbath rest is a gift of enormous blessing to those who receive it. I suppose the best place to start our search is by asking two questions: what is Sabbath, and why would I practice it?
What is Sabbath?
There’s two directions my mind (and research) goes when I consider Sabbath. One is an ancient tradition which few have considered, much less put into practice. In the Old Testament God commanded the Israelites to observe a weekly Sabbath, a day dedicated to God and used to rest from work. It is still a part of Jewish tradition today, as well as other religions, including some Christian denominations. But for most, it’s an ancient practice of restriction that’s hard to imagine in today’s busy world. On the other hand, I’ve seen an increased attraction to the idea of Sabbath recently as more attention has been given to self-care. Instead of describing Sabbath with words like “restrictive” and “ancient,” it’s beginning to embody ideas like rest, meditation, and care.
So which of these threads do we follow? I think the answer is both, because they are not mutually exclusive, rather two sides of the same beautiful coin. I believe the law God gave in the Old Testament is good and for our good, but it was limited. That’s why Jesus came. He fulfilled the law so we don’t have to. We are not bound to the Old Testament law, including the Sabbath. But that doesn’t mean there’s not so much good that we can gain from considering Old Testament traditions. As we search for our understanding of Sabbath I’m always going to start with scripture, the Sabbath law God commanded and what He intended it for. Because as we dig into this law we thought outdated and restrictive, I think what we’ll actually find are those ideas of rest and care our society is beginning to covet. Though Sabbath for us may not look the same as it did for the Israelites, we can consider the principles of Sabbath and find out what it could mean for us today.
Why would I practice it?
Jared and I have a good friend who recently led his church through a sermon series called “Weird things from the Bible.” As an ancient historian I geek out on stuff like this, so I watched a teaser video in which he mentioned some of the topics from the series: weird laws like mold in the house, ancient building codes from Deuteronomy, and, you guessed it, Sabbath rest. So, why in the world would I want to practice something that has been so far removed from us in both time and practice that it’s packaged and stored away with arcane laws about mold and building codes?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you that answer. That’s something only you can answer as you take steps to implement some Sabbath rest. For now, I can only ask you to trust. Trust that what God gives is good, just as a child learns to trust a parent. I believe that the commands God gives in scripture are freeing. The Sabbath is not just another law restricting what you can do, it's the One who knows you best and what's best for you saying, you need to rest. Any parent has seen a miserably tired child fight sleep with cries, screams, and a refusal to be still. It's so frustrating because you know he's resisting the thing he needs most. That baby is us. We resist rest when that's exactly what we need, and we've been doing it from the beginning. God, our ever patient father, continually and in varying ways, tells us what we need is rest. He sets the example for us by resting himself (Genesis 2:2), he gives the Sabbath to us as a generous and good gift (Exodus 16:29), and he commands it of us (Exodus 20:8). You'd think we'd take the hint. I mean, command for the Sabbath is given to us in the same list as do not murder! One thing I am convinced of, the more of us who practice Sabbath the better our families, our church, and our society will become.
Stay tuned: We’ll explore the act of stillness together with some tangible ideas for you to put into practice in next week’s post: “Whatever the Land Yields”
In the meantime, try this!
Choose a morning this week to sleep in until you can’t sleep anymore. Clear your schedule, arrange for your spouse to get up with the kids (or pets!), turn off your alarm, throw a thick blanket over the window, and sweet dreams!
Do some of your own digging into Sabbath from the scriptures mentioned in this post.