In Search of Sabbath: "Whatever the Land Yields..."


But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Leviticus 25:4

Studying the Sabbath is frustrating. Scripture has a lot to say about what not to do for Sabbath, but little about what to do. The scriptures that jump out to me as a starting point for my Sabbath rhythm are those discussing rest for the land. That’s right, even the ground we walk on is gifted a Sabbath rest. In fact, one of the first mentions of crop rotation in farming history comes straight from Sabbath practice in the Old Testament. God told the Israelites not to sow their fields every seventh year. I’m no farmer, in fact I kill just about everything I try to grow, but even I understand the importance of a fallow field, left alone to replenish its nutrients rather than sowing it year after year until it becomes worthless. I find myself drawn to the language used in the scriptures that direct this rest. They speak of untended vines, vegetation growing of itself, and "whatever the land yields." There is unfathomable beauty and power in that one word, "whatever." No person will dictate what or how much is grown there. Instead, it is given back to its creator to bring from it whatever He wills, and with that release comes restoration for the land to be used again.

Sabbath begins with a release, a stripping away. It’s a time to stop your own pursuits in order for God to restore you, his creation. A friend of mine started a church a decade ago with the mission statement, "Lives being restored to their original purpose and intended beauty." That’s what I see happening in “whatever the land yields.” What if we stop pursuing our own agenda and simply be still? What would come up out of the ground if left alone? What would God do with His creation if it were given back to Him? There’s no right answer to those questions. Instead each of us can anticipate what that “whatever” may look like for us. Maybe it’s healing, or forgiveness, or friends, or self-esteem, or purpose, or simply rest. 

So what do we do for Sabbath? Nothing. I guess it turns out there’s a reason scripture doesn’t say what to do. We are simply supposed to be still so that God can do all the work. There’s several scriptures that talk about being still, and in almost all of them the stillness is immediately followed by God’s powerful movement. My favorite is from Zechariah 2:13: “Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.” That verse leaves me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of God’s work, just like waiting to see “whatever” comes up from the ground of my life when I’m still. 

It seems like a stupid question, but how do we remain still? It’s really not a stupid question, because being still is hard! Let’s get practical so we can take steps as a community to practice Sabbath. Because, like I said in the last post, the more of us who practice Sabbath the better our families, our church, and our society will become.

Here’s some practical ideas to try out this week:

  • Set aside time for Sabbath this week. It could be an hour, a morning, or a day. The only rule is, don’t plan what you’re going to do. No planning to journal for an hour or go for a hike. You may end up doing those things, but you’re not allowed to go into your Sabbath with a plan.

  • Spend the first five minutes of your Sabbath actually being still. Just sit and breath. Don’t move, not even to itch your nose. Okay, maybe itching your nose is OK.

  • Listen to this Ted talk on boredom. Seriously worth it.

  • Smart phones can be the enemy of stillness. Here’s a few ideas specifically to still your phone. Pick one or two to try:

    • Simple boundaries:

      • Spatial: Where is your phone off limits? Maybe you decide your phone won’t go into your bedroom in order to prevent that late night mindless browsing. Or maybe it’s the car, dining room, or bathroom (no judging, we all do it)

      • Time: When is your phone off limits? Maybe you won’t check it before 9am, after 8pm, or during those busy hours at work

    • Delete that app. You know the one…

    • Add that app. It may be ironic, but you can use your phone to help you use your phone less! Here’s a few apps to get you started.

What will you try this week?

P.S. There’s the 100ft view, like physically not moving for a few minutes or silencing your phone, and then there’s the 30,000ft view that has to do with a posture of stillness surrounding life goals or decisions. We’re staying small for this post, but, if you feel the need to explore what a posture of stillness might mean for you, I actually wrote a personal 3-post blog series about this five years ago called “The Hard Work of Being Still.” This series was written during a year of stillness in our lives that resulted in our decision to start Missio in Seattle (I definitely love the “whatever” that came from that time of stillness!). I didn’t even know if this site was still out there, but I tracked it down. And it’s so lame. Please forgive the corny decor, broken links, and overuse of “Christianese” in my writing. But, if your journey is leading you to a larger expression of stillness, hopefully hearing more of this part of our story can give you a place to start.