I’m only beginning to understand the principle of Sabbath. I’ve known a lot about it. I know that God established it from the beginning. Genesis 2:1-3 ~ “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
I don’t really know why he rested. I’ve never believed that God was tired. He’s God. He doesn’t slumber or sleep. So why did he rest? Not only did the first 3 chapters of Genesis create confusion about Sabbath, they also created a misunderstanding about work.
Work somehow got connected with the consequence of sin. After Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, we’re told about toil and sweat. I didn’t connect work to something that happened before people chose to defy God. Eden was supposed to be the perfect place I like to go to that has 5 stars and is an all-inclusive, on a beach.
I simply didn’t think through the words God spoke to Adam and Eve when he blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28-30 )
Understand that Eden’s expanse didn’t cover the earth. But Adam and Eve’s dominion did. The boundaries of Eden would continue to expand as they cared for creation as caretakers in Creator’s garden. They were to have kids and they were to all rule with dominion over everything.
“Rule over the fish … and the birds … and over every living creature …” 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts … all the birds … all the creatures … everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
It was years later that I realized that work was holy and a calling. It wasn’t punishment and was never meant to be a curse. Sabbath wasn’t meant to simply be a pausing from work.
But I didn’t understand the command to Sabbath. I suspect pastors are some of the worst role models for keeping Sabbath. I don’t think I ever did. How about you? What does your Sabbath look like?
When I began Food for the Hungry Canada, I was surprised by our profession. I was surprised that we didn’t have a standardized definition of terms: What is fundraising? What is admin? I soon discovered that you could make financial figures say anything you wanted them to say. The competition out there can be fierce, especially if we find ourselves drinking from the same financial well. The temptation was to allow the industry to define our standards rather than Scripture.
I also found that the requests don’t stop coming on Saturday evening and pick up again on Monday morning. I lived and breathed my work. I honestly tried hard to be a good father and a loving, attentive husband. Yet after experiencing a couple of genocides and carrying the images in my soul, I began to never be truly fully present in my home, in my office and not even at my leisure. My mind was always engaged; ready to network; ready seize each opportunity that might present itself.
Someone always had an ask coming across my desk. After a few years, I began to feel the emotional pressure of having to say “no” so many more times than being able to say “yes”. My response often resulted in my trying harder, reaching farther, asking more often.
My first two genocides left me somewhat tortured and very troubled. I had seen more than I was used to; more than I could process. I remember having returned from the Rwandan genocide and realizing I hadn’t cried once. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I was invited to preach in Saskatoon. On that particular Sunday, the church scheduled communion before the message. They sang communion hymns: “There is a fountain filled with blood…” As I sat in the front row, all I could see was literal fountains filled with blood. The congregation had no idea how to respond to their guest speaker as he sobbed on the front pew.
I started hardening my heart on international trips, keeping a very clear professional distance. After a year, I didn’t like what I was becoming. I asked God if there was some way to find a balance. I remember him saying, “Give yourself permission to love one child each trip. You can’t love them all but you can love one.” ~ That became a more healthy balance for me personally. ~ But I rarely slowed down. I was continually thinking.
I didn’t realize until long after it was too late, what I had actually been doing. I had been depleting my spirit. Rest is good when you are tired. Laughter is good when you’ve been sad. But When you have given out from that very deep place within you, you must make sure that you have replenished what was taken.
I didn’t know that place existed. I didn’t know my spirit could be drained. I lived with people who just leaned into pain and pushed through. We all lived off the adrenalin highs that greeted us in each dangerous environment. Those were the places we felt safest because we were with people we knew understood our struggles.
When I returned from war zones, I would be stepping into another world. I ended up buying 40 acres north of Princeton. I called it my space between genocide and Walmart. I went there after every trip. Otherwise, the re-entry would be too severe. And all the while, I thought this was primarily an issue of the mind and emotions. In reality, my spirit was being starved ~ and I didn’t know. I had lost sight of the first and greatest command.
Sabbath for me was always a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. As a kid, my brothers and I approached Sunday with a dread. It was the most boring day of the week. We had to go to church twice, plus Sunday school and then we had to sit around for the rest of the day. We couldn’t watch TV. We couldn’t play any games that were active. We basically killed time. My mom’s dad wasn’t a Christian and he was frail. For whatever reason, he loved a TV show called Hymn Sing and he loved watching golf. So grandpa got to watch TV at our house on Sunday. Hymn Sing and Golf. It wasn’t the most exhilarating experience of my childhood, but it was an upgrade from taking a nap.
The thought of Sabbath for me always meant boredom and not being able to do anything fun. It began to define my Christian experience. As my faith evolved, so did my Sabbath. It became a time where I rested. To rationalize my behaviour as an act of obedience in taking Sabbath, I began to embrace Sabbath as being any time I wasn’t working. Mark Buchanan says, “One of the largest obstacles to true Sabbath-keeping is leisure...’Waiting for the weekend.’ Leisure is what Sabbath becomes when we no longer know how to sanctify time. Leisure is Sabbath without anything sacred.” I simply did not understand the soul connection.
I never intentionally broke Sabbath. I simply didn’t think about it. I didn’t believe that I needed to practice the Sabbath I had grown up with. And that was actually true. The result was that a lie was implanted in my soul that said I could function well for God and work hard for God and give excessive amounts of time for God’s work with the poor and broken AND I would still be able to function. The assumption was because I am doing justice and because I was filled with mercy and because I did not seek personal recognition and acknowledgement ~ Because of those things ~ God would give me strength and capacity. Burn out for God. What a great way to go! “The greater the sacrifice, the greater God would be glorified.”
I had 12 wonderful years at Food for the Hungry. And then my strength left me. I was spent, burnt out. Over the years since then, I realize that it didn’t have to be. Too often we will not change our minds about an issue until our circumstances change.
What I didn’t realize until much later in life is that Sabbath begins as a heart issue that expresses itself in time and space. It begins in the heart. Do you have a Sabbath Heart?
I want to spend this next few minutes talking about Sabbath as a critical piece to your wellbeing and very possibly the most neglected Scriptural principle in our lives. People tend to emphasize that it was the Pharisees that focused on the Sabbath; not Jesus. I would suggest to you that we have missed a significant point in Jesus’ teaching.
He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD…Six days you are to gather (manna), but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any. Exodus 16:23,26
Honouring Sabbath is meant to be a Consistent Practice
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it……On the seventh day, God rested from all his work…There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God…. Hebrews 4:1, 9
Still Commanded to be Observed
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching … and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years…(Jesus healed her and the synagogue rulers became indignant) “You hypocrites!…Should not this woman…be set free on the Sabbath day…? Luke 13:10-16
Sabbath More Than “not working”
In the days of Abiathar the high priest, (David) entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat… (Jesus said,)”The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:26-28
Sabbath Was Made for Us
The parable of Ten Virgins (What was the oil in their lamps? In Scripture oil is a reference to healing and to the Holy Spirit. What is required of us to function at that level of being filled with Holy Spirit?)
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps, are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
What do you think Sabbath rest refers to? And how should we apply it?
Sabbath means two things:
The lie around Sabbath is that we can’t stop before the work is done. The work will never get done. The urgency of the situation never diminishes for long. We don’t wait till it is convenient to stop. We stop and listen to the voice of Holy Spirit because we cannot afford to be making decisions when our spirit is tired and worn down. It leads to striving and it places heavy expectations upon our staff. Sabbath is God’s gift to us; not our obligation to him. Understand again who it is we are talking about and listening to.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. 10 "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46:9-11
I can love a person without being in love with that person. But when I am in love, I cannot be away from them. God will always ask us, “Are you in love with me?”
Part of spending these days with God is so that we discover how incredibly precious we are to him. We cannot move with high expectations of God when we fail to grasp how favoured we are. Sabbath is our time of intimacy with Holy Spirit. It is your Song of Solomon. It is a bride with her groom. It is intimacy that might actually shock you. For us to receive the favour of God you need to see yourself as he sees you.
The essence of a Sabbath heart is being in love.
Stopping to realize what you might be missing.
The Loss of Sabbath and its Impact on Sustainability
- How have you confronted the tyranny of the urgent?
- How should Sabbath be applied (what would you include in your Sabbath rest) in a way that would constructively benefit you and not turn into a form of legalism?
- How are trauma and Sabbath connected?