Christians are pretty good about following the Ten Commandments….well, at least 9 out of the 10. Why is it that we get all jumpy about breaking 9 of them, but when it comes to us keeping the Sabbath, we take that as optional? Of course, we could get into a discussion and debate about the Law and whether we are still under the Law with the New Covenant that we have in Christ, but that’s sort of missing the point.
On Christmas day, my family started a new tradition of sorts: we sat around the house and didn’t do anything. Well, we did stuff, just nothing that would take us away from the house and if anything, things that would help us to grow together as a family and appreciate the reason that we were celebrating that day: Jesus Christ. It was one of the best days that we had as a family. There were no deadlines. There was no rush. There was peace (as much as you can have in a house with a 3 year old and a 1 year old).
I had the opportunity the other day to take a “Spiritual Renewal” day. Some friends of ours have a lake house which they graciously allowed me to use for the day. It’s about an hour away, not too far to go for a day. Considering the December schedule that I had, it was a much needed break from all of the busyness that had occupied my life for the last month or so. I spent the day resting in God. I read, I prayed, I spent time in devotion, and I appreciated the stillness of a lake in Virginia in the winter, when the activity is minimal. It even got up to about 60 degrees. It was a time for nourishing and recharging my soul.
That’s really what Sabbath is all about. The Hebrew word that we get Sabbath from is “Shabbat” which means “to cease or rest.” Do we really know what that word means? Do we know what it means to slow down? Do we know what it means to find rest, and if we do, where do we find that rest? Do we really know what it means to stop or cease everything and take a break? I know that I struggle with the idea mightily. I have a hard time shutting my brain off and just being.
The first part of Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” King David wrote in Psalm 62:1, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” Where are we seeking solace and rest? Have we really come to grips with the fact that we serve a God who desires to give us rest?
God is willing to give us rest; he desires to give us rest, problem is that we can't stop long enough to accept and enjoy it. That's one of the reasons why it was commanded to the ancient Israelites. They needed to stop, reflect, and remember. Most of the times that the Israelites got into trouble it was because they had forgotten what God had done for them. There's a troubling passage in Judges 2 where we read, "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths." In just one generation, they had forgotten what the Lord had done for them. And what was the result? They turned away from the Lord. I would venture to guess that the forgetting didn't just happen. Over that generation, they probably started slacking more and more with the taking Sabbath and remembering all that the Lord had done for them. And then, the generation rose up that had completely forgotten.
We need to stop and rest and in our resting, we need to remember. That's really what we do when we meditate on God's word and all that he has done for us: we remember. God has shown us a history of faithfulness to his people, yet we can't stop long enough to recount that history because we're too busy, there's too much going on, and we can't quiet things down enough to hear what he's trying to tell us. I’m reminded of the story in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is waiting for the Lord to pass by. An earthquake, a might wind, and a fire all pass and the Lord is not present there. It is only when there is a soft and gentle whisper that Elijah knows that the Lord is speaking. The thing is, I don’t think that we let our lives get that quiet to really hear that soft and gentle of a whisper.
There’s a great scene in the movie “Ray” when Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) is having lunch with a woman and he hears a hummingbird’s wings fluttering outside the window. He tells the woman that the bird is there, but she can’t hear it. He says, “You have to listen” and so she focuses her attention on just that, and she can hear it when she blocks everything else out. That’s usually the time when God speaks to us, when we block everything else out. He’s not going to yell, so we’d better start listening.
We need to come back to the lost art and practice of Sabbath. We need to find rest in the Lord and we need to get away from all of our busyness and chaos. It will be good for our souls when we do. We’ll notice a difference, and hopefully, the people around us will as well.
May God give you opportunities to rest in him, and him alone. May you find peace and comfort in the stillness and silence that happen only when you stop and take part in Sabbath.