Starting well – with sabbath
Finishing well and starting well are important in all aspects of life. So what’s the best way to start? With a rest. That sounds a bit lazy perhaps, but there is an important principle in starting with sabbath.
In a previous post at the beginning of April I mentioned how God had given me grace in leaving my job at the end of March. Then, before starting my role focusing full time on All Nations, I deliberately took two weeks to rest, pray and enjoy family time including some walking in the hills. That mix of time with God, family and friends and recreation is exactly what God intended His Old Testament people to enjoy when He gave them instructions about keeping the sabbath.
In giving the instruction, God sets the context. When He made the world He rested on the seventh day of creation (Exodus 20:8-11). Why would the infinitely powerful God, who “never sleeps” (Psalm 121:4) rest? Maybe it is because the mix of work and reflection, creation and fun tells us something of God’s character. We humans are made such a way that we need to receive and give to be able to function mentally and emotionally. We need to rest and play as well as work to be able to function well physically as well.
The Hebrew concept of a person was and is holistic – we are whole people and cannot split our thinking or feeling from the rest of us. Psychologists understand better today than ever that the way we give time and energy to all aspects of our being is important. And yet we live in a day when rest and refreshing time seems to be squeezed more than ever and even recreation time is often reduced to watching a big screen passively without really enjoying activities and rest.
We can speculate why God, who does not “need” anything, lives with the same cycles but never fully understand Him, and ultimately our theological thinking should lead us to worship the creative One!
The penalty for not keeping the sabbath was death (Exodus 31:14). So taking time to rest and worship, to be with others and to enjoy whatever brings us refreshing, is really important. That is why the Pharisees thought they were being godly when they criticised Jesus and his disciples for disregarding the sabbath. But how do we interpret all this in our New Covenant context where we are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14)?
In Hebrews 4 we read of a sabbath rest that is 24/7, an inner peace that comes from obedience and from enjoying our Father’s presence through Jesus, the Great High Priest. We can work at rest as well as play! Sabbath is no longer one day a week but potentially an all-week experience of God’s love and presence. But it still matters that we are practical about taking time to look after each aspect of who God has made us, otherwise we cannot function properly. The Old Covenant law, as always, does not directly apply to us but it gives insight into what God is like and point to something better: living life led by the Holy Spirit!
Jesus confronted the heartless law-keeping of the Pharisees and taught the real point of sabbath – it was made for us not us for the sabbath! It is a sign of God’s love that He leads us to be careful to rest, play, take time with family and friends and worship as well as work. Then we can really work well and effectively. “Whoever remains in me and I in him,” Jesus said, “will bear much fruit.” It matters, and the penalty for not keeping sabbath, in whatever way is appropriate for us, is still death. Not death by stoning but a spiritual dryness that leads to separation from God and death. So let’s enjoy rest and “re-creation.”