Restoring Sabbath Rest
Laws and Intentionality
How do we practically take the necessary rest our bodies, minds and souls require? We have already addressed both the difficulties in taking sabbath time in our culture (see here) and the importance of rest that reaches all the way down into the soul (see here). It is important to work in this order because if these elements are not properly understood, the practical output will be of only minimal value.
In Luke 6:9, Jesus indicates that the purpose of the sabbath is to be restorative in nature. Of course, some Christians might bring up the point that we are no longer required to live under the Jewish ceremonial laws. While this may be true, it actually places us in a bit of a disadvantage when we try to rest properly. Unless we are thoughtful and disciplined in our sabbaths/rests, we will not glean from them the deep rest we desire. The benefit of the Jewish ceremonial laws on the sabbath was a built-in system of parameters that required people to rest properly within defined limits. But Christians today no longer have that system or those prescribed limits. This means, unless we are extremely intentional, we will likely miss out on the full benefits of rest that the Lord prescribes for us as members of humankind.
Inner Disciplines of Rest
It is important to cultivate both inner and external disciplines of rest in order to receive the full benefit. While many inner disciplines could be mentioned, here are two of the most important. First, sabbath is an act of liberation. If you cannot rest, you are a slave. It may be self-imposed, but it is still slavery. Many people are incapable of saying “no” and so they become a slave to the wishes of others: whether family expectations, cultural pressures or the unrealistic desires of your employer. But if you are a Christian, your work does not need to define you. When you choose to take time off, you are saying “I am not a slave”.
The second inner discipline is that of trusting God. When we choose to stop working and instead follow God’s commands to rest, we are saying “He is God and I am not.” We are not the ones who supply the needs of our families, that job is ultimately God’s. Pastors and church leaders are sometimes the worst examples of how to do this. Often we think that the ministry of the church will only go forward if we make it go forward. I remember once talking to a pastor friend who had not taken a day off (other than 1-2 weeks of vacation each year) for several years. This foolishness caused major physical and relational issues in the long-term.
But what of the external disciplines? Here too, the list can hardly be exhaustive, but there are at least five that should be mentioned.
First, take more intentional sabbath time. If you are wondering how much, it is likely that you should be taking more than you are currently taking. I recall recently talking to a friend who has saved up significant holiday time as well as long-service-leave accrual with his work. In the context of our conversation, it was clear that he was rather proud of how much time he had saved up – as if to say that he did not need the rest that other mere-mortals needed. Sadly, I know his wife and family would love to see more of him, but he is too busy working and saving up his time-off. What a tragedy.
Second, balance your sabbath time. Try something you normally don’t do (reading, fishing, going to the park or a show). Also, make sure to worship on your day off. Start the day with Bible reading, meditation, praise and prayer. It is helpful to begin a day off (and every day) by reminding yourself who you are in Christ. Also, make sure to have some quiet time for reflection (perhaps journaling as well). But remember, cramming numerous house projects into your day off is not taking a day off. It is merely trading one type of work for another.
Third, be accountable. Some professions require a person to work overtime. If you are a doctor, an entrepreneur of a parent with small kids, you sometimes have no choice. That may be the reality, but then you need to have someone (as spouse or good friend) who is willing to tell you when too much is too much. In such situations, you may need more extended periods of rest less often in order to compensate.
Fourth, inject sabbath times into your work day. Now before you go and get any ideas, I am not suggesting that you check facebook every hour at work. (In fact, there are good scientific reasons as to why you should not do such a thing as it has been shown to destroy concentration and productivity in the long run). What I mean is, have a right relationship with your work. This may mean fewer goals or even risking falling behind in your career in order to honor God by taking the appropriate amount of time off. This means not trying to squeeze every drop of productivity out of your day. Even many secular business books are recognizing the importance of rest. Sadly, had these authors just read the Bible, or perhaps watched a Christian who took the words of Jesus on rest seriously, they would have come to this conclusion long ago.
Finally, realize the importance of community. If you are struggling to take proper rest in your job, it may be helpful to meet with other Christians in that same profession and learn together what living like a Christian in that environment may entail.
Ultimately, Christians must remember that we have been forgiven by Jesus and have trusted in Him alone as our satisfaction. Since this is the case, then the only one to whom you need to prove yourself has already said “it is finished.” That truth will be the only way for you to have the true deep rest for which your soul so desperately longs.
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 For two mainline examples, see The 4-Hour Work Week and 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever.