If you are like me, you have spent the better part of your ministry career living with some level of guilt about not observing Sabbath, at least in a traditional and legalistic understanding of Sabbath. Like most ministers, throughout my ministry I have worked a minimum of 5 days and more times than not 6 or even 7 days a week, leaving precious little time to devote to 24-hour Sabbath.
Yet, we know we should observe Sabbath. God modeled Sabbath in the creation story. Jesus observed Sabbath and throughout Scripture it is presented as every bit as important a spiritual practice as scripture study, prayer, and worship. But the hard truth it is almost impossible in today’s church culture to observe a 24-hour Sabbath as described in Scripture and practiced by the Jews for centuries. Eugene Peterson has a rather harsh but all too true statement about how clergy observe Sabbath by calling it a “Bastard Sabbath.”
So, we simply don’t talk about it, preach or teach it to any significant degree. We’ve accepted it as an impossibility for ourselves as well as our congregations.
Looking At The Sabbath Rhythms Of Jesus
A turning point for me was when a spiritual mentor challenged me to look closely at the Sabbath rhythms of Jesus. I discovered how he would spontaneously halt what he was doing and head to a garden, desert, seashore or mountain to be alone with God. He didn’t wait for the Sabbath to spend time alone with God.
In fact, you can make an argument that Jesus went out of his way to aggravate those who held a legalistic view of Sabbath. He consistently broke the Sabbath laws by healing, eating and traveling and practicing Sabbath whenever and however he felt led. Jesus certainly wasn’t legalistic about Sabbath and my guess is that he would say neither should we. Jesus appeared to be much more interested in a willingness to practice Sabbath moments spontaneously throughout the day, to make Sabbath more of a lifestyle than a day of the week.
What does Sabbath as a lifestyle look like? It is a set of spiritual practices that can be practiced at any moment throughout our day. It can include a literal 24 Sabbath, but it can also be any day of the week or anytime we practice the literal definition on the Hebrew word, Shabbat, to cease, to rest, to reflect and to delight. For ideas on how to experience ceasing, resting, reflecting and delighting as Sabbath practices click HERE.
The Benefit Of Sabbath As A Lifestyle
We can observe how Jesus practices Sabbath as a lifestyle by reading Luke 5:15-16; Luke 6:12-13; Luke 9:18; Luke 9:28; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 5:1; Mark 1:12-13; Mark 1:35-38; Mark 6:31-32; Mark 6:45-47; John 6:15; and John 7:10. Give particular attention to what Jesus was doing just prior to and just after his spontaneous withdrawals from his disciples, the crowds and the rigors of a 24/7 ministry. The benefits of Jesus’s approach to taking Sabbath whenever he sensed he needed it then become more obvious:
- He would suddenly Stop to be with God and return Refreshed
- He would Rest in God then return energized to Act
- He would Reflect on God and return with the Spirit of Wisdom
- He would Receive from God then return empowered to Give
- He would Delight in God and return with a spirit of Joy
- He would Listen to God then return with a message to Speak
- He would be Strengthened by God then the temptations of Satan would be Resisted
- He would experience God’s Revelation and then he would know God’s Will
The life of William Wilberforce provides one other tangible benefit of practicing Sabbath. In 1801 Wilberforce, a member of the English Parliament and leader of the anti-slavery movement, encountered a severe spiritual crisis. The core issue was political ambition. The struggles began with the election of a new prime minister, Henry Addington. The rumor mill had Wilberforce on the A-list for possible cabinet members. Wilberforce later described himself as “intoxicated with rising ambition.”
Wilberforce took a Sabbath to confront his ambition. At the end of a day of private worship, solitude, and reflection Wilberforce wrote, “Blessed be to God for the day of rest and religious occupation wherein earthly things assume their true size. Ambition is stunted!”
In this brief comment Wilberforce references the great secret of his personal life: his commitment to withdraw from the demands of public life so that he could engage with God. Like Wilberforce, Sabbath keeping can stunt our worst tendencies. Further, it creates an oasis of sacred time that serves as a refuge for our souls to be with and hear from God within the relentless busyness of our modern lives.
Posted on March 14, 2023