Rest and Be Thankful
On our many holidays to Scotland we have often stopped at Rest and Be Thankful (pictured). It’s a place to pause, draw breath and enjoy the view from the summit between Loch Long and Loch Fyne. During the Christmas break I was drawn to thinking about rest and the Sabbath: What does it mean? What does it looks like in 21st Century western culture? Is it even relevant?
What do we mean by the Sabbath?
In biblical times, keeping the Sabbath was the first commandment with detailed requirements (Deut 5:12-15, Ex 20:9-10). It was a day to cease from work and to remember; in particular for the Israelites to remember how the Lord had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. However when Jesus came, he redefined the ordinances surrounding the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6). In the Mark passage, Jesus responds to the Pharisees “The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath”. Jesus had the authority to override the rules concerning the Sabbath which had become so burdensome. Jesus emphasised that the God given purpose of the Sabbath was a day intended for man, for spiritual, mental and physical restoration (Ex 20:8-11). To regularly cease from work and enjoy its results.
Because of Christ, there should then be a return to the creational mandate which is a commemoration of God’s creative rest (Gen 2:1-3). At creation, God could rest, sit back and survey all that he had done, because He was in control. He didn’t have to rest but he did, setting an example for us. The crux of the matter here is can we trust God enough to take a day off from working?
We are all called to work, and to give it our best, but we are also called to rest. So why is it so difficult to inject the Sabbath into our weekly routine of work and life? We have been created for rest yet often we don’t manage to fit it into our rhythm of life. The Israelite calendar had times for feasting and fasting but in our 21st century western culture our lives are getting more and more rhythmless. For many, Sunday is another working day. Even for those not working it is not a day of rest. Sunday has become the new Saturday and with Sunday trading the shops are busier than in the week. We seem to have lost a routine that includes regular rest and with the advancement of technology we don’t switch off. Morning and evening merge and have lost their distinctiveness.
The Sabbath is God’s gift to us: an invitation to stop from the humdrum of work and a time to nurture relationships – with Jesus and one another. An invitation to be still and reflect. It was interesting that the Queen titled her Christmas day speech “Rest and Reflection” and went on to commend the importance of looking back at the constants in our lives – memories, friendships, families – as well as looking forward.
Sabbath is also an attitude, a mindset change. Not just external rest but inner rest of the soul. If we are in a particularly demanding season of life then that’s when it’s important to inject the Sabbath into our work and thinking. Finding rest in the midst of unrest, the presence of God in the midst of comings and goings.
The purpose of Sabbath is not to rejuvenate ourselves in order to do more production. The purpose of Sabbath is to enjoy God, life in general, what we have accomplished in the world through his help and our freedom in the gospel. The Sabbath is a sign of the hope that we have in the world to come, a pointing forward. This present Sabbath is only a shadow, a foretaste, of another Sabbath. A Sabbath beyond this world.
So what about the practicalities of a 21st century Sabbath? How can we inject the Sabbath into our crazy busy world? How much time should we give to rest and how should we spend it? The fourth commandment requires 24hrs, sundown to sundown. Could it be sun up to sundown? Tim Keller advocates one full day and equivalent of half a day off during the week e.g. a full weekend off with church participation or one full day off per week plus three evenings free after 6pm, to give a balanced life. It’s finding what works for each of us, what energises and gives life, physically and mentally. Cease from what is necessary and embrace that which gives life.
The Sabbath encompasses several different types of rest; here are just a few suggestions:
- A time for sheer inactivity
- A time for a vocational activity
- Don’t necessarily count family time as Sabbath time
- Schedule in a retreat
- Set fewer goals
“At the end of his great act of creation the Lord said ‘it is finished’ and He rested. On the cross at the end of His great act of redemption Jesus said ‘it is finished’ – and we can rest” (Tim Keller, kellerquotes.com).