Life is busy. It seems like times of rest need to be excused or justified. What does God’s provision of the Sabbath offer us? How might it set us free?
Have you ever felt busy? I think busyness is probably the most common addiction in our modern lives. We want to live meaningful lives and be useful and so we all get busy, or we get trapped into thinking we’re busy. Activity, with or without accomplishment, fills our days. Often times our demands drive our lives more than we do.
Work is a consequence of brokeness, and by entering into it and calling us to create and be fruitful God blesses that work to be sure. But central to the redemption of our work, and our redemption from being busy, is the gift that God gives us in the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is to be observed – pay attention
Do you remember when you were a kid and spun around and around really really fast until the whole world was a blurry blob? Or ever remember when you were so busy you walked past persons or sights you otherwise would have like to have seen? I know there are times I’ve legitimately not seen them.
Sabbath is something to be observed, to be noted, to be recognized. Sabbath is an opportunity to stop spinning, to stop rushing. Because one of the things that happen when we are slaves to our busyness is that we stop being able to see the world around us. Slow down. Stop. Behold this world around you, behold the reality of your work. Pay attention. Observe that you might see.
And that means outwardly as well as inwardly. An interesting thing to do is to try and stop and sit in silence for an hour. If you’ve never tried it before you may not be capable of it. And you’ll find when you do that what surfaces again and again for you that you may not have noticed was there. You can’t notice it if you’re moving too fast. Observe the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is to be kept Holy
Just as Israel is to be holy as God is holy, so is the sabbath to be set apart. Its not to be like any other day it is to be set aside. It’s God’s gift to Israel. It’s Israel’s gift of time to be spent with God. The Sabbath is a commandment from God to his people which is why the Pharisees freak out about it. It’s an important day, its something God has told us to do and if we don’t do it we will suffer so stop breaking it they say. But the thing about a free gift is if its given out of fear or compulsion its not really a gift its a tax. God gives and blesses the Sabbath for his people to rest in him. We should want to receive and enter this blessing.
The Sabbath follows and blesses our work – and our work provides for and blesses our Sabbath
We are to work six days. That work can and should give glory to God. In it we should be creating as God has created. In it we should be building up as God builds up. In it we will suffer as he has suffered. Our work should bear in mind the rest we are preparing for and make room for it. And what we do in our day to day life is what we will bring into our rest. And when we join God in the rest he is providing us that deep breath, that day of rest will bless, inform, and make better the work that follows.
It is a rest that is your responsibility and no one else’s
Look you are to rest. But so is your manservant, and your maidservant, and your donkey and ox, your son and daughter, you are not to lean on anyone else to make your rest possible. Your rest is not to be a burden on someone else, but something that you observe and give. It’s God’s gift to you, and your gift back to him not someone else’s gift to you or to him. This means you don’t get to shove all your responsibilities onto someone else so that you can rest. That doesn’t redeem busyness, it spreads it. Likewise when you don’t find sabbath you don’t get to blame your circumstances or your situation or the people in your lives. God has provided for you six days to work. Use this provision. He has given you one day to rest. Be blessed by it not angry, afraid or constrained.
It is a rest that extends beyond you
Yes it is a rest that God gives us and it is a rest we are to let extend beyond us. It is a rest the alien within our gates receives. When we are rested, when we pay attention, when we enter into God’s holiness it allows the grace we receive, the rest we receive extend through our interactions and into the lives of others.
It follows from the freedom you receive from God.
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt but God’s purpose for you was that you not be slaves but be made free. God is the one who sets us free. In his presence we discover who we are. The Sabbath then is not a shackle but a liberation, it is not a burden but a freedom. The Sabbath is meant to set us free to enter into the presence of God, the kind of freedom that allows us to embrace him.
This is where the Pharisees were confused. For them the Sabbath was a constraint, such a constraint that people were not allowed to pick food to eat as they walked through the countryside. The Sabbath was a demand of God that must be met and they criticized Jesus for not keeping his disciples in line. And so he, being the king of rest set aside to God asks them, what is lawful, what is right to do on the Sabbath? To do good? To do evil? To save a life or to kill? And instead of engaging with him, instead of opening their hearts to him that they might receive the mercy he is trying to extend they remain silent. And though he is angry and distressed he doesn’t give up, he invites this man in his presence to receive what he has to offer. Reach out your shriveled hand he says to the man, and he does. He engages Jesus, he enters into what God is doing, he enters into God’s rest. And by entering into what God had commanded he was healed.
So let us rest in God’s presence. Let us bring our lives to him. Let us be quiet and pay attention. Let us let this rest take root within us and extend through our lives. If we are open in it he will set us free.