After a rather lengthy break from writing, I’m excited to be back and sharing a series that I’ve been working on for quite some time now. This topic has become important to me as I’ve spent countless hours researching, reading, and trying to integrate it into my own life. I find it amusing and ironic that this topic is rest...right when our world seems to have been forced into a rhythm of rest that it’s been sorely unacquainted with for quite some time. Isn’t it funny that it takes a pandemic for people to finally slow down?
Anyways, months later I’m still realizing the many ways I don’t understand sabbath as God intended it… It’s quite the complex topic and there are definitely divided opinions on it. So please have some grace with me! I in no way think I’ve covered all bases or have the corner on truth. I welcome you to join the discussion by sharing your own thoughts, agreement, or disagreements with what I share. There’s so much to go through that I’ve decided to break it into four parts, where we’ll take a look at barriers to sabbath, the theology of sabbath, and the discipline of sabbath. I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds. So join me as dive in!
For a season in my life (if you can call several years a “season”…), my most common response to how are you? was busy… Maybe you can relate? I’d venture to say I’m not alone in this, as this was also the most common response I received from others. Many of us are running ourselves into the ground with the amount of tasks, hobbies and commitments we have on our plates.
My husband, Wes, and myself reached a point last year where we looked at each other and basically said, this isn’t sustainable. We were constantly on the go. We had virtually no spare, unscheduled time in our lives. That’s not an exaggeration. We truly felt like we’d been burning the candle from both ends, and something had to give. Actually, something had to go. We were conflicted with decisions about what to commit to and what to say no to. But in the end we realized that there was still a deeper issue. This wasn’t just about boundaries and cutting a couple things out.
We were on a phone call with a wise mentor friend of ours and he asked us the question, What is the priority order you’ve placed on the relationships in your lives? He then went further to clarify. We have relationships with each other, God, our families, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, neighbours, Church community, etc… If we had to rank those in order of how we place our value on them, what would it be? And would our lives evidence that we actually place them in that order? He then drew our attention to Genesis, where he believes God gave us a design to follow for relationship priority. God first designed relationship between God and man. Then between husband and wife. Then the family. Then the community and everyone else (the New Testament would also set a pattern placing Church community here as a vital part of the believer’s life as well).
This was a convicting conversation for us as we realized that our lives evidenced a different reality. We had become too consumed with commitments and plans outside of our home that we couldn’t honestly say that we were putting God first, each other second, and our family third. I’m not saying the rest of it isn’t important- it absolutely is!- but we had gotten so busy that we were no longer putting first things first.
A rather unfortunate shift in culture over the past few decades is that somewhere along the way we’ve started equating busyness with value and productivity. Wes and I were no exception. Especially when it came to our lives as Christians.
I liked this quote I heard by Pastor J.M. Comer, saying “There’s a kind of busyness that moves itself beyond your schedule and into your inner man…” And Corrie Ten Boom once said, “If the devil can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy” They have the same effect, really, don’t they? Busyness and sin both cut you off from your awareness of and connection to the Spirit of God and the life that He has for you.
We can talk all day long about ideas for achieving better balance and taking more intentional time of rest, but it will be futile if we don’t first recognize the root issues.
Desire and discontentment are our biggest barriers to achieving rest. This concept has Orthodox roots, termed “The Passions”. The idea behind this is that we live in chronic restlessness of unsatisfied desires.
Dallas Willard sums this idea up quite nicely as he says,
“Our desire is infinite, partly because we were made by God, made for God, made to need God, and made to run on God. We can be satisfied only by the One who is infinite, eternal, and able to supply our needs. We are only at home in God. When we fall away from God, the desire for the infinite remains. But it is displaced upon things that will certainly lead to destruction. The default setting of the human condition post-Eden is not atheism, but idolatry. It is to aim our desire not at God, but at whatever your desire of choice might be- career, marriage, family, children, new ‘toy’, house, travel, sex, romance, beauty, educational accolade- but ultimately, nothing in this life apart from God can ever satisfy your desire- because desire is infinite, and only God is the solution to that problem.”
As one pastor put it, we end up in this chronic state of restlessness (at best!), or, worse, frustration, anger, angst, disappointment, disillusionment, depression… which leads to a life of hurry, busyness, overload, materialism, careerism… a life of MORE- which in turn makes us even more restless and lacking rest. It’s a vicious cycle.
This issue has become even more enhanced by digital marketing and this social media era we are living in. Our society is built around accumulation and accomplishment. We constantly have messages bombarding us telling us: buy this, do this, be this, have this, eat this, own this, go here… Media has become a collection of carefully curated images. It’s true, isn’t it? And they seem to poke at this human feeling that goes all the way back to the garden… ENVY. And envy breeds discontentment.
Pastor Comer shares these facts that you might find as intriguing as I did:
After the world wars the power brokers of the big city players like Washington and New York set out to repurpose thousands of empty factories and provide jobs for tens of thousands of jobless Americans. To do that the goal was to repurpose our economy from a needs economy to a wants economy…the Lehman brothers were quoted as saying, ”we must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire- to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America: Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
Every single society in the WORLD runs off of a 7 day week. It’s not just the judaeo-christian framed society of the west. The last time a serious attempt was made to change the 7 day week was in 1793 in France during the revolution. It was changed to a 10 day week to increase productivity. The result? Suicide went through the roof, mental illness was epidemic, happiness was a distant memory, and productivity was at an all-time low. There are numerous sociologists that actually make the case that productivity drops off after about 50-55 hours maximum per week. There is actually virtually zero difference in productivity between those who work 90 hours per week and those who work 50 hours per week.
Did you know that the pioneers who kept the Sabbath on the Oregon trail, which was an arduous 2000 mile route across the states from Missouri to Oregon, arrived to Oregon before those who didn’t?
Psychologists are now diagnosing people with ‘hurry sickness’, which Psychology Today defines as “a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness”. The phrase hurry sickness was first coined by Meyer Friedman, who was a cardiologist in the 1950’s and was the first one to connect the dots between chronic stress and heart disease. He defined it as “continued struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events, in less and less time”. Isn’t this exactly what we now call ‘everyday life’? Doctors are calling it a Western Disease.
A study by Barna Group into the 7th day Adventists found that those who avidly practiced this ‘religion’ (centred around Sabbath day) lived, on average, 11 years longer than the average American and even fellow Christian not practicing sabbath. Even more interesting… if you calculate out the time devoted to sabbath over the course of the average lifespan, it equals out to almost exactly 11 years… Is that not wild? The hypothesis of one researcher was that for every day devoted to sabbath, you literally get that day back in your number of years lived.
Obviously you can’t build a theology around some interesting facts and research studies… but wouldn’t you agree that the evidence for sabbath is compelling, if not at least intriguing?
We are being spiritually formed every day- and not just by the Bible and Church. Our Western World is forming us without us even realizing it. Something about our society is spiritually forming our souls into a condition of hurry and overload and busyness and chronic stress…….Restlessness.
Pastor Comer goes on to say, “Our time saving devices, technological conveniences, and cheap mobility have seemingly made life much easier and interconnected. As a result we have more information at our fingertips than anyone in history. Yet with all this progress we are ominously dissatisfied. In bowing at these sacred altars of hyperactivity, progress, and technological compulsivity, our souls increasingly pant for meaning and value and truth as they wither away exhausted, frazzled, displeased, ever on edge. The result is a hollow culture, that in Paul’s words is “ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”. Our bodies run ragged, our spirits thirst. We have an inability to simply sit still and be. As we drown ourselves in 24/7 living, we seem to be able to do anything but quench our true thirst for the life of God. We have become, perhaps, the most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history.”
This all feels very discouraging and hopeless…but there is good news. Jesus offers for our souls the real rest we long for.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus extends the invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In John 15 we find this beautiful, prolonged metaphor of a vine and branches- of connection to something else that is to bear life through us. Jesus’ picture for how we are to bear fruit is not one of ambition, but abiding. Resting in Him. If we break off that restful connection to the Father, whether through sin or unbelief or hurry and busyness and terrible boundaries, the result is the same. We are cut off from the supply of grace and are powerless and fruitless. In the place of this fruit of the Spirit we see burnout, compromise, defeat, anger, sadness, etc… This is NOT Jesus’ heart for us, my friends!
It’s clear that Jesus’ Way- His vision for how you and I are to live in the Kingdom- is grounded in rest.
Without the rest that Jesus had in mind for us we simply cannot be a people living the lives that Jesus had in mind for us. We can’t be living out His commission for us, living the set apart lives He’s called us to, or living in community the way He designed us to. Think about the negative ripple effects that happen within your life when you aren’t resting and abiding the way you’re meant to? I mean it. Really give it some thought. Think about your marriage, your family, your friendships, your neighbourhood, your workplace, your church community- all of it. How do these areas suffer and pay the cost for how you’ve chosen to steward the seven days that each week holds?
Rest is a weapon against flesh and blood and Satan himself. Because it’s really tough to tempt Christians who are healthy and happy and well rested. But it’s very easy to tempt Christians who are busy, tired, and stressed out.
The question becomes, have I viewed sleep, margin, rest, and sabbath as essential components of my apprenticeship with Jesus? Or have I separated them?
I’ve come to realize that rest is essential to our apprenticeship to Jesus. I hope to convince you of the same.
Next time we’ll dive into building more of a biblical framework for understanding sabbath. I hope you’ll join me there as we continue to unpack this big topic.