Part Three: An Intentional Sabbath Day

Last time we left off talking about the fact that while sabbath is much more than a day, it’s also not less than a day. This time we’re going to pick up there and look at some practical and intentional ways of practicing a day of sabbath. 

Before we dive straight into that, I thought I’d backtrack a little bit and remind us of one big reason why rest is so important in the believer’s life.

What was the greatest command given to us as disciples?
To love.
Love God, and love your neighbour. With all your heart, mind, and strength.

It’s important to pause here to remember that God has already given us ALL we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). His grace, His enabling power, is given to us to love Him, our families and our communities the way He’s called us to. 

So if we have what we need given to us, what’s the problem? Why do so many of us still fail at this? I agree with Pastor Gomer who says that, if you were to put a number on it, probably a good 80% of loving well is being emotionally and spiritually healthy and awake. Think about yourself and your humanness at the most basic level. When you’re tired, stressed and unrested, how much more likely are you to have poor reactions, lack love and patience, and forfeit opportunities to show grace? When you’re WELL rested and re-centered on Christ, how much more likely are you to react well, handle stress with greater capacity, show love, grace and patience, and see opportunities God is putting before you to love others?

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In the first part of this series I encouraged us to start thinking about what the ripple effects can be in our various communities when we don’t know how to rest well and are constantly trying to work and do from a place of nearly empty. Have you given this some more thought yet? Our intentionality to rest ties directly into the greatest command and Christ’s commission to us as believers. 

In his book, To Hell with the hustle, Jeff Bethke makes an interesting observation. God spent six days creating, and on that sixth day He created man and woman. Then what did He create on the seventh day? Rest. Adam and Eve literally started out their time of “being” by resting. It was after this day of rest that they were commissioned to work. I’ve never noticed the significance of this before. God set the pattern here, right from the beginning. Resting for work, not resting from work. We’ve come to think of Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, which also sets this precedent of working so hard that by the time we get to the weekend we need to rest from our work. But what if the entire time God’s design was that we would begin our week in rest, and then work out of a place of restedness? 

Pretty profound. 

What’s even more incredible is that Jesus Himself then reinforces this original design at the beginning of His ministry here on earth. In Matthew chapters 3 and 4, we read of His baptism and affirmation by the Father. Then what? He doesn’t go tearing into the streets beginning to proclaim His message of the Kingdom…instead, He goes into the wilderness for 40 days. Bethke once again makes an interesting observation here that I’ve missed in the past. We often read this passage thinking of the wilderness as a bad place where Jesus is weak and alone and tempted. But in reality, that time was a crucial part of strengthening Jesus to do the work He had to do. That time that seems unproductive, alone and wasted was time with the Father. Time of strengthening, steeping in truth, learning to resist temptation, and being washed over in an awareness of His identity as the Son of God as He resisted these temptations of identity. 

This is a picture of how we should be approaching our work and ministry and ‘doing’… beginning with a time of strengthening and centering and quiet ‘wilderness’ before entering back into the craziness of life as most of us know it. 

The reality is that many of us approach life the opposite way. Work, then rest, not rest, then work. Most of us don’t intentionally rest until our power bar goes down to 10 or 20%. We don’t rest until we NEED to. And then what’s worse, most of us don’t rest well. We confuse rest with entertainment or distraction. And most of us don’t rest long enough either. We maybe get back up to ‘functioning’ level, but not to a sustainable pouring out level. Did Jesus intend for us to be ‘functioning’, or living life to the full? 

I loved this quote that I can’t find the original author of… “A day off is when undisciplined and unsabbathed people catch up on all the stuff they still have to do at the end of the week.” Sabbath is not a day off, nor is it “Church on Sunday”, like so many people believe. The reality is that many people actually finish a Sunday feeling exhausted from a marathon day too. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t still a good day, but that it wasn’t a sabbath. 

This isn’t just about a day off. It’s about intentionality. 

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So, if it’s good to practice a day of sabbath, what should I do?? Tell me what to do.
Here’s the trouble with this response. We make restfulness yet another activity; something that we do…then we return to normal life. True restfulness, though, is a form of awareness. A way of being in life. Rhythms rather than activities. (I’ll dive into this way more in the last post of the series). Living everyday life with a sense of ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace, and prayer.

I’d like to go through some practical practices for sabbath. But hear me when I say this: these ‘best practices’ aren’t legalism…it’s not about what you’re supposed to do or ‘not allowed to do’, but practices to index our heart away from slavery- the greed and discontent and restlessness of our culture- and into the freedom of gratitude and contentment and restfulness of the kingdom. 

The Traditional sabbath is from 20 minutes before sundown on Friday night to the same time on Saturday

The Lord’s day Sabbath begins Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning and for the full remainder of the day on Sunday

Midweek Sabbath– sabbath on the day of the week that works best according to your schedule, especially if weekends end up being an unavoidable marathon for you, or you work shift work.

Many of the following practices can also be found rooted in the original jewish observance of sabbath, and have jewish names that I won’t get into today. I’m going to also share a few additional thoughts or what this has looked like for our family in our practice of sabbath. So here they are…

10 best practices of traditional sabbath:

Lighting of candles and prayers of blessing 

Remember in the last part of the series I expanded more on the significance of the two candles representing the commands in Exodus and and in Deuteronomy to “keep” and to “remember” the sabbath. These aren’t just your bath and bodyworks candles for some nice aroma, but purposeful lighting of candles. 

While prayer together is an important part of our day of rest, we’ve never actually lit candles before. However I imagine this is something that we’ll do in the future more once our children are a bit older and can understand. One of the big purposes behind the lighting of the candles included sharing and re-living the story of Israel with the children, which sets a neat pattern to follow for us as parents today. 

Feasting

We love this one! But seriously…it’s a good one. I think we’ve lost the art of biblical feasting. It’s not just about putting together a delicious meal, but about celebration. Coming together- with family or with others- to celebrate life, God’s goodness, and the blessings we enjoy. As David Mathis wrote, “The heart of feasting is not the food itself, but the heart of the feasters.

In the beginning, right in Genesis 2, we see that God gave us the special gift of the enjoyment of food. He didn’t need to make us dependent on physical nourishment. But yet He created food, and food that was pleasing to the eye and good to eat.

A meal is not holy in and of itself, but it can be made set apart by the intentional actions of the feasters. There are many ways it can be a blessing. If you want to read more on this topic, I highly encourage you to check out Sally Clarkson’s book, The Lifegiving Table. We’ve been deeply blessed and equipped with many ideas of how to make our time around the table an intentional time of discipleship, celebration, and connection. And hey, we also get a lot of enjoyment around being in the kitchen together whipping up cinnamon buns or steak dinners or loaded omelettes! 

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The reading of scripture (and poetry, liturgy…)

This one might seem like an obvious one, but I encourage you to consider how you could make your sabbath time in the Word set apart from the rest of the week. If you typically follow a daily reading plan of some sort, what if you set apart sabbath to be a day to reflect on the psalms, or go through the story of Israel, or do a study on a topic that you’ve been wanting to get into but seem to never find the time? It could also be the one day a week where you know you’ve set apart time to read together as a family. 

Depending on work schedules, and now a baby on top of it, we often don’t have the undistracted time to spend in the Word together. We find time alone, but not together. On Sabbath we try to be very intentional about doing a book, Bible passage, or podcast together, along with discussion and deeper study on the topic. Even when we feel tired or unmotivated, this time always ends up being so rich and worthwhile, and we always come away from it feeling rejuvenated in a way we would not have if we’d chosen to watch a movie instead. 

Singing 

Many of the traditional jewish Shabbat songs have lyrics that recount the history of Israel. They are rich and meaningful. I’d encourage you to look up some of these songs and their lyrics and consider reflecting on them. 

Another idea is to gather with other believers to worship in song together. We’ve done this on occasion and have been so blessed by it. 

This is another one we haven’t necessarily regularly implemented, but tend to start the morning with worshipping to music while making breakfast and starting out the day. I would love to explore more ways of incorporating music into our sabbath though. I’ll need to convince Wes to pick up learning guitar again! 

Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy in the context of marriage is also something to be celebrated and cherished. The reality is that some seasons of life make it challenging to have the joy, energy and desire for physical intimacy. But it’s meaningful to have a day of the week where you have been intentional about being so well rested that you can also give of yourself to the one you love and enjoy the gift that God designed for husband and wife. 

Walking in nature

Ahh one of my favourites. If I could be outside every day of the year, I would be. There’s something about being out in God’s creation that sparks joy, awe, and praise in my heart. I quite honestly don’t know how it’s possible to witness the wonders of nature and not have your heart refreshed by it. One of my favourite ways to be in prayer is while walking outside. 

I imagine this one will become even more special to our family as our baby (and future kids) grow up. Have you ever seen a small child walking outside? They are in wonder and amazement of EVERYTHING! They will stop to point out and pick up every little thing. We could all learn from these little ones and spend more time soaking in the wonder of Creation. 

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Napping/ physical resting

Did you know that it was actually customary, on traditional sabbath, to take an afternoon nap?? You don’t need to tell me twice- I’m all for an afternoon nap! There’s something deeply satisfying and renewing about slowing down to physically rest during the day. And I’ll bet that most of us don’t have the opportunity to nap every day, so enjoy that one chance per week. 

Time with family and close friends

This is another one we’ve started to be more intentional about investing in on sabbath. Sometimes it can be all too easy to have “weekends” become a time of catch up on errands and to-do lists, going to events or functions, or retreating into your hermit shell to be alone because you are done being around people all week. None of these three are bad in and of themselves, but we can go entire weeks or months without intentional time of connection with those that are important to us. 

What would it look like to make a short list of the family and friends close to you that you’d like to prioritize time of connection with? This could even be tied in with the time of feasting. How could you incorporate time with them into your sabbath? 

Time alone in solitude and quiet

This one is SO important and often SO overlooked. Maybe it’s easier for my slightly introverted personality to hammer the importance of this one… but I’d say it’s maybe even more important for those people who hate being alone. I’ll dive more into this one in the next post, but for now I’ll say this: Our days are filled with noise and overload of information. We desperately need a day where we’re willing to resist the noise and distractions and retreat into a space of quiet. The place of quiet is where we are able to best hear what’s going on in our hearts and our thoughts. This is where some of our most important discipleship happens. 

I’d like to also throw it out there that this might also be the place where “screen time” comes into play. I know of quite a few individuals or families who are starting to practice 24 hours of no phones or screens. I’m inclined to want to jump on the boat with that. This isn’t something we’ve successfully implemented consistently, but we’re trying to figure out how to do that while still being available to contact or getting in touch with others. But how invaluable would it be to give ourselves a true break from the noise of the world? 

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Gratitude 

I’ll end with this one, as it’s one of the most important in my opinion. Gratitude is a word we quickly skim over. When it’s in the middle of a list we almost skip it over in our minds. Yeah yeah, I know it’s important to be thankful… No, it goes beyond just rattling off a list of things we’re thankful for and moving on. Gratitude speaks to this idea of deep contentment. Do you remember in my first series post where I talked about one of the biggest root issues behind people not being well rested? It’s the restlessness associated with never being fully satisfied. Wanting to do more, have more, be more, see more… When we sabbath, we resist the culture’s attempts to convince us that what we have is not enough. We steep in a deep gratitude and contentment over all that we have. We allow Jesus to centre us to a place of soul satisfaction in Him. 

 

Once again: This isn’t a to-do list, but best practices or helpful disciplines. The whole point is that this time is to stop, to rest, and to delight- first and foremost in GOD, and then in your life with God in His world. It requires intention, being deliberate, and even planning. If you let the sabbath just “happen” to you, it will very likely devolve into what Pederson called the “bastard sabbath”, which is a cheap imitation that lacks the true rest that God intended. 

Wes and I are still learning and growing in this. And we will continue to, week by week, year by year. No sabbath day looks the same for us and it’s not about succeeding” or “failing. It’s about continuing to faithfully arrive to our sabbath and choose communion with Christ in a set apart way. Choosing silence, rest, and delight over the noise and hustle of life.

I want to end with a few key takeaway points and questions to reflect on personally. 

Sabbath is more than a day, but it is not less. 

Cultivate the spirit of restfulness in your life as a whole, not just one day a week. But it can start with a day. 

It’s less about doing and more about abiding. 

Practicing true rest takes intentionality, and sometimes planning. It is not the same as “a day off” or entertaining or distracting yourself from reality. 

“Sabbath to our apprenticeship to Jesus is like what a soccer practice is to the weekend game…or rehearsal is to the band performance. It is how we practice for the most important parts and seasons of our life. Those who Sabbath live all seven days differently” -J.M Gomer

Imagine the impact our small community would have in our greater Church community…sub-communities, work communities and our world…if we were a people of gratitude, ease, appreciation, restfulness and prayer? A Sabbath people. What a gift we would be to each other and our neighbours and our city. 

The Sabbath is an act of trust in God. Sabbath is how we practice the sovereignty of God. It’s where we remember that there’s a God, and it’s not me. It’s where we remember that my identity is not out there, but from God. It’s where we remember the faithfulness and provision of our Father. 

Questions for personal reflection

  1. What stuck out or spoke to me personally?
  2. Has Sunday been my “bastard sabbath”?
  3. What do I think about the statement: healthy community = rested community. Are the communities I’m a part of healthy? 
  4. What do I think of the idea of “sabbath as resistance”? And why does it seem to be equally as hard for us as it was for the Israelites to keep sabbath as the gift it was intended? 
  5. Do I believe we were intended to continue “keeping sabbath”? Why or why not? 
  6. If my apprenticeship with Jesus really does rely heavily on how I rest, how can I start applying these principles or disciplines in my life? 

Where do I need more faith in God’s faithfulness to rest well?
When can I practically shabbat (stop) to rest well?
How do I rest well? What are a few small things I could start doing?
How can a better rested me live all 7 days differently- and love my community more intentionally? 

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Remember that when you learn any new skill (faith related or otherwise) there’s an expected curve where things get worse before they get better. It supposedly takes roughly 60-90 days to build a new habit or practice. In reality it might even take you many more months to cultivate this challenging and important practice of sabbath, largely because there’s no formula to just ‘get’. Keep this in mind and don’t lose heart along the way. 

Lastly…you can’t do this alone. Don’t try. We need the grace- the charis – of God to be able to sabbath well. In Acts 4 we read about the early community of believers and the incredible things they were doing. They had powerful witness to others, were sharing their lives with one another in radical ways, and giving and providing for the needs of all…how were they able to do this?? Grace. It says “a GREAT grace was upon them”(Acts 4:33). It’s God’s enabling power- His grace- that empowers us to do the impossible. Sabbathing well takes effort, intentionality, work, and the grace of God. But remember, “those who sabbath well, live all 7 days differently” 

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