Observing the Sabbath

Today is Maundy Thursday, and as of right now there are about three and a half days left of lent for this year.  We’re almost to the end of the season of giving up or giving more, and I wanted to share with you and reflect on what I did this year.

I wrote in this post six weeks ago

Maybe this Lent is the time to start thinking seriously about the Sabbath and taking a day of rest as God commands.  It’s doesn’t have to be a Sunday, but you do have to rest all day long.

Since I’m trying to be a better steward of my time as well as the environment, and this is something I had been thinking about doing for quite a while anyway, I decided that during Lent I would actually observe a Sabbath day.

This was not easy, and as much as I believe that everyone absolutely should take a day of rest, I told very few people that I was going to do this.  Why?  Because people think that they must be doing something all the time, for one reason or another.  They’re behind in their work.  The house needs to be cleaned.  The kids need new clothes.  People who take a day of rest are lazy.  “I just couldn’t possibly, even though the Bible says we should.”  Guilt.

Guilt has been a major factor in me not taking a day of rest in the past, or doing a really half-assed job of resting.  For instance, doing a couple of loads of dishes and then puttering around in the kitchen for most of the afternoon on a Sunday.  Productive enough to be considered work–and keep away the guilt of not working–but not so productive that I feel guilty about working.

Oh yes, the guilt is a big one with me.

But the other factor was my ability to not plan ahead.  Wait, let me rephrase that.  I know how to plan ahead, I just don’t do it really well.  But I’m an ace procrastinator.

Over the past three years, God has been working on all of these traits.  Slowly, but surely, my ability to plan ahead and do work on schedule has improved.  When I was finishing school, I noticed that I was working more and more on a schedule and less on a “OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE LAST MINUTE!” deadline.  It was necessary, if I wanted to finish my thesis and graduate on time, but I noticed that after graduation, it carried over into other areas of my life.

In January, Jeff took a new job, and his training schedule required him to be in Chicago for eight weeks.  He was home on weekends, but during the week it was just me and Liam.  I don’t like dragging Liam places by myself, especially after a long day at work and school, and most especially when it’s freezing outside.  I had to plan ahead and get all my errands done on the weekends, which meant if I knew I was going to need essential items, like toilet paper or dishwasher soap, I had to make sure that I had enough to get me through the week by Sunday afternoon.  After doing this for eight weeks, the habit has pretty much stuck with me.

Which brings me to Lent and planning ahead enough to take a Sabbath day.  In Genesis, we read the seven day creation account and that on the seventh day, God rested.  In Exodus, we read about how the Sabbath develops with the ancient Hebrews and how they must learn to plan ahead to observe the Sabbath.  While the chosen people were wandering in the desert, God sent mannah to them to eat, but He told them not to take more than they needed for that day, because any mannah left over would spoil.  However:

22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers[a] for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.  (Exodus 16:22-24)

Just a few chapters later, God spoke the ten commandments.  Here is the fourth:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exodus 2:8-11)

We don’t often think about God resting, but God makes it clear here that He took six days to create the world, and then took a seventh day to rest.  And so He says to us, “I’ve given you six days to do all your work, but I’m telling you that the seventh day is a day you must rest.  And not just you:  your children, the people who work for you, the animals that help you do your work, or any out-of-towners must be allowed to rest on the seventh day too.”  So we have to plan ahead, because even on the Sabbath there are families to be fed and clothed, and we’re supposed to have enough done so that there are clean clothes to wear and food to warm up for meals.

Yes, I can hear some of you saying, “Well, the Sabbath is under the old covenant, but we’re under the new covenant through Jesus,” or “Well, the Sabbath is under the Law, but as Christians, we’re under grace!”  But According to Biblegateway.com, there are almost 100 references to the Sabbath in the Old Testament–and about 60 more in the New Testament.  While I think it’s true that God wants us to live freely, and that some of the things we might consider “work” are OK to do on the Sabbath, even the New Testament writers say that God intends us to have a day of rest.

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.  (Matthew 12:1-13)

In this account, the first thing Jesus and the disciples do to “break” the Sabbath is to glean wheat from a field.  Well, they were hungry and needed food.  Then Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, demonstrating that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  In a similar account in Mark, we read;

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”      (Mark 2: 23-28)

Read this again: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  If I’m interpreting this correctly, Jesus is saying that rest is a tool for our use, not the other way around.  So while it’s important to take a day of rest, helping people in need trumps the rest, and God understands.

Paul talks about being free from human rules in Colossians:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  (Col. 2:16-23)

“Let no person judge you with regard to a Sabbath day,” is part of the first sentence here, and then Paul tells us that we are free from human rules.  Through Jesus, we are free from human rules–but the Sabbath is a God-given rule.  So what are we to do?  Observe the Sabbath.  Rest, and don’t worry about what other people say about us taking a day of rest.  We’re not to pay attention to the world that says we’re lazy for resting, or makes us feel guilty for doing so, or tells us that we need to finish everything right this minute.  Does that mean, though, that we still need to observe a Sabbath?  Yes.  The writer of Hebrews says,

9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,[e] just as God did from his.   (Hebrews 4:9-10)

What did I take from all of this personally? Well first, I need to plan ahead and prepare more.  I’ve learned to prioritize what needs to be done.  When I leave work for the day or week, I leave work behind, so the only work I have to do at home are household chores.  I’ve learned to get more done through the week so that when Saturday rolls around (if I’m observing Sabbath on Sunday) I’m not running around like the proverbial headless chicken.  More than once, I’ve not gotten all the laundry done, and the last load to go in that night was Liam’s school clothes so he didn’t have to go to school buck naked on Monday.  More than once I’d wondered, after cleaning and doing laundry all day long, what I’d actually done because the house didn’t look much different.

I’ve had varying degrees of success with observing the Sabbath.  The first week, it was more of a whim, so I ended up doing some housework that day.  But after that, I planned ahead better so that I was able to take a full day off.  I’ve found myself doing more housework during the week, and my house has started to look better.  I’ve been more motivated to get more done, so small projects are getting taken care of, like cleaning and reorganizing my kitchen pantry.

The biggest obstacle to me, after doing this for six weeks, is the guilt I still feel on Sabbath because I’m not doing anything productive.  Never mind that I truly feel more rested and relaxed at the beginning of the week and am more willing to get more work done simply because I take one day off during the week: I still feel guilt for being “lazy.”

I’m still struggling with what work is too, and what rest really means.  The fourth commandment simply says that we’re not to work.  It doesn’t outline how were to rest.  I’ve heard varying ideas of what we’re supposed to do on the Sabbath, from making it a day of complete worship, to basically doing what brings us pleasure while still allowing us to rest.  Does that mean that it’s still Ok for me to putter around the kitchen on Sunday afternoons?  After all, while cooking is work, I enjoy doing it when I have the time.  And of course, my family has to eat, so if I enjoy preparing a nice meal for them, does that mean that it’s not really work?

Though I struggle with this, this is a struggle I’ve enjoyed, and I’ve seen some small changes in me that I like.  I am going to continue to observe Sabbath after Lent and see where God takes me.  I think that He will reveal more about who I am and who He is through the struggle.

If you don’t already observe a Sabbath day, I want to encourage you to do so.  Like any change, it feels weird at first.  On the other hand, God has always intended us to live with a day of rest, and it’s the world that gets in the way of that, if we allow it to do so.  So take a day off.  And if you really need to give someone a reason, tell them that God says so.


About faithenvironmentcollide

Child of God. Follower of Christ. Wife to Jeff. Mom to Liam. Environmental steward. Writer. Reader. Researcher. View all posts by faithenvironmentcollide

2 responses to “Observing the Sabbath

  • bowmansinbavaria

    Silly me, it only just occurred to me that this is your blog. 🙂 great post, very thought-provoking.

    One of the cultural things I really like about living in Europe is that on Sundays, practically everything is closed. The two things I can think of being open are gas stations and most restaurants. It’s really forced me to plan ahead so that I don’t have to rush about on Sunday, but more importantly, Sunday has become a family day for us. And I really like that. Once in awhile, we visit friends on Sundays, but to be honest, I try to do the visiting on Saturday if possible, so that we can have our family day.

    It’s not quite what you’re talking about here, but you’ve inspired me to think about having a dedicated day of rest for the Sabbath. I do love having that one day of the week to not be so busy and stressed. I need it, in fact. We try to do something outdoors if the weather is nice. I don’t know if that is what the Lord has in mind, but spending quality time together as a family is certainly a good way to pass the Sabbath, I think.

    • faithenvironmentcollide

      First, thank you. 😀

      I would think that spending time with family, enjoying the world He created, is exactly what the Lord had in mind for the Sabbath. And yes, it’s a great way to spend a day of rest. I do enjoy my long walks on Sundays, though wanders is probably a better term.

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