My Sundays aren’t always restful. Often, the only thing distinct about Sunday is the extra work of getting the family out the door to church, calming a fussy baby who is missing her nap, and then frantically trying to serve some lunch before anyone turns into a grumpy, overly-hungry pile of goo.
Can anyone else relate to this?
So, what is Sunday supposed to look like for a Christian? Should it be a Sabbath day of rest, like is described in the Old Testament? Should I do no work? Or is it just the same as any other day and Christians should treat their whole week the same way?
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What is the point of the Sabbath?
Jesus thought the entire Sabbath principle pointed toward himself. Time was fulfilled in him; a new kind of time begins with him… We “celebrate” instead of “rest”—a kind of celebration rest. We reserve this day for new creation life. Music, the meal, family, service, peace, justice, love—these are the notes of Sunday for those who see the fulfillment of Sabbath in Jesus.
—Scot McKnight (summarizing an argument by N.T. Wright) (1)
Well, there are many different thoughts on the place of Sabbath observance in the lives of Christians. Personally, I can see the validity of the argument that Christians are not required to observe a Sabbath on Sunday (or Saturday). As the quote and article above point out, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Sabbath; the Sabbath was the sign pointing to him.
However, I am convinced that although it is not strictly required, it is nonetheless a wise, God-honoring practice. While I don’t want to be like the Pharisees and overly worried about the motions and details, God established the Sabbath as a way to teach us some important lessons that still hold true today.
Observing a Sabbath builds a reminder of our reliance on God into the rhythm of life. It gives us the time and space to step away from our busyness and striving, to remember who we are and what we are to be about. It makes a routine of trusting God and resting in His care.
And, although it can be any day of the week, I think Sunday is a good place to start.
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Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing.
—Eugene Peterson (2)
How does this look in my life?
Now, don’t get me wrong; I understand that finding a day for Sabbath rest can seem like an impossible ideal for anyone. When I worked full-time, there was so much piled up by the weekend that Sunday seemed like the only time to get some things done. I’ve had jobs where I had to work on Sundays (as many do) and treating Sunday as a Sabbath day is nearly impossible for pastors and church workers.
Anyone, in any job or stage of life, can find it difficult to set aside a day of rest. It isn’t just moms, and certainly not just moms who are home full-time, who have a hard time figuring out how to practically implement a God-honoring Sabbath observation.
Nonetheless, when your physical environment, your “co-workers,” and the demands upon you are exactly the same every day of the week, it definitely presents its own challenges. Even if I want them to, dirty diapers, hungry mouths, and fussy babies won’t wait for 24 hours.
What does it look like to rest from my work?
I’ve had to stop and examine my life and reflect on what God intends for the Sabbath. What is my work? How is resting from this honoring to God? What are the ways that I can set aside a special and holy day that belongs to God when I still have to change diapers?
Instead of viewing Sunday as a day all about ME, about getting some rest time, or doing as little physical work as possible, I’ve come to view Sabbath observation as a kind of sacrifice. It isn’t so much about me relaxing or resting (although that often happens) but about tangibly, physically ceasing my striving.
The Sabbath is a day where I set aside my attempts to “make it happen” and remember that God is the author of all good things; I can do nothing apart from him, and my labor is in vain unless the Lord blesses it.
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Sabbath ceasing [means] to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and, finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all.
—Marva J. Dawn (3)
With this in mind, here are a few practical ways I try to create space and hold this attitude on Sundays (my day for observing the Sabbath):
1. Unplug and Be Present
This one is hard, especially as a blogger. Nonetheless, I make a point of leaving my phone down (unless we’re calling family for a chat) and unplugging from social media for the day. (I do schedule some posts in advance, occasionally, but I try to be off on Sundays.) Instead, it’s a time to pray over how I use social media, ask for the Lord’s wisdom, and grow in trust that I can cease my efforts and give this time to God. It’s a time for me to remember that I seek the Lord’s blessing and direction, and not just what I can achieve through my own power.
Even before I had the “excuse” of blogging, I still found it was important for me to unplug on Sundays. It’s so easy to use my phone as a filler so I don’t have to engage in my immediate surroundings: Want to ignore the pile of dishes? Jump on Facebook! Kids are telling that same knock-knock joke for the millionth time? Check Twitter. Can’t face the pile of paperwork? Browse Pinterest for tips on organizing.
Instead, a Sabbath fast from the crutch of my phone every time I get bored helps me develop a better awareness the rest of the week. It opens me to seeing and really observing what’s going on around me and noticing how I can better direct my attention going forward. It’s hard, but for the very reason that it is hard, this practice is important to my Sabbath observance.
Sabbath is not a cessation of work, but rather a contemplation of work. Non-sabbath keeping is a desecration of work, not honoring the real gift that our work is. When we do this, the work of man has inflated importance, rather than the work of God being honored most.
—Eugene Peterson (4)
2. Read and Pray
Sunday is my day to catch up on any Bible reading that I missed during the week and particularly to get around to some extra materials, like podcasts, daily devotionals, or books that I’m reading through. Making it a priority to get God’s words into me, filling my mind and my soul, opens me up to hearing God and helps me prepare for the week ahead. Maybe I’ll write in a prayer journal or jot down some reflections on what God has been teaching me.
I don’t do it every Sunday, but I try to do this first before filling my time with something else. I might use the girls’ rest time to do this, or the evening right after they go to bed. (Since I’m not on social media and I’m not doing blogging work, I’ve got a little spare time! Ha. There are a million other things that could fill that “spare” time, too, but usually I prefer to go this route.)
Often, I try to do a little cleaning up for the week ahead (i.e. actually pick up some toys and wash the dishes—nothing over the top here, folks…) and it’s fun because I can listen to a podcast or the Bible on the YouVersion Bible App while I do it. I almost look forward to cleaning! (Almost…)
Sabbath is more than a day off. It is a turning of the entire being toward God—a time set apart to contemplate life and work and praise the Creator for it all. The Christian observance of Sabbath is set apart by its lack of rules—there is no strict way to keep Sabbath in Christianity. It’s not a “must” of our faith. And yet, to ignore this fourth commandment is to miss some of God’s richest blessings for his people.
—The High Calling (5)
3. Rest and Play
Take a nap. Play a game. Invite a friend over. Watch a movie. Eat leftovers. What do you find restful?
For me, one of the biggest activities from which to rest is cooking. Mainly, I want to give us a break from the routine and the daily grind of meal preparation. We usually have at least one meal that is a clean-out-the-fridge meal and sometimes I think to put something in the crockpot, but I’m pretty bad at that. I usually end up cooking one meal, at least.
I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly insistent on this one. I usually enjoy cooking, so it’s not so much that I mind having to cook on Sunday. But it does help me to free up some of the time in the kitchen and just to break from the typical way I use my day. The point here is not to make my life even more stressful by trying to figure out how to avoid the work of cooking. That defeats the purpose entirely.
The point is to relax, to open up some time and space to enjoy life and appreciate the people around me.
There is much wisdom behind the decision of God to provide the Jewish people with a Sabbath. Yet the Sabbath was never intended to be a burden or make life inconvenient for people. It was to be a gift. It was a way to force people to slow down, enjoy life, and love each other. The Sabbath day restrictions were not to rule over mankind, [but were] to be a blessing, to help us enjoy life more fully.
—Jeremy Myers (6)
4. Get Outside
If possible, I want to get out in nature to reset and seek God. I know everyone isn’t like this, but getting out in the woods, standing on the shore, or even just going for a long walk sometimes, does wonders for my soul.
I often don’t even feel how stressed and scattered I am until I go for a long hike; when I get out in nature, I start to look at the world and myself a little differently and, I would argue, with a bit more of God’s vision than I had before. When I’m outside, I’m in God’s creation, not in the little bubble of space where I’ve exerted my power and creativity and feel like I have control. It reminds me of my proper place in the grand scheme of things. It also gives me a bit of that lily and sparrow of the field feeling.
There’s an old, Jewish Sabbath prayer that can help to wake us up: “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”…Taking time to rest. Whether it’s on a Sabbath day or vacation, rest puts us in position for God to open our eyes.
—Bill Gaultiere (7)
5. Don’t Shop
This was actually the first (and for me, remains most noticeable and significant) way that I set Sunday apart as a special day of rest. Is running to the grocery story or shopping online really that much work? No. But that’s not the point. Maybe it’s even relaxing for me to shop, I reason. That’s still not the point.
So much of my day-to-day work involves assessing our finances, thinking about how best to use those resources, and allocating funds to meet our needs. Sunday is a day where I make a point to set aside thinking about money and resources and instead thank God for all that we have.
Every Sunday, it shocks me how many times I reach for my phone to check the price of an item on Amazon.com, or something like that. I don’t even notice or realize I’m doing it throughout the week. Consciously trying to break that habit as a Sabbath rest is a good exercise for me.
God has graciously and generously provided for us and the Sabbath is a day for me to see that all good gifts come from Him and rest in His provision. Now, I don’t have to make this a legalistic requirement for myself, but as much as possible, I try to arrange my week so that I don’t browse online, make lists, go to the store, or think about what I need to buy on Sunday.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit I began setting aside large blocks of time for Sabbath Rest. Over some years I grew into a practice of keeping a regular sabbath day to pray and play. A day of rest. A day to humble me with the reminder of my limitations. A day to slow my pace and cease my drive to produce. A day to find my identity outside of what I accomplish. A day to find enjoyment not in what I use, but simply in being myself with God, his creation, and his people, especially my family.
A day for intimacy with Jesus.
The more I practiced Sabbath Rest the deeper God’s rest got into my body, my pace of life, and my approach to people and to ministry. By “making every effort” I was learning to live and work in “the sabbath rest that remains for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9-11). You understand that I’m not just talking about one day a week, but a day that grows into an attitude and a lifestyle.
—Bill Gaultiere (8)
Well, that’s my take on it. How about you? Have you found a meaningful way to observe the Sabbath and rest? What works for you?
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- Scot McKnight, “Tom Wright, Scripture and God’s Authority,” Patheos
- Eugene Peterson, Taken from “The Pastor’s Guide to Effective Preaching” by Billy Graham. Copyright 2003 by Nazarene Publishing House. Used by permission of Nazarene Publishing House. All rights reserved.
- Marva J. Dawn, Taken from “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting” by Marva J. Dawn. Copyright 1989 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Used under fair use policies by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
- Attributed to Eugene Peterson by Jason Dukes, referencing notes taken from a February 28, 2012 Q Session NYC interview with Peterson by Gabe Lyons. (Jason Dukes, “Eugene Peterson suggests that sabbath is the most important as well as most ignored function of the church today, for from this restful, trustworthy connection life comes,” As I Live Sent Daily; Thoughts that Swirl in my Head and Heart)
- The High Calling Blog, “Reclaiming Sabbath Keeping: More than Rest,” The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (a publication of The Theology of Work Project)
- Jeremy Myers, “Should Christians Observe the Sabbath?” Redeeming God; Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church from the Shackles of Religion
- Bill Gaultiere, “Sightless Among Miracles,” Soul Shepherding
- Bill Gaultiere, “Sabbath as Praying and Playing,” Soul Shepherding