What does it mean to keep the Sabbath?

Has God ever decided to pound you over the head with something?

Has there been a message or theme that you seem to run into everywhere you turn? Your pastor preaches on it, then your parents bring it up, then you hear someone talking about it on Christian radio. That's been happening to me a lot lately. It seems that God is trying to get my attention on the subject of Sabbath.

Honestly, Sabbath seems like an Old Testament idea to me (or at least it used to). I always knew that the Bible talked about the Sabbath, but I never made the connection to my modern life. I guess another part of me just saw Sabbath as a synonym for Sunday. It was a religious word to describe the day when we go to church, attend Sunday school, and then hit the buffet.

But God is teaching me a new meaning for Sabbath. He is showing me that it's so much more than a day of the week or a routine involving church. Sabbath matters to God. It is a common theme throughout the entire Bible.

Check it out.

We are first introduced to the word "Sabbath" in Exodus 16:23. The Israelites were heading toward the Promised Land. God provided them manna for the first time. As part of that miracle, God specifically instructed them not to cook manna on the Sabbath.

He said to them, "This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of 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'" (Exodus 16:23).

How does God Himself describe the Sabbath in this passage? As a day of rest, something holy, and something we do "to the Lord." Hmm...this is our first clue that our view of the Sabbath has become skewed.

In Exodus 20:8 we are instructed to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy as part of the Ten Commandments. These are the ten things that God most wanted His people to practice as He set them apart to be His people. Can I be honest? Sabbath is not one of the most important tenants of my faith. Most of the time it's an idea that isn't even on my radar.

Wait. There's more.

Exodus 31:13 says, "Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.'"

According to this passage the purpose of the Sabbath is so that we can know who God is and that He has the power to make us holy.

Leviticus 16:31 calls the Sabbath "a lasting ordinance" meaning it isn't just an ancient tradition. It's a law handed down from God, and it's here to stay.

In Mark 2:27 ?Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In other words, the Sabbath is something that God created for our benefit.

There isn't space on this blog for me to highlight all that the Word says about the Sabbath. In fact, it is addressed more than 150 times! No wonder God is trying to get my attention on this matter. It is clearly a subject that is close to His heart.

But what is a Sabbath exactly? If it's not a day of the week and it's not just an Old Testament tradition, how do we define what Sabbath looks like in the life of a modern believer?

Here is the definition I sense God speaking into my heart.

Sabbath is:

  1. A time for rest (Exodus 16:23).
  2. A time set aside to intentionally offer ourselves to God (Numbers 28:10).
  3. A time to focus on ministering to others (Matthew 12:12).
  4. Something God created to benefit us, not so we can benefit Him (Mark 2:27).
  5. More about our hearts than our behavior (Mark 3:4).

Based on this definition, I have to admit an absence of the Sabbath in my life. Most weeks Sunday is my busiest day of the week. It isn't a day of rest. It's a day that leaves me feeling ready to collapse from exhaustion and obligation. If God is looking for evidence of Sabbath in my heart, I'm really in trouble. I've been living the Christian life without Sabbath for a long, long time.

I know for a fact that I'm not alone. The Christians I know are running as ragged as I am. They aren't setting aside time to rest. They aren't intentionally offering themselves and their schedule to Him on a regular basis. Many aren't regularly ministering to others, and they don't get that God has given us the Sabbath for our own good.

I'd love for us to do something about that together. Since God's definition of Sabbath is so different from the definition our minds are familiar with, I want us to do something radically different. This week, I want each of us to observe a Sabbath. It doesn't even have to be on Sunday (crazy, huh?). We just need to set aside some time to rest, reflect on Him, examine our own hearts, and allow Him to do the kind of supernatural restoration He can only do when we slow down.

Will you do it? Will you take a Sabbath this week? I hope so.


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