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Sacred Sabbath

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God can handle it while you take a break; He really can. And you'll be a better (and more rested) leader when you do.

This is a tough topic for me to write on. Perhaps God has prompted me to write this article more for me than you. I’m not sure. Slowing down is difficult for me. I like what I do. No, I love what I do. I love the people I work with. Living life with a purpose bigger than me is exciting.

When I was much younger, I worked too much. I may still work a little too much. But now I understand the depth of the issues in play and have, for many years, experienced the great value of a day off.  I might sneak in a phone call or check email for a few minutes, but for the most part I actually take a day off. Friday is my day. I’ve grown to love it. When something comes up that consumes a Friday, I find some time on another day of the week.

This subject may seem basic to you, especially in light of the clarity of Scripture. Genesis 2:2-3 says “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.”

Rest. That’s a key part of a healthy rhythm for any spiritual leader. One writer said: “Come apart and rest or come apart.”  Good advice. It’s such good advice that God placed it in the 10 Commandments. Exodus 20:8-11 says “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 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.”

God didn’t need to rest. He wasn’t tired. In fact, He’s omnipotent. He rested from His work because He delighted in the rest, in the enjoyment of His own creation. And with the Sabbath idea, He blessed and sanctified the seventh day as a day to honor rest, a holy kind of rest. I have never believed this means to lay on the couch, chill out and watch TV all day. I believe it’s a time to be more aware than usual of God’s power, the glory of His creation and His presence in the unfolding story of your life.  It’s a time to change gears and shut down from your normal pace and rest from the pressures that try to consume you.

A personal insight from me to you — something I’ve learned from a long journey as a spiritual leader. When I’m too busy to take a day off, ultimately, it’s about trust. It’s about whether or not I trust God to cover what I can’t get to. Too heavy?  Maybe. Again, I love doing what I do. My contribution is noticeable, perhaps, at times, even significant.  But really, is the world going to stop if I don’t run it seven days a week?  Really?!

How about you?  Is your world, your church, your life going to crash because you take a day off? Or is it more likely that it will crash if you don’t?

Let’s take a short trip in the other direction. Scripture does make it clear that you and I are to work for six days. You can interpret that however you want. Personally, I’m not a legalist about much of anything in life, but six is six. Even I can count that far. This article isn’t about how many days you take off or how many hours you work a week. It’s about when you find your Sabbath and what you do with it.  But I couldn’t write this article without making a clear comment that God calls us to work much more than He calls us to rest. Just a thought.

The goal isn’t rest itself.  The purpose is renewal so you can go back to work and accomplish what God has given you to do.  Live to work? Work to live?  I know, heavy matters of philosophy.  But I keep it simple.  God has me here for a reason. I’m not a random collection of DNA. I’m a unique creation with a purpose.   Frankly, I’m fired up about that.  I have no interest in a gold watch. I’m in for the work God has for me.

The purpose of the Sabbath is to acknowledge the majesty of God and His creation and to find rest and renewal for the work His has for you. And, by the way, your Sabbath should be fun!  Enjoy the day.  That’s what God did!

In Christ we’ve been set free from the requirements of the law and the treadmill of good works. God has given us rest in His Son, rest that we could never gain ourselves. So don’t start worrying if you are doing the Sabbath right!  Just rest. Enjoy the day. Work in your garden. Ride your motorcycle. Plan golf. Run 10 miles.  Play the piano. See a movie. Read a book. Pray. You have freedom. Just live the day in a way that renews your soul. I often get a massage. I don’t get one every week, but for me, a good massage is like a gift from heaven. Now that is a good Sabbath!

Remember what Jesus said about the Sabbath in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God designed this day of rest for you.  You are not trapped by rules or regulations.  I don’t think the Sabbath principle negates, for example, the story of the good Samaritan. You might even help someone on your day off!

I don’t think the purpose of the 4th commandment is to make us think about God once a week, but to remind us that all of life is under His control.  Taking a day off each week is only part of a healthy rhythm for a spiritual leader. I believe your time with God in prayer each day is a critical part of the equation. I don’t think your soul and spirit knows what to do with a day off if you haven’t had set aside time with Jesus in prayer all week.

So how about you? If you take a regular day off and use it wisely, good for you. Keep it up.  If you struggle with taking time off as many do, I urge you to act on what you know to be true. God can handle it while you take a break. He really can. In fact, you will be in better shape after your day off to handle the weighty things that tempt you to keep going.

This summer I’m taking some vacation time just with my son John-Peter, just the two of us. Patti is taking some vacation time with our daughter Mackenzie, just the two of them. We will thoroughly enjoy some close one to one time. Can you see some Sabbath ideas in that?  We do and are so looking forward to it.

Work hard, stay on purpose, and find your Sabbath rhythm. Take it from a guy who didn’t get it from the beginning. I’m sort of a Sabbath convert, it works and has become sacred to me.  I hope it is for you too.

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