Yesterday, after having missed two weeks of my Bible study, I returned. While I was gone, the battalion had finished the study on Hosea and had transitioned to Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath.
I joined the study already in progress, so I’m a little behind. I tried to skim and engage during yesterday’s gathering, but I kept feeling like I was missing out because I hadn’t read every word from the start.
So, today I sat down and turned to page one.
But before I tell you what I found, let me rewind a bit and tell you what I have thought about the sabbath during these first fifty years of my life.
Many of the women yesterday resonated with my first understanding of sabbath. “Sabbath means going to church. Every Sunday. Without fail.” Going to church is an excellent practice. I am all for gathering in community, hearing the word of God, uniting in prayer and song, and devoting a regular portion of my week to public worship. However, sabbath is not church attendance.
I have also understood sabbath to mean an absence of work. This has Biblical grounds, of course, and traditional significance. Many people, for centuries, have observed the sabbath by refraining from work. Again, I fully support this notion. I think it is healthy and even godly to find a rhythm in which we regularly cease toiling. However, the sabbath is about much more than just the absence of work.
So, I’ve started my definition of sabbath by telling you what it is not. Why? Because that is where I am starting. I am acknowledging that my previous understandings of this word were limited and not exactly what God modeled for us when He “rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.” Nor do they line up with the heart of God behind the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”
I’m starting with what sabbath is not, deleting my previous notions to make room for a new understanding. I am feeling a need to do this because the very word ‘sabbath’ is weighted for me. It is weighted with feelings of obligation, neglect, and guilt. Somewhere deep inside me is the belief that if I were a better Christian, I would trust God enough to take a whole day every week to rest in Him. This belief is scripturally illustrated in the story of the Israelites who were told to gather manna six days out of the week. God provided a double-portion for them on the sixth day so that they would not have to gather manna on the seventh day. See, they didn’t have to work and still God provided. Should I not learn from the Israelites and ‘go and do likewise’.
We have to be careful when we start down that path, because even in our attempts to do good, we can reduce sabbath to a rule or requirement.
Also planted deeply inside me is the belief that I am not healthy if I don’t give myself one day a week to rest and recover from my labors. Haven’t you heard people say, “even God rested on the seventh day.” They are intentionally, or unintentionally, suggesting that if I refuse to rest on the seventh day I am somehow elevating myself above God — “I don’t need rest.”
Well, of course I need rest. And of course I should trust God. But after reading the first sixteen pages of Priscilla Shirer’s study, I jotted down my response to a question and I surprised myself. After leading me through the Genesis account and some thoughts from a Jewish scholar regarding the sabbath, the study asked me: “how is the concept of rest more than simply stopping an activity? How is rest a positive, created thing rather than a negative cessation of activity?” Before I knew what was happening I wrote: “It’s a destination rather than a requirement. It’s a capstone, not recovery.”
That’s the kind of stuff that will sit you down and make you think for a minute. God created for six days straight, so that He could appreciate all that He had created on the seventh. His rest was the capstone of His creation — the finale of his well-spent week. He put the sabbath in our commandments, not to require our worship, but to protect His rhythm. Why? Because His rhythm is good. All that He created was good.
Why, oh why, do I push against what God has created to be good? Because, as I learned in the book of Hosea, I am bent on turning….turning to my own ways, to what I believe to be best for me, rather that what God knows is best for me.
Are you bent on turning, too? “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you His kingdom.” And in his kingdom, my friends, He has provided a sabbath rest.
Re-think it with me, won’t you?
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God