24 Sep 2018

Sabbath? Nowadays... You have to be joking!

24 hours? That's an entire day! We don't have enough hours already as it is. Besides, what do we DO on a Sabbath? 

I don't really have a 24-hr Sabbath right now.  I hope that makes you feel better already and will read on, knowing I am not here to pontificate or direct your life.

In fact, I am writing this post because someone asked me about the Sabbath.

There's the command. How do you feel? What goes through your mind?

Let's back up a bit and observe how we respond to this command given in the Ten Commandments that back up God's design for life.

It is easy to see that our first reaction to it is really to reject it. We back up our rejection with 'empirical' evidence, the way businesses run, the extent of our busyness, the scope of our commitments and so on.

This approach is plainly faulty. It puts God's Word at our service, where our life habits and priorities are held so dear that they resist being challenged.

In truth, as a child of God and a disciple of Christ, we are called to continually challenge "the way things are" because the world is ruled by the prince of the air and he is antithetical to God and to life!

No business (or busyness) as usual for us!

Well, when I was a teen, I loved the adrenaline this "challenge the status quo" gave me. It was cool being counter-cultural. But as I grow older, I find that more and more I am exposed to, and at odds with the world. There are now a zillion ways to feel the pressure to conform: and the gamut ranges from the public arena of trying to keep pace with the successes of others which infects our work ethic, financial values, to marriage and parenting, to even the private arena of my personal health, habits and preferences.

Just recently, I asked a few ladies this:

In what way do you feel the pressure to conform to something in our culture?

You  are conforming when you have not thought it through, when you plod on even when you don't feel it's a fit for you, when you are grappling to keep up.... Yet, despite the doubts and perhaps even a still small voice that beckons, you remain engaged, and breathlessly so.

Unless - you - Sabbath.

Sabbath is to take a break from our mechanisms, machinations, methods and even motives. It is sheer rest, that restores peace and perspective, purpose and patience.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
~ Isaiah 30v15

We would have none of it?
What madness has us in its grip that we reject rest and strength, so essential to living meaningfully with passion and resilience?

This madness is fed by several streams:

1. We mimic others
there is a powerful theory that explains how we routinely mimic what others do. All it took was the first selfie to set us all off. Clothes, travel, work, even religion. Actually, this is a short step from breaking another commandment: not to envy. But mimicking others come so easily and naturally to us. Being like others makes us feel belonged, accepted, approved. Those are innate desires which we have to meet.
But the Sabbath allows us to disconnect with this tendency (even bondage for some) and really find that our desires are met - in God's unconditional acceptance of us. Looking outside of God always requires us to do something (smart, beautiful, connected etc) to find belonging and acceptance. Not so with God. He invites us to rest from trying to meet our deepest needs ourselves.

As we disrupt our usual frenetic pace, as we lose ourselves in worship, Scripture, prayer and activity that rejuvenates us, we are being changed and empowered in small increments to become our own person, less dependent on the need to mimic others.

2. We struggle to trust God
trust in God is something we have to experience and learn. Thankfully, God does not refuse us salvation for falling short of the Sabbath! But without a deepening trust, our faith life can become shallow and even a sham. In a world which teaches that "if it's gonna be, it's all up to me", trusting God can be challenging indeed. Also, it is in the nature of systems to punish those who don't conform and we are afraid of the consequences of not keeping in lock-step with the world.

When we keep the Sabbath, we dare ourselves to take our hands off the steering wheel, to stop agonizing so much over outcomes, to learn to let God bless us. We stay away from work-related habits, stop checking our emails, occupy our hearts and minds with the gifts of being alive and being able to explore and enjoy life.

3. We are creatures of habit
most of what we do can be done without much thought each day, and our habits create a sense of safety for us. Doing the familiar gives us a sense of 'family', of being embedded in something trustworthy because it has worked so far. It is hard then to jam the brakes and do something different. Even working or being busy 24/7 is often a result of habits we form: keeping our phones with us and online, talking and posting (way too) quickly, saying 'yes' too soon...

The Sabbath offers us a different way to pass the time and expend our energy and resources. Solitude and silence can surface for us habits that may not really serve us. As we join with others in worship and serve the needs of a community or others, we challenge our habits of 'looking out for ourselves' or 'looking out for number one'.

Our mimicry, our lack of trust and our habits grow out of the soil of our lives here in a world insistent on being apart from God.

Notice that the Sabbath command ends with a call to holiness.

Holiness in its etymology is being set apart, distinguished, differentiated, distinct, separate. Hence there is a day in the cycle of days when God says that we are to live differently - in order not to be sucked into a way of life that is contrary to God's loving design for us.

Indeed the call to holiness is a call to a different kind of life, which is made possible because of a new birth:
... no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. ~ Jesus' words to Nicodemus in John 3

The amazing thing about this new life is the diverse ways we can express it.

Does it have to be 24 hours?

If God says so, I should think we ought to humbly agree. Alas, that can be challenging. It isn't just our paid jobs, but so much of modern life requires attention, energy and resources. To relax, we have to work to plan our vacations and so forth.

So for a start, we have to simplify. So much of modern living is clutter. While the first thing that comes to mind is material possession, the more insidious clutter is in our brains and our hearts. Do we have to spend hours scanning online for the cheapest airfare? Do we have to spend hours online shopping? Do we have to have work-meetings where we typically don't eat well or work well?

We need to get serious about wanting the life of salvation God offers us. We have to re-examine our habits and priorities and design our lives to thrive such that we discover a way to incorporate the Sabbath as a part of our lifestyle.

I said at the start that I do not observe a strict 24 hour Sabbath right now. Perhaps I am wrong. If I am thinking of doing nothing, then clearly I don't have that, or will ever have it. But if I see Sabbath as a posture, a priority and a re-purposing of my life, then I am on track. Certainly, I want to get to that 24 hour pattern.

But for now, I am practising another facet of restedness. Not in terms of time, but in terms of learning a posture of trust, prioritising time with God, and putting in place habits and things that remind me that this world is not my eternal home.

So I fiercely guard my time and ensure that my calendar doesn't clog with commitments. So I figure out what refreshes me and seek those things out. So I journal and pray to lean into trust rather than fear and fret. It isn't Sabbath-on-the-go though, as each of these things do take hours at time.

Then I plan for longer one day stretches and few day retreats several times a year. The barometer for all of this is not to keep a law because God may be angry if we don't, but to observe a command because it came from the Designer and it calls us towards our destiny as God's beloved children.

Jenni's help for you to cultivate a Sabbath life:
a) Books
b) Quiet Morning

 For those who like a bit of dark humour, here is modern life in twenty slides.

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