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How Does a Christian Keep the Sabbath Holy Today?

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What is the SABBATH?

sabbath |ˈsabəTH|

noun

1 (often the Sabbath) a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.

Let’s take a quick poll:

  • Raise your hand if you think that a Sunday afternoon nap is what it looks like for a Christian to keep the Sabbath holy…

Me! Or at least that’s what I thought for a looooong time…

  • Raise your hand if you think that going to your Mamaw’s house for Sunday “dinner” (i.e. lunch), and then staying for hours sitting around in her living room just “visiting” because it’s wrong to shop on Sunday is what it looks like for a Christian to keep the Sabbath holy?

Yep, me too!! And you’re so full from that home-cooked lunch that you don’t want to shop anyway. All you can think about is that nap…

  • Raise your hand if you think that for a Christian to keep the Sabbath holy you must not mow your lawn or do any yardwork on Sunday afternoon so that your neighbors won’t think you’re a heathen?

Me again! Or at least I used to. (Is that universal or just Southern thing?)

I’m going out on a limb here, but I really don’t think I’m the only one who has had this longtime crazy misconception of the Sabbath principle.

In fact, I bet there are lots of Christians scratching their heads saying, “Is that really a thing?”

To clarify, for a Christian:

The Sabbath is not:

Simply a Sunday afternoon nap.

The Sabbath is:

A complete lifestyle of rest

A Weekly Nap ≠ A Lifestyle of Rest

Um…is this a trick question? I’ll take the lifestyle over the nap, thanks!

eucalyptus leaves with text doesn't a sunday afternoon nap count for me to keep the sabbath holy

SABBATH: A Little Deeper

Priscilla Shirer defines Sabbath in her study entitled Breathe:

“God always and eternally intended the Sabbath to be a lifestyle- an attitude, a perspective, an orientation for living that enables us to govern our lives and steer clear of bondage.” (p. 10)

Shirer also gives a deeper look at this Sabbath principle and its first mention in the Bible as she quotes an excerpt from The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, written by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a twenthieth-century Jewish rabbi and author. He writes:

“The words: ‘On the seventh day God finished His work’ (Genesis 2:2), seem to be a puzzle….We would surely expect the Bible to tell us that on the sixth day God finished His work.

Obviously, the ancient rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day. Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha [rest] was created on the Sabbath. After six days of creation- what did the universe still lack? Menuha. Came the Sabbath, came menuha, and the universe was complete….

Menuha, which we usually render with “rest” means here much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive.

This must have been the view of the ancient rabbis if they believed that it took a special act of creation to bring it into being, that the universe would be incomplete without it. ‘What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.’” (p. 14-15)

Shirer concludes that:

“The purpose of God’s Sabbath day was not to put up His proverbial feet, take a load off, and chill out after creating the universe in the previous days. Turns out, He wasn’t doing just nothing. Far from it. He was creating something. REST. Rest was the capstone of creation and without it the universe would be incomplete.” (p. 15)

This. Completely. Blew. My. Mind.

Who was SABBATH created for?

God created the concept of Sabbath for US, His children, as a gift.

He certainly did not need to rest on Day Seven of creation.

But He knew WE would.

So, God modeled this principle for us in Genesis before He ever commanded any of us to keep the Sabbath holy.

In Exodus 16:23, God introduced Sabbath as a command for the first time:

“He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath 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)

He told the Israelites to observe a full day of rest and even gave them the practical details, a “how-to” guide or “DIY tutorial” if you will, including meal planning, meal prep, and even food storage. 

Here’s the thing: the Israelites had been enslaved to the Egyptians for so many years that it was the only way of life they knew.

Life in bondage.

Life as slaves.

They had no concept of freedom because they had no experience with freedom.

They simply had no context for freedom.

The Israelites as a people had been forced to work constantly at someone else’s command their entire lives, so guess whose mind was blown when God told them to REST?!?!?

God didn’t just tell the Israelites to rest simply because they were tired. He is certainly that kind to us, but His kindness didn’t stop there.

Why was SABBATH created?

God introduced the Sabbath principle to Israel, and in turn, to us for two main reasons. He wanted us to be:

  • Dependent on Him

His provision for our needs leads us to worship Him. When God provides for us and when He blesses our obedience, our faith is strengthened, we find peace in our relationship with Him, and we experience true rest in trusting His goodness towards us.

  • Free From Bondage

We can be enslaved to so many masters. Some obvious ones that come to mind are drugs, alcohol, food, sex, anxiety or even worry. But amazingly, good things, even those we consider to be gifts from God, can threaten our freedom without proper boundaries.

Ever heard the expression “Too much of a good thing”? We can be bound by good things as well. Things like social media and other forms of technology, hard work, money and/or the things it can buy us, relationships and the approval of others, or even simply “being good”.

Jesus spoke of this Sabbath principle as well. The Message translation of Matthew 11:28-30 describes this lifestyle of rest in the most beautiful way. Maybe I’m just tired right now, but wow these words washed over me like a wave:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG)

How beautiful!

Oh how I want Jesus to teach me “the unforced rhythms of grace” and simply how to “live freely and lightly”.

Don’t we all?!?

Look out Pinterest. That sounds like the ultimate “how-to guide” to me…

This concept of Sabbath serves as a boundary for us. It gives us our lines in which we are supposed to color. Choosing the keep the Sabbath holy provides us with guardrails.

It not only keeps us from the negative side effects of exhaustion, stress, and health issues caused from too much work as we might assume; the Sabbath principle actually keeps us from becoming enslaved to the good things in our lives too. Not just the good versus the bad. So often it seems to come back to good versus great, doesn’t it?

I’m tired of settling for a Sunday afternoon nap.

I’m ready for a lifestyle of rest.

I’m still learning what it looks like to practically keep the Sabbath holy in my own life, but I feel sure it’s worth considering…

***One additional idea to consider is that God created the Sabbath to point us to our future hope of eternal rest and completion in Him. This article on whether keeping the Sabbath is still relevant for Christians today, as well as the accompanying video from the Bible Project are super interesting- the video gives such a good Biblical overview from creation to eternity and speaks specifically about the symbolism of the number seven in the Bible and the concept of Sabbath providing us with this exact hope:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Sabbath and what that looks like in your own life in the comments below!

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