Do you ever feel restless, uneasy, empty, or disconnected? If so, you lack shalom. The Hebrew word shalom is commonly translated as “peace,” but it means so much more. Derived from a root denoting wholeness or completeness, shalom is a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace. It also carries the connotations of soundness, health, safety, and provision. In short, shalom is living in the full experience of union with Christ. Do you want that quality of peace?
God has designed a simple way to experience greater wholeness of body, mind, emotions, and soul – it’s called Sabbath, another Hebrew word, which means to stop, cease, or rest. The Sabbath is God’s way of giving us the shalom we so desperately need.
Why We Resist Sabbath
In more than two decades of teaching God’s Word, I have never had as much resistance as when I teach the necessity of a day of Sabbath rest for spiritual wholeness and maturity. I’m always amazed at how angry people get when I recommend this healthy and beneficial practice. People cry “legalism!” Or they start making excuses like “I don’t have enough time,” “I’ll lose my job,” or “That commandment doesn’t apply today.”
I think we resist Sabbath for two reasons: First, it reminds us that we are not God. Second, it requires that we express dependence on God rather than being self-reliant. These two reasons for resistance come from our sinful flesh and our Western work ethic. This may be shorthand for our tendency to worship self through work (even work that we hate).
If I haven’t lost you yet, please allow me to share some biblical reasons why a practice of weekly Sabbath is desirable and healthy. Then I will explain how you can approach this practice playfully rather than legalistically. Hopefully, you will begin to see the Sabbath as the best day of the week – a day you fully enjoy and look forward to with great anticipation. When we are done, I pray that you will want to zealously protect your weekly Sabbath as part of a healthy relationship with God.
Keeping Sabbath Is Following God’s Example
On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, so their first full day on earth was the Sabbath. God modeled to them the importance of rest by setting this day apart as different from all the others – he made it holy.
Some approach sabbath as resting from our work; others see it as resting for our work. The website Theology of Work addresses this thought:
“In Genesis 2 God both works and rests. God, in his omnipotence, clearly does not need to rest for reasons of physical tiredness or exhaustion. He does not need to rest so that he can become more productive, given that he has already created everything. So clearly there is something more to rest than maintaining energy for the production line.”
I think that God rested on the seventh day to show Adam and Eve that relationship is more important than work. He ceased from his work to be with them, and our Sabbath rest is ceasing from our work to be with God and others. This time of quality relationship brings joy to the soul. It isn’t mere rest, it’s rejuvenation.
The relationships developed on the Sabbath form the basis for our work. We don’t rest from our work. Nor do we rest for our work. Instead, we live from our rest in God. As we deepen our relationships with God and others, it becomes the inspiration for serving others through our whole life (including work). Work is no longer something we do for ourselves or for our families. It becomes an expression of our loving union with God for the good of all people. The Sabbath transforms our work from a duty to a delight. It helps us to focus on how our work is about blessing others.
This isn’t just for pastors, though they of all people should be intentional about Sabbath. A healthy pastor will follow the example of God to bless others. This modeling of the Sabbath will teach the whole church how the Sabbath is essential in their lives as well. By inviting others into a day of delighting in God, the pastor shows how their lives can be transformed by God’s presence as well. As people adopt this practice, their transformation will become evident to their coworkers. Sabbath transforms work into mission!
Sabbath Is an Act of Worship
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
Sabbath rest isn’t a duty to be performed, it’s an act of worship to be expressed and experienced. It’s a way of properly relating to God. Notice how this command describes the Sabbath as a day “to the Lord.” This is the same phrase used to describe many of the feasts and sacrifices prescribed for Israel. These festivals and rituals were opportunities to express their hearts to God in loving worship.
Every aspect of good Sabbath practice leads to worship and thankfulness directed toward God. Consider the opening lines of Psalm 92, a psalm for Sabbath:
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
Thankfulness and joy fill the Sabbath day. It’s a day of true worship from the heart, not mere performance of duty. The Sabbath is not a day to earn God’s favor; it’s a day to revel in the already-possessed love of God through Jesus Christ.
Sabbath Rest Is Good for You
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
The benefits of true Sabbath rest are hard to overstate. In addition to rest for the body and mind, this practice will restore the very soul. It will reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, and improve many more basic health markers. People who practice Sabbath experience greater joy and contentment in life. They feel less disconnection and have greater focus in life. They have a deeper experience of shalom – wholeness or completeness.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a weekly Sabbath practice is that it reminds us that God is God and we are not. By ceasing from our work, we express faith and dependence on God as we rest. It is a real test of faith to stop striving and simply trust. In Exodus 23 and Leviticus 26, God prescribes a whole Sabbath year for Israel! Imagine the faith it would take to cease from work for a whole year and live in complete dependence on God. A weekly Sabbath gives us a small taste of this kind of faith.
How much would your faith in God be stretched and deepened by practicing Sabbath? You’ll never really know until it becomes a regular habit. Your faith will deepen with time as you learn to relax into God’s faithfulness.
How to Have a Good Sabbath
Use the following list to help you develop your own weekly Sabbath. Don’t approach this as a duty. Sabbath shouldn’t feel like eating kale (let’s be honest, no one eats kale because they like the taste). Instead, Sabbath should be enjoyable, enriching, and lead you to be thankful. Approach it playfully. Play is doing something you love for the mere enjoyment of the activity. Design a Sabbath practice you will truly enjoy.
- Stop working for 24 hours – Start at sundown and take a complete day off, 24 consecutive hours of rest in God.
- Intentionally notice God’s presence – Practice spiritual disciplines that help you focus on God’s presence. The goal is to notice God continually for the entire Sabbath.
- Confess emptiness – talk to God about your lack of shalom. Confess sin or express your restlessness and distraction to God.
- Worship God in Christ by the Holy Spirit – Recognize and rejoice in each member of the Trinity.
- Relate to God in prayer – Pray in a way that expresses relationship with God. This isn’t necessarily a time to ask God for things. Instead, spend time in thankfulness and the joy of the Father.
- Listen to God through his Word – Set aside a larger than normal time for reading deeply in Scripture. Don’t read out of duty; read to be transformed from the inside out.
- Wonder at God’s creation – Go outside and look at something beautiful, whether it be great or small; notice how great a Creator we have by marveling at his creation.
- Sing joyful songs – Sing songs that make you happy in God or express your true emotions to him.
- Connect with family and friends – Spend time with people who restore your soul. Avoid the leeches on this day and be with people you truly enjoy. Let their presence minister to you.
- Sleep, play, and feast – Take a nap, do something that brings you joy and makes you thankful, eat well and dedicate your meal to God.
- Remember your calling – As your Sabbath rest comes to a close, remember your calling from God. As you prepare to begin your next day with a good night’s sleep, become excited about what God has called you to do tomorrow.
What Sabbath practices help you find rest in God?
Here are some books to help you develop your own weekly Sabbath:
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn
Sabbath: The Ancient Practices by Dan Allender
Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World
by A. J. Swoboda
The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel