A similar dynamic happens in our souls when we work for several days without a break and then we finally get to rest. After a major project or a busy season, it can take a while to calm down and get back to normal. That happened this week at the beach.
The first day of vacation, my head was spinning from the long trip and the details of packing. Did we download the address before we lost cell service? Did we remember everything? Did we wrap up all the projects and line up all the substitutes?
On my second day at the beach, I finally relaxed. I sat back, watched the sun rise, and I realized I had nothing to do all day besides eat and rest. It was so refreshing. I needed a Sabbath.
I used to think of Sabbath keeping as an outdated command. Not this week.
Ancient Jews were required to stop working and focus on faith and family one day every week. It was a day when slaves and animals got to rest (Exodus 20:10), a way to strengthen Israel’s connection with a holy God (Exodus 31:13, Ezekiel 20:12) and a time to remember the oppression of being a slave (Deuteronomy 5). God even prescribed that the land was supposed to enjoy rest every seventh year (Leviticus 25).
This rest was a gift from God. Isaiah 58:13-14 describes the spirit of Sabbath. “If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable… then you will find your joy in the Lord.”
By Jesus’ time, the Jewish practice of Sabbath was more burdensome than joyful. Jesus once asked his peers if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Many answered no, criticizing him for healing Saturday (Mark 3:4).
Jesus confronted this attitude. “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:15-16).
At the cross, Jesus established a new era defined by love rather than commands. God took on flesh in order to relieve us of religion defined by rules.
I wonder if Jesus’ goal was to abolish Sabbath rules or to restore the joy of resting in God’s love? Perhaps both, but the weight of his efforts point to the second goal. Jesus practiced Sabbath his entire life, and it was a joyful reprieve. If I want to be like Jesus, perhaps I need to adopt his life-giving practices.
Whether at the beach or at home, the Sabbath is a blessing. Not a legalistic obligation like Jesus’ critics, but a life-giving practice. It renews my mind. It refreshes my body. It restores my soul. It reminds me who is in charge.
Take a minute or a day to be quiet. Turn off the noise, breathe slowly and enjoy the presence of God. You will be amazed how slowing down for a season will calm your spirit and bless your life.
John Grant is a minister at College Hills Church of Christ in Lebanon. Preacher’s Corner features a new local preacher each month writing a column.