“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.

“Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

~ Exodus 20:8-11

Work has always been a part of the human equation. In all accounts, we have been created to work. In Genesis 2:15-20, the first command God gives Adam is to work the garden and name all the animals. Imagine that, having to name all the animals! Naming your new dog is a lot of work, and naming your kids takes months of work and upwards of 50 vetoes, so can you imagine naming all the animals? This job probably took him months, if not years to finish!

It’s actually impressive Adam didn’t get lazy, really. I mean, it would have been easy for Adam to have named it a tree rat instead of a squirrel or called it a fart squirrel instead of a skunk. Granted, naming the slowest creature alive a sloth is a little on point, but this was a big job, and Adam did it quite well!

Naming the animals was meant to help Adam find a helpmate, but after going through every created being alive, no one was suitable. So, God made Eve. It is interesting to note that Eve’s primary, God-given role was not first social or sexual in nature, but vocational. She was created to work alongside Adam, to work with him.

Work is good. It was created by God. Sadly, the Fall – like it did with everything – made it cursed. Work is still necessary, but now it has become more of a task. For many of us, work lands on a spectrum of enjoyment. On the one end of the spectrum, you have those who detest work and cannot think of a more arduous part of their lives. On the other end, you have those who live to work and whose identities are wrapped up in their job titles. While either end of the spectrum is an unhealthy place to be, most land somewhere in between.

The truth is, work is something we are created to do. However, work is also something we are called to rest from once every seven days. Sabbath rest is a clear command in the Bible, and not just here in Exodus 20, but in Leviticus 26, Ezekiel 20, Isaiah 58, Mark 2, Hebrews 4, as well as other passages throughout the Bible, too.

I once read a story about an Elder who approached his pastor. The Elder knew full well that Sunday was not a Sabbath day or rest for his Pastor, and so he asked him, “What day do you take as a Sabbath?”

“I don’t actually take a day off,” the Pastor replied, a little proudly.

The Elder pressed him and asked, “Why not?”

“The devil doesn’t take a day off, so nor do I.” the Pastor replied.

The Elder took a beat, leaned in a little closer, and said, “Why is the devil your rubric, here? Shouldn’t God be your example?”

Sabbath rest is ordained, and even practiced, by God. No matter our profession, job title, or paygrade, it is something we are all called to do. But what is Sabbath rest, and how do we go about practicing it? Mark Buchanan, in his book The Rest of God, sums up Sabbath rest as this:

Sabbath rest is ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life.

We practice Sabbath by ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life. In light of this, the questions for us all are these:

   1) In my day-to-day, what is necessary?
   2) What gives me life?

In our culture, there are two things that limit us from practicing Sabbath rest: Legalism and Busyness.

Legalism is the reduction of life to mere technicalities and it takes away from the purpose of Sabbath – something the Pharisees were called out for numerous times in the gospels (See Matthew 12, Mark 5, Luke 13, John 5, etc.). Legalism becomes evident when we put too many rules in place to try to force us to rest. We end up over-policing our lives and removing avenues God has created for us to rest well! We say we cannot ‘do this’ or ‘go here,’ all in the name of rest, but by placing these limitations on our lives, we may be limiting the areas of life God uses to bring us the rest we need.

A gardener by trade probably should not weed their garden on the Sabbath. A janitor by trade should not clean their house. But a gardener may find tranquility in the cleaning of their house, and a janitor serenity in their garden.

The point is, rest looks different for everyone. For some, building, puzzling, going for coffee with friends, enjoying a bike ride, or reading a book, brings them life! For others, any of those things could be a necessary part of their day-to-day, and therefore not life-giving. Ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life is not something we can qualify with regulations.

The other challenge to practicing Sabbath rest is busyness.

Remember 6 weeks ago, when we could still see each other? Those were good times. I can’t wait to see people again, look at them in their actual eyes, and ask “How are you?” After this pandemic is over, I wonder if people will answer that question the same way. Because, for as long as I can remember, whenever I asked someone how they were, the answer everyone would give was ‘busy.’ People were always busy. The problem is, if you are always busy, are you ever really? Seems to me if you are always busy, then you aren’t busy at all. You are normal. Being busy is relative to other times of life when you are not busy. But if you are always busy, I’m sorry, you’re not busy at all – that’s just the normal life you’ve just chosen for yourself.

Before this pandemic hit, busyness cost many people a chance at Sabbath rest. In their minds, sports still needed playing, work still needed doing, to-do lists were still full, Saturday’s chores were not quite finished, and doing what was necessary bled into our Sabbath time. Busyness cannot be a reason to avoid Sabbath rest. If you do not have time to finish all your week’s tasks in 6 days, you need to reduce the number of tasks you do.

If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us is that slowing down life actually has its perks. Many are loving the slower pace to life. Granted, we miss many people we love seeing regularly, but this new pace we love. When this is all over – whenever that will be – if we go right back into a life where the answer to ‘how are you’ is always ‘busy,’ than all of this isolation we’ve just gone through will be for naught.

This is a time we have been given to reprioritize our lives, so when we are able to go back to normal, it won’t be the busy normal we once knew. Let us make a new normal. A slower normal. A normal we can accomplish in 6 days, with more meals together, more time for others, and less busyness everywhere else. Let this new normal be a time where, one day a week, we can cease from doing what is necessary and embrace that which brings us life.

And may we always remember, that nothing has given us more life than God our Loving Father and our Faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Questions to Ponder:

1) What would it mean for you to cease from what is necessary?

2) What does it look like for you to embrace what gives you life?

3) How will Sabbath rest be included in your new normal going forward?