When was the last time that an entire day stretched before you with no obligations on your calendar, no to-do list to be managed, no particular place you had to be? When was the last time you awoke with a sense of childlike expectation about the unpredictable adventure this day might hold?
If your experience is anything like mine, I’m guessing that it might be difficult to pinpoint such a day in your recent memory. It seems that nearly every waking moment is filled with tasks to perform, projects to complete and problems to solve. Regardless of whether I have a positive or disparaging outlook on these responsibilities, one unexpected interruption can threaten my intricately planned agenda.
I have recently pondered: Could our frantic pace of life be traced to a culture that has subtly conditioned us to believe that the busier we are, the more pleasing we are to God? Or, that doing more demonstrates a deeper commitment to loving God? While I never consciously adopted this as a criterion for spiritual success, my harried lifestyle betrayed me.
In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor observes, “As much as most of us complain about having too much to do, we harbor some pride that we are in such demand … since being busy is how our culture measures worth.” However, God’s Word does not appear to corroborate this particular designation of worth. In fact, Scripture implies that some facets of God are only discovered through stillness:
Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10).
Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength (Isa. 40:31)
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul (Ps. 23:2–3).
Thankfully, in his infinite wisdom, God anticipated humankind’s need for stillness and provided an antidote for life’s demanding pace in the Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work (Ex. 20:8).
After each of the six days of creation, God said that it was good. But when God rested from his work on the seventh day, he pronounced it holy. Have you ever thought of limiting your work and taking the time to rest as a holy act? Or, do you find yourself taking on even more in the pursuit of spiritual fruitfulness and find the idea of a weekly Sabbath more and more elusive?
I think that some confusion about Sabbath may be a result of the restrictive legalism associated with the way it was instituted in previous generations. Or, the belief that filling up a weekend with church activities and responsibilities fulfills the Sabbath command. Yet, in Mark 2:27, Jesus made an intriguing comment to the Pharisees that would seem to contradict both of these misperceptions: “The Sabbath was made to serve us, we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.” Obviously, Jesus viewed the Sabbath as something intended by God for our good.
Until recently, I viewed Sabbath as an optional break that I might be entitled to once I completed all my tasks and fulfilled all my obligations. Unfortunately, my to-do list constantly expanded to encompass the infinite demands that came my way, so Sabbath remained a distant prospect.
However, once I committed to keeping the Sabbath regardless of my busy schedule, I found that God would help me accomplish what was necessary within the rhythm of the six days allotted for work. I also discovered that God does not evaluate my relationship with him by the number of entries on my to-do list.
So, as I accept his invitation to enter into a weekly experience of Sabbath rest, something deep within me undergoes a palpable shift. My eyes are opened to beauty that I would otherwise have missed; my ears are more attentive to hear his still, small voice. Creating this sacred space opens the door for God to invade my life in unpredictable ways; and most importantly, my weary soul is replenished.
Now, when Sabbath is approaching, I experience a mounting anticipation that sustains me through a particularly hectic week. When my Sabbath is completed, I feel energized to enter the upcoming week with renewed perspective and hope. Far from being a legalistic observance, this weekly time of resting with God has become an indispensable means of rejuvenating both body and soul.