Sabbath Resources By Zach Zienka
Ah. The weekend. What an incredible invention! You can genuinely thank God for that idea.
Taking a day off from work and intentionally resting has not always been the normal expectation for the working class. Go way back to the ancient times and you have this one little group of Israelites taking one day off each week. Everyone else thought they were lazy.
One of the key commandments for the covenantal community of God was following the Sabbath. They were to take the same rhythm of God; work six days and rest on the seventh.
God deemed this special day as holy and his people were to do the same. In the Exodus story, God rescued his people from slavery and transformed their identity from overworked slaves to chosen people of the creator God. In a world dominated by laboring for the gods, Israel’s God had given them a path to recharge and rejuvenate weekly.
Unfortunately, what was meant to be liberating became exhausting in strict adherence. The Sabbath was an important identity marker for being in God’s family and thus staunch practice was pushed to demonstrate faithfulness to God. But the added regulations turned a day of rest into an anxious day filled with fear of breaking the Sabbath.
And then Jesus shows up and starts doing things differently on that weekly, holy day. Jesus seems to show there is more to Sabbath than anxiously avoiding work. Now, Jesus certainly demonstrates a regular withdrawal from the chaos for moments of rest, prayer and solitude (Luke 5:16). A perfect example of classic Sabbath. Yet Jesus constantly antagonized the Pharisees with his lax following of Sabbath relaxation. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is shown doing work on the Sabbath and refusing to repent when the Pharisees got miffed. Check out this observation by Old Testament scholar John Walton:
“When Jesus talks about the Sabbath, he makes statements that seem unrelated to rest if we think of it in terms of relaxation. In Matthew 12:8, He is the Lord of the Sabbath. When we realize that the Sabbath has to do with participating in God’s ordered system (rather than promoting our own activities as those that bring us order), we can understand how Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Throughout his controversies with the Pharisees, Jesus insisted that it was never a violation of the Sabbath to do the work of God on that day. Indeed, he noted that God is continually working. The Sabbath is most truly honored when we participate in the work of God. The work we desist from is that which represents our own attempts to bring our own order to our lives. It is to resist our self-interest, our self-sufficiency and our sense of self-reliance.”
-John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve
I think Dr. Walton absolutely nails this point. Jesus’ life demonstrates a following of Sabbath which seems to have a greater category than what not to do on that holy day. Jesus is not rebelling against Sabbath, He is fully embracing a truer following of Sabbath. Sabbath, as John Walton notes, is also practiced in our participation in and recognition of God’s work.
So while Paul and the other New Testament authors do not seem to push the old covenant practice of Sabbath, every conversation about living in God’s kingdom is a Sabbath conversation. Every conversation about being made to do good, God-reflecting works through Christ is a Sabbath conversation. And every conversation about trusting in and finding rest in Jesus is a Sabbath conversation.
So then, how do we Sabbath like Jesus?
Well, the life of a follower of Jesus is a cycle of rest, restorative work, and recognizing Jesus as King. It is recognizing that you are finite, that you cannot do it all and need rest found in Jesus. Some ways you might do this could be:
- Intentionally set aside a day or part of a day to rest. Your Sabbath rest is not a time to “catch-up” or “get ahead”. Part of Sabbath wisdom is working so that on your day of rest you truly have nothing in the back of your mind. The Israelites would cook their food and prepare ahead of time so that none of that would be necessary for the Sabbath. For me, there is nothing more energy-evaporating than errands. I loathe the grocery store or wandering around Target on the weekend. So I work to get all of that done in the week so that my Saturday is truly restful. A proper Sabbath might require a reworking of your week but in doing so, you experience true rest on your Sabbath day.
- Don’t let work pass through your door. If Sabbath is God’s gift of rest to us then email and our phones might be Satan’s trojan horse to disrupt this gift. Our new ability to be reached at any moment can be wonderful but also devastating. Make a plan to turn off emails, ignore the phone call and not let your home become your second office. Letting go of that is to recognize that your work is not holding the world together. That is always true and should be freeing. In doing so, you create the mini-sabbaths we all need each day.
- Discover your relaxation zone. Each of us finds rest in different ways. A walk on the beach might be heaven for some and unwanted exercise for others. Write out a list of the things you enjoy and feel rejuvenated by and seek those things out on Sabbath. Maybe if you are a family, you have each member do this and see what overlapping ones you all have so that the entire family can Sabbath together. Also recognize that individuals are different and might need a little space alone to relax for a time.
- Release control. I know that for many people, the conversation of Sabbath is a refreshing reminder and a discipline to anticipate. For others, Sabbath is stressful and an anxious endeavor. It might be helpful to write down the things you feel like you cannot let go of your control over. Bring this before God in prayer and see what small steps you might need to take. Maybe you turn your email off for just Saturday to start training yourself to not respond. Maybe you grocery shop during the week so you do not have to think about it on Sunday. Try making little changes at first.
- Participate in God’s work. This is NOT me saying that you need to use your one day of rest to go volunteer every week. It is a reminder that the work you do when liberating others of their burden is to both experience and gift Sabbath. The restorative work and obstacle-removing you do among your family, work and community is Sabbath activation. This is the husband who cooks dinner each night so that his graduate-student wife can study. It is the volunteer who watches over the kids so the parents can enjoy the Sunday service freely. It is the church down the street pulling resources together to get meals to a hurting family. Sabbath is a gift we are called to receive and give.
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
How to Unhurry Digital Workbook by John Mark Comer
Formed in Scarcity and Sabbath by Richard Dalstrom
Receiving the Day by Dorothy Bass
The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel
Subversive Sabbath by AJ Swoboda
Sabbath Theme Video by BibleProject
Sabbath Podcast Series by BibleProject