Sabbath Basics

If you’ve been around here long, you know God’s taught me a lot about Sabbath over the last 5 years. 

I’ve got a chapter in The Finishing School about it, an email series to help entrepreneurs embrace it, and a hashtag to remind us of it. But I realized, I never wrote a simple blog post on the basics of it! 

So, though this post is long overdue, I hope it will encourage you if you’ve never really understood what the “Sabbath” is OR just need a mighty refresher.

So here are 9 things the Sabbath is and 5 things the Sabbath is not. 

Sabbath IS:

1. A GIFT OF AND COMMAND TO REST

The root word, Shabbat, where Sabbath is derived, means “to cease, to end, to rest.”

I think we tend to see Sabbath as either a nice idea or gift for those who can make it happen or something we’re forced to do for the sake of God. We have to manage the tension that it is both a complete gift that God invites us to experience and a command to follow even when it’s hard.

2. AN OPPORTUNITY TO TRUST

Sabbath is not just a day of rest, but a day of trust. Paul David Tripp says, in his book Awe, “God has called me to work, but he has promised to provide…When the grandeur of God is not in our eyes and filling our hearts, we will live as if it is all up to us, always working more and trying harder.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Almost three years ago, I felt convicted to “close” our online shop each week. Every Sunday morning, when I switch the shop to closed, it’s a statement of faith that we trust God to do what He wants to do with Val Marie Paper in 310ish days instead of demanding all 365. 

3. A DAY TO DELIGHT

Pastor John Starke points out how God obviously could have created everything in one day but instead made space to delight in what he had made. More time in God’s presence pondering His goodness, thanking Him for creation instead of focusing on things of this world WILL indeed delight our hearts. 

4. A CHANCE TO WORSHIP

When we’re moving at the world’s pace each day, it’s difficult to live in awe of God. We’ve got to slow down and look for it. Sabbath days provide a rhythm of looking up from the hustle and seeing every facet of wonder in front of us.

Awe, by @pauldavidtripp: “In beautiful grace, God has carved out a day for us to stop, look, listen, consider, and worship once again. He invited us to remember the awe that brought us to conviction, living faith, gospel hope, and heart and life transformation.”

5. A DAY TO PREPARE FOR

I’ll have a slight rebuttal for this further in this post, but we might need to prepare for the Sabbath in some ways. The day is to be set apart and that requires intentionality. The Israelites gathered two days worth of manna to prepare for the Sabbath. Those that didn’t, walked out to find no manna on the Sabbath. Don’t go crazy and make the longest list ever of what you have to do, just work on the bare essentials that will ready your house and your heart for a different posture.

6. A RHYTHM TO RESET/REORIENT

Sabbath serves as a weekly chance to reorient our hearts to a more heavenly perspective. It’s easy to get distracted by the world so a weekly habit of coming back to the Lord in this way is so powerful to us staying near to God. 

In The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan says “Sabbath keeping is more than time management. It is a fresh orientation to time, where we think with holy imagination about how the arc of our moments and hours and days intersects with eternity.” He also says people who practice this mindset “become God’s sages: those calm, unhurried people who live in each moment fully, savoring simple things, celebrating small epiphanies, unafraid of life’s inevitable surprises and reverses, adaptive to change yet not chasing after it.” I find it crazy that for so long I tried to avoid it, like it was a punishment to not get to work 7 days a week. Now I sit and can do nothing “productive” guilt-free and without that nagging feeling that I should be doing something. And instead, ponder passages far longer than I normally do and linger in God’s presence. 

Buchanan also says, “What makes Sabbath time – whether a day or a year, an afternoon or a week, a month or a moment – different from all other time? Simple: a shift in her thinking, and altering of her attitudes… and it’s not a shift in circumstances – you still have the same job tomorrow, the same problems with your aging parents or wayward children, the same battle looming in the church. But you make a deliberate choice to shift point of view, to come at your circumstances from a fresh angle and with greater depth of field. …The essence of a Sabbath heart: paying attention. It is being fully present, wholly awake, in each moment.”

7. A FEAST TO SAVOR

Sabbath days don’t just mean quiet and still. The more I read about Sabbath, the more I see feasting and celebration with family and friends is always a part. 

John Starke says, “The Sabbath is a remembrance of the Garden and a rehearsal of the new creation–of where we feasted with God in the cool of the day and of where we will feast with him again in the new world.” 

8. A RECOGNITION OF OUR LIMITS

You’d be surprised how much we forget we’re human. We pile on unreasonable to-do’s and try to do more than we were ever designed to do.

John Mark Comer in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry says, “Desire is infinite. It has no limit. No point at which it’s ever satisfied. The problem is, we are finite; we have all sorts of limits, remember? So the result is restlessness.”

One day a week we get to remember our limits. And it doesn’t have to be painful. It can be a chance to leave behind the restlessness of more and accept our limits and feel satisfied. 

9. A DECISION TO MAKE 

We personally must decide if we will embrace Sabbath or not and it will come with blessings or consequences. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But Scripture is pretty clear. Though it feels very archaic and something reserved for those Israelites, it’s vitally important for us too. 

Isaiah 58:13-14 says:

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;

if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases part by saying, “If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’ making money, running here and there—Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!”

There lies our choice, business as usual, or a set-apart day.

Sabbath is NOT:

1. A REWARD FOR FINISHING 

I told you I had a rebuttal for #5. I want to make everything nice and tidy before I enjoy a Sabbath day of rest but this challenges me to accept the gift and stop trying to work so hard for something that is a gift. You didn’t do anything to earn it so you can’t do anything to lose it either. 

The rest of God – the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing – is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s a sheer gift. It’s a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. – Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God

2. AN INTRUDER TO YOUR LIFE

John Starke says in The Possibility of Prayer, “God is giving us the biblical and theological justification to have the best day of the year every week, and we shrug. It turns out that if Sabbath rest is not already part of our lives, then it seems like an intruder. … If we want to know whether our work has become the god of our lives, we can ask ourselves: Have our days of rest become obstacles instead of joys?”

Yikes, right? If Sabbath feels like it’s in our way, we’re missing the point. 

In another sense, it’s actually not an intruder and doesn’t demand the day. 

Mark Buchanan says, in The Rest of God, “Sleep eventually waylays all fugitives. It catches you and has its way with you. Sabbath won’t do that. Resisted, it backs off…It’s easy, in other words, to spend most of your life breaking Sabbath and never figure out that this is part of the reason your world’s unsatisfying, your friendships patchy, your leisure threadbare, your vacations exhausting.” 

Sabbath doesn’t force its way in but when we don’t accept that gift from God, we suffer. We have to be vigilant in choosing to rest just one day a week. I promise there is fruit when we do.

3. A GOOD IDEA FOR EVERYONE BUT US

We think we’re the exception, the one for whom busyness will translate into fruitfulness. – Mark Buchanan, “The Rest of God

Y’all, this was me literally every Sabbath day. Somehow I attempted to convince myself that the work I need to do is more important than what God is asking me to do, or that He somehow needs my help. Or I just undervalue the rest and overvalue the work I do.

Our resistance to resting one day a week is PRIDE. This one stings. I don’t like that word and I certainly don’t want it used to describe me. 

Sure, if we really want to fight this sentiment, we can think of some exceptions. But if every week is turning into an “exception week”, then it’s time to get honest with ourselves. Learning how to rest has oddly humbled me. It rubs against every instinct I have and calls me to lay down my thoughts and plans and pick up rest and trust.

4. ACCEPTED BY THE WORLD

If we accept the world’s definition of work and rest, we’d prioritize productivity and we’d see Sunday as a day to get just a little more done. Did you know, in 1930, a famous economist predicted all the coming technology would result in 15 hour work weeks? John Maynard Keynes said, “by producing more with less, all of our needs would be met through less work, freeing up more time for leisure.” 

This fascinates me. This isn’t even a thought, that we’d stop early knowing we accomplished the original goal. Instead, we keep moving the line of satisfaction. 

Sabbath says, “What I have is enough.” 

5. A BUNCH OF RULES TO GET SIDETRACKED BY 

Does it have to be Sundays? Can I not do ANY work? What if my kid spills milk all over the place?? The Pharisees got hung up on questions around the Sabbath too and Jesus challenged them and healed anyway. If we’re just trying to follow a bunch of rules for the sake of following rules, we’re missing out on what God has for us in it. Mark 2:27 says “And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’” I’d paraphrase that by saying “don’t try to do me a favor by keeping the Sabbath. It’s for you, and if you’re doing it for the sake of rules you’re missing the point.”

These are just some basic principles I’ve learned, but I encourage you to do your own study! Here are some tools for diving deeper:

What do you love most about your Sabbath days? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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