My daughter is almost fourteen months old. It’s amazing to observe how rapidly she’s learning. One of her recent interests is stacking. She stacks blocks, cups, toy cars, pots and pans, anything that she can lift! But at fourteen months old, she often learns the hard way that certain items don’t stack well, or that it’s difficult to balance the third or fourth item you’re placing on top.
This is how we often approach “the balanced life.” We take the different pieces of life and try to stack them, to order them in such a way that they stay at rest, no matter how unstable or wobbly the stack becomes. But we also know that this doesn’t always work too well. Life’s pieces are different shapes and sizes that don’t fit together, and it makes our stack very precarious. Sometimes it comes crashing down.
We need the Sabbath. And by Sabbath we don’t just mean a weekly observance, but a daily mindset. Mindful of the Sabbath, we remember that all of life’s different elements are to be seen through the lens of God’s gracious provision and calling. It’s a reminder that perhaps all the different pieces we’re trying to stack are not as significant as we think, that some of them can be removed from the pile, and that all of them can be entrusted to God. In other words, Sabbath is not just about taking a day off; it’s about resting in the sure knowledge that all of our days belong to God.
When God rests on the seventh day of creation, it’s not because God is tired. God’s “rest” is God’s way of putting a stamp of approval on creation, of expressing satisfaction, of declaring the goodness of all that had been created. Perhaps it is therefore not the creation of humankind that is the climax of creation, but the Sabbath rest. Such a view lends itself well to the exceptional role of Sabbath-keeping throughout the scriptures. Sabbath-keeping is the climactic act of worship in the tabernacle (Ex 25), the first act of renewal after the golden calf incident (Ex 35), a perpetual sign of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people (Ex 32, Ez 20), and a foretaste of God’s eternal salvation in Christ (Heb 4). Our Sabbath keeping is a witness to the faithfulness of God, the goodness of creation, and the hope of our salvation in Christ.1
“The Sabbath was made for man,” Jesus says. In other words, it’s for our good! Weekly Sabbath keeping and daily Sabbath mindfulness is God’s way of affording us the freedom of trusting in divine provision in every moment. It’s a habitual practice that we undertake to keep our souls fit, able to endure the anxiety, busyness, and chaos of the world around us. Marva Dawn writes,
“Sabbath ceasing [means] to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and, finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all. In all these dimensions we will recognize the great healing that can take place in our lives when we get into the rhythm of setting aside every seventh day all our efforts to provide for ourselves and make our way in the world. A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we learn to let God take care of us – not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.”2
Most pastors struggle to find one full day of rest, and perhaps feel that they simply don’t have a Sabbath whatsoever. But we may be more willing to prioritize that Sabbath day in our schedule if we remember that it’s not ultimately for the purpose of having a day off; it’s for the purpose of learning a Sabbath mindset, resting in the grace and mercy of God at all times, and providing a witness to the world of God’s faithfulness to creation.
1. What steps can you take to establish a weekly and daily rhythm of Sabbath? What elements of life might you need to drop or say no to?
2. Is there anything in your life that is keeping you unbalanced because you’re unwilling to let go of control and hand it over to God?
3. In what ways can you encourage a daily Sabbath mindset among people in your congregation?
1In this paragraph I am indebted to insights offered by Scott Hafemann, The God of Promise and the Life of Faith (Crossway, 2001), 44-49.
2Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Eerdmans, 1989), 3-4.