This time last year, all of us thought there would be no way 2021 could be as crazy as 2020. Sure enough, it was. While I really do believe 2022 will be a year when we’ll see life start to stabilize a bit, COVID losing a lot of its stranglehold on the public psyche, I have no doubt this year will bring its own set of unique challenges.
The older I become, the more convinced I am that it’s not our calling as Christians to bemoan all the ways this year is worse than the last, or worse than the decade before, or how our days aren’t as good as “the old days,” whenever those were. It’s not our place as followers of Christ to remain huddled in our tents like the people of Israel, terrified, while the giants of our age bellow their empty challenges at our God and His people. Our calling is to come out of the tents, strap on our armor, step down into the valley and engage, realizing that we are the children of the living God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and that the gates of hell are not designed to withstand our energies and efforts in Jesus’ Name. It’s our place, as it has been in every time and culture, to determine by God’s grace how to be His prophetic voices, His hands and feet, in a world that desperately needs both right now.
This is the right perspective on life, a God-infused perspective. Yet, I cannot maintain this perspective and focus without some healthy spiritual practices, those that keep me pressed into the Lord, focused on the source of all my truth. And, the practice that has helped me perhaps more than any other over the past year is getting serious about the sabbath.
When I talk about the sabbath, I’m not necessarily talking about the Hebrew Sabbath, instituted by God in the Mosaic Law and practiced on Saturday, or even necessarily the Sunday day of rest practiced by Christians for centuries. I’m talking about the healthy rhythms of rest the Lord established for His people since the beginning of time, and which I’ve been so very bad about recognizing.
As Westerners, we are, on the whole, a sabbath-less people. Whereas our culture doesn’t ultimately reward excessive eating, or drinking, or spending, or many other obsessions, it does reward excessive work- often with compliments, promotions, and bonuses. When I was a young lawyer, there was a kind of machismo associated with pulling all-nighters, a warped sense that this showed dedication to the law firm (regardless of the fact that none of our minds were operating optimally and we were largely just wasting time and our client’s money after 3 a.m.). This kind of mindset runs throughout our lives and culture, however. We even baptize it in holiness by calling it a “Protestant work ethic.”
Digital technology, social media, and productivity software largely betrayed the promises of efficiency, and now shackle us to our work at all hours of the day, night, and weekends. It’s extremely difficult to get off the grid, and we feel guilty when we do. Even on the weekend, we often fill our days with exhausting projects around the house, activity that often doesn’t bring us joy or rest, just exchanging one type of work for another. As a result, we live stressed out, anxious, frenetic lives. After all, the word “restless” means “rest-less.”
We feel out of sorts because this isn’t the way we were created to live. It’s not our factory default, our original wiring, the image of God made manifest in us. Sabbath rest wasn’t an afterthought to God, something He devised thousands of years after He made man, carving it for the first time on a tablet on Sinai. In Genesis 2, at the very beginning of creation and after making all things, God rested. Not because He was tired, but to establish a pattern of rest for us, His image bearers. God intended for us to work, and work hard, but for rest to also be a part of our regular pattern of living. Observing sabbath rest was intended to be a life-giving practice that taught us how to live with God and each other.
Christ fulfilled the Law in all its fullness, and in Him we find our rest. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross freed us from looking to the Law, the commandments as our source of righteousness, our right relationship with God. Christ’s blood did that for us, and He has restored us once and for all. But, God’s instructions for living are still valid, still insight into the mind and heart of God, still invitations to right living, to the blessings that come with being in right relationship with God and with others. So, the answer to the question, “will God not approve of me or will I not be saved if I don’t practice sabbath rest?” is of course not. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you will still be saved if you steal, commit adultery, or covet other’s stuff. But, all of these things will ultimately bring you and others around you serious harm, and following them bring a blessing.
And, that’s the thing. Sabbath rest isn’t one more thing you have to do, another box to check or another chore God has given you. It is a gift, a blessing, one day a week or a regular day (whenever that is in the rhythm of your life) to rest, to engage in practices that replenish your soul, that restore your relationship with the Lord and with those you love. This rest also allows you to stop long enough to realize that all your work, all your striving, no matter how good it is or how many people you help, won’t add a day to your life, make you any more significant, or cause God to love you any more than He already does right in this very minute, because of who you are in Christ. Finally, while our rest is in Christ, sabbath rest also allows us to look forward to a day when in Christ all things will be restored and made new. Doesn’t that sound pretty good in this insanely-paced world in which we live?
I know you may feel like there’s no way you can do that, like you have too many things on your plate to possibly accomplish a true day of sabbath rest. The Lord convicted me that this was important when I was heading up the board of two of the largest Christian school organizations in the world, serving on the board of another Texas private school advocacy organization, acting as an elder in my church, raising my family, and running a school during COVID. I understand the feeling. But, what God taught me is that if I would trust Him and His promise by following the patterns He had created for me, using that time to truly rest in Him, He would bless me not only by giving me sweet rest, but making me wiser, sharper, more attuned to Him, and more discerning as to what needed to be done (and what really didn’t) during the other six days of the week.
Sunday is my typical rest day. I try to get all my “honey-do’s,” school work, around-the-house chores and other stuff done on Saturday, so Sunday truly can be about rest. I stay off of email and only text or call my closest friends and family. We don’t have school activities on Sunday, and we have worked hard to have a rule for staff not to email each other on that day. I go to church, pray, read my Bible, eat with my family, rest, read, walk my dog, exercise, perhaps have lunch or dinner with friends or watch a football game. And, in that rest, Jesus reminds me that He is Lord and I am not, and it is such a sweet, awesome reminder that restores my sanity and peace.
At first, I felt restless, like I should be doing something more-I had to kind of detox from busyness. And, I’m not a perfect rest-er. I’m a run-and-gun guy, and rest is not my nature. Some weeks I just flat-out miss it, and I have to fall upon God’s grace, and that’s okay, because it’s not about being made right with Him but feeling right within my soul. Despite all my stuttering attempts, it has been a wonderful, restorative practice for me and for my family, and if you haven’t already, I pray that in some way that works for you, you’ll try sabbath rest if you aren’t already. I believe God designed it to be a real game-changer in our hyper-paced lives: letting the Lord be Lord of your sabbath.
If you want to read more on sabbath rest, I recommend “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” by John Mark Comer, and “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” by Peter Scazzero. If you’re like me, you could use a little instruction in rest, and these are really good resources.