A few months ago, I decided to try something new.
I had been reading a lot about people who practiced a proper day of Sabbath rest and was curious. In both my roles as a lecturer at Bible college and as Chief of staff in a not-for-profit organisation, COVID-19 had brought about a huge increase in my overall workload. I thought if I could experience a fraction of what these authors were sharing about how life giving they felt through practicing Sabbath rest, I’d be content.
This morning, as you read this devotional, ready to begin yet another work day, you might be asking how all this is relevant? If you’re completely content about your pace of life and your restful state as you go about your daily work, then read no further.
However, if you’re feeling somewhat tired now even after a night of rest and feel like you’re stuck in a hurried, constant state of busyness, I invite you to join me on this Sabbath experiment.
Firstly, why are we even talking about rest? In Genesis 1:31 – 2:3 it says,
“31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
It’s interesting to note that the very first “thing” that God calls holy is not indeed a thing, or a place (like the other religions), but instead it is time or a day.
So back to my Sabbath experiment – here was what I did.
Take a Sabbath, or in Hebrew the word Shabbat which means stop. I chose to start on Saturday sundown till Sunday night and really rest. To me that meant to stop, worship and delight in God. For a whole 24 hours. And when i stopped, I stopped thinking about work, doing work, planning for work. I also decided that some of the things I was doing on my iPhone could have been defined as work, so I decided that my phone was going to rest with me too.
In the midst of this process, taking a Sabbath meant I had to clearly define what was “work” for me. This meant thinking through and deciding which activities constituted rest and which ones were work. Living as a single, by myself, away from my family, I soon learned after a few weeks that I would have to be selective about who I would choose to spend that day of rest with.
What this experiment did was change the rhythm of my entire week, as it required careful planning to ensure I could rest properly for that seventh day. Whilst I am still refining my weekly schedule, I’m increasingly realising the truth of Walter Brueggemann’s words “People who keep Sabbath live all seven days differently.”
Whilst I always knew that I wouldn’t have a problem feasting during the Sabbath, or as John Mark Comer termed “pleasure stacking” (where you experience good thing after good thing as you would when celebrating a birthday), the ever growing tougher revelations for me included the following:
- I realised I didn’t know how to properly rest.
- I realised my addiction to my phone.
- I underestimated how much value, importance and significance I received via the sometimes relentless messages on social media and WhatsApp.
- I realised there was discipline required in not simply not doing work, but also not thinking about the never ending pile of to-dos that I had left incomplete at work.
Perhaps the toughest thing I found was to sit in silence and solitude. The silence seemed so deafening… as it was very confronting to deal with the thoughts that were swirling around in my mind. Through this process, I have learnt more about myself as I gave myself space to journal and process my feelings and bring them to God.
With my one day of rest each week, it’s caused me to learn how to slow my general pace of life for the rest of the week. I’m beginning to realise the wisdom of Dallas Willard, as he called busyness the enemy of spiritual life and urged us to ruthlessly eliminate hurry. As confronting as it was to admit, John Ortberg was right when he said that “Busyness isn’t just a disordered schedule, it’s a disordered heart”.
Yet, in the world today, busyness is something that we almost take pride in. We pack our schedules to the brim to make the most of every second of the day. I wonder how much this busyness illustrates to others how important we are and how able we are to do everything?
Perhaps as you consider joining me in this experiment, the real question is : What stops you from taking time out to rest? What are you afraid of?
God, thank you for creating the Sabbath and giving us the Sabbath. Thank you that you designed a day of rest when you created this universe and called it holy. Forgive us for the times we have played god and ran our lives thinking we can do it our way. Please help us to slow down, to be present and to stop the busyness and hurry of life, so we can hear you clearly and delight in your presence. In Jesus name, Amen.