Learning How to Rest in the Sabbath

In early February, a few years ago, the Lord impressed upon myself and my accountability partner that we were to learn about and start practicing a weekly Sabbath.  At the time, I was running a CPA firm and he was an attorney with his own law firm.  The timing of this urging is significant.  Being a CPA in February meant that tax season had started and our busiest month of the year was right around the corner.  

I had my usual monologue with the Lord about how this wasn’t a good time.  How about we look at this at the end of April or in May?   You just don’t seem to understand . . . my general method of trying to convince the omniscient Creator of the universe that I knew better than Him.  Yep, it didn’t work.

My normal tax season schedule was to work thirteen day weeks (taking a day off every other Sunday) through February and into March, then as the crunch built to put in a 20 day week before the final push to April 15th.  I had done this for years.  It was hard but manageable, and it was what I knew.  The thought of taking every Sunday off didn’t seem achievable.

A Weekly Sabbath

With the help of my friend, we both committed to begin taking a day off every week.  Sometimes faith is simply being obedient to do what the Lord asks. Even when our logical brain says that it may not work out.  On the front end I had my doubts and questions.  

What I didn’t know was that I would clock more hours that tax season than any of the prior seasons.  The final seven weeks of tax season I worked in excess of 80 hours each week.  One week I somehow put in 94 hours in six days.  However, I was still able to honor the commitment to take a weekly Sabbath.

I would work Monday through Saturday.  We generally stepped back from extra responsibilities such as teaching Sunday School or the praise team during tax season, relieving us of extra responsibilities. So on Sunday I would get up and attend church service.  After church, I may or may not eat lunch before going to nap for the afternoon.  In the evening, I would get up for dinner then head to bed for the night. Basically sleeping much of the day before starting back to work early Monday morning.  I’m convinced that if I didn’t have that day to physically rest I would have crashed before the finish line of the season.

The Sabbath was made for us

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  God took time to rest from work (Gen 2:2-3).  Jesus also took time regularly to pull away from the crowds and work of ministry to rest and spend time with the Father (examples are in Matthew 14:23, Luke 5:16). This is in addition to being a Jew who would have practiced the weekly Sabbath.

What makes us think that we are able to go 24/7/365 without stopping regularly for rest?  Generally, pride is what drives us to attempt this pace.  Some of us have an inflated sense of being overly important.  We may be concerned that others won’t do it right, or at least not as well as we would do it.  It is also possible that we may be getting our identity from what we do or from others instead of who God says that we are.

We are instructed to complete all of our work in six days and rest on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11).  We like to post the ten commandments and say that they are all important. However, we often treat this fourth commandment as an optional consideration instead of necessary.  If you have so much work to complete that you can’t get it all done, then you are over committed. You need to determine what you should no longer be doing.  Just because there are a lot of good things doesn’t mean we are supposed to be doing all of them.

A Lord’s Rest

“There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9-11

It is important to recognize that our rest is not in the Sabbath, rather it is in God Himself.  If we are like the Israelites who left Egypt and proceeded to complain and test God with a spirit of disobedience, the Lord’s words, “They shall not enter my rest” will also apply to us.  In contrast, when we are living in obedience to His Word, we are able to enter into “God’s rest”.

A Sabbath rest does not have to be the same timeframe as the Jewish law dictates of sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  While we most often have Saturday as our Sabbath, it can vary based on the work schedule.  For many Christians, the Lord’s Day (Sunday) is a day of rest.  When engaged in ministry, Sunday is almost never a Sabbath.  For planning and ease of predictability, it works best to have a regularly scheduled Sabbath day.  

Honoring the Sabbath

What activities are allowed on the Sabbath?  Rest, eating, reading, worship (not leading others), watching something enjoyable, playing games, hanging out with family, enjoying nature (not strenuous exercise related), enjoying artistic or creative pursuits that are relaxing and restorative.

What activities are not allowed on the Sabbath?  Work, chores, strenuous exercise, things that are stressful or non-restful.

It is not uncommon for me to stay in my PJs all day on our Sabbath.  There are some weeks that I may just sit on the couch for an extended period of time staring at a fire or nothing at all.  The important thing is that I’m able to enter into the Lord’s physical, emotional, and spiritual rest.

Getting Started

I’ve heard many people say that it’s impossible for them to take a day every week to rest.  The reasons are as varied as the individuals.  If you look, you will be able to make a list of excuses for why you cannot practice a weekly Sabbath.  If you are willing to be obedient, you will be able to overcome every one of the reasons on your list.

You may need to start by setting aside four hours instead of an entire day.  Start somewhere and work up to the full Sabbath.  I have known several who, once making the commitment, have been able to enjoy a weekly Sabbath and, like us, can’t imagine going back to the old way without it.

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