Sabbath by Rocky Fleming
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV)
And he (Jesus) said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 (ESV). What was the point Jesus was making about the Sabbath in the passage in Mark, and why was it needed? It was needed because the religious leaders at the time had turned the Sabbath into a legalistic and policed requirement of the people. They had taken the simple words given in the Commandments and elaborated and turned them into legalistic rules of practices and prohibitions, and in doing so the heart and meaning of the Shabbat was lost. Jesus returned its understanding to the original purpose. Maybe we need to do the same?
I asked some of our staff today if they practice Sabbath. The truthful answer was no, for honestly, with children and an active ministry, there is little time to do so. I asked them what their concept of Sabbath is, and heard what they don’t do rather than finding what is missing. I could tell the traditional practice that is built around some sort of religious structure or tradition was what they were seeing most missing, and if they couldn’t do those things, they couldn’t practice Sabbath. I can see that is in essence this was the argument the Pharisees were making against Jesus and His disciples. They were breaking tradition.
I think tradition is sometimes wonderful. But I think the heart of things can still be missing in a tradition, if it's more about the tradition than why the tradition was started. Concerning the Sabbath, I have tried to think and pray through those good things that need to be practiced above all, and if they fall into a traditional structure, then the heart is there. But I also feel that they can be practiced in a non-traditional structure and it still be Sabbath. Here are the things that I think are the heart of the practice of Sabbath that both traditional and non-traditional should include:
Retreat- This is a word often used in combat situations. It means to withdraw, pull back, or fall back. It is a strategy to leave the busy battleground and to revisit it later better prepared. With Sabbath we are to experience a temporary retreat from the busy grind we live with. Pull away a while to be with Jesus.
Rest- Rest is needed within a retreat, otherwise emotions, responsibilities, and burdens continue to be carried, and a retreat does no good. A temporary rest for our bodies, our busy thoughts, and our deadlines is a strategy God uses for our physical, mental and spiritual health. Sabbath should always include rest.
Release- Release is required to receive the rest we need from our burdens. It is to allow a certain period of time to not think or plan something. It is to take a limited duration away from those concerns, by releasing them to God’s care and plans. Sabbath is a time that we are given permission by God to release our concerns to Him.
Receive- After we rest and release our burdens to God, we will receive the peace God wants us to have. Too often our busyness pushes out the sacred rhythm of grace, and we miss the relaxed nurturing that a true Sabbath can give us. It is not a certain structure that nurtures our soul or gives a time of restoration. It is to be in close proximity with our Good Shepherd so He can love on us and remind us that we are His beloved.
Restore- Restore means to bring back. With the economy of life there are some things that give and take away from us every day. The greatest and most damaging extraction from our soul is our connection with our “First Love.” Jesus is our First Love. He loved us first and we forget that He initiated our relationship with Him. We will always be out of sorts with life if we do not take time to keep our love connection with Him healthy. A Sabbath should always restore and strengthen this connection.
Reorient- We live in a constantly changing and challenging world. Scripture tells us in 1 John 2:15 that if we are oriented (love) toward the world, then we are not oriented (love) toward God. Sabbath offers a special time to allow God to reorient our perspective and heart back to Him. The world competes against this. But Jesus battles for it. In Sabbath we give Him the advantage.
Reentry- Sabbath prepares us for reentry into the world and to the rest of our week. We are refreshed and made ready to carry out the plans and purpose that God has for us. God said to work six days and rest one. Sabbath prepares the way for the days ahead.
I have discovered that the heart of Sabbath can be lived out in any circumstance. However, with me, I must turn off the depressing news, turn my TV off, minimize those who can get in touch with me by phone and in person. It is to reserve a sacred time to simply enjoy my Savior with reading, walking or biking, napping and releasing the burdens that spin in my mind every day but then. It is God’s permission to not think about them. It does not follow a traditional program, though it could if one wanted to, for it is about the heart of Sabbath. The best way to describe my Sabbath is a Sacred Rhythm and Cadence with Jesus, as we share the day. I believe it is the heart of Sabbath for all of God’s children with any manner you practice it.