You’re tired, the kind you feel pressing on your soul and your body. You study and attend classes and work part-time and show up for friends and call your mom – the cycle never ends. You wipe little faces and wrestle on tiny shoes and count small fingers and slather peanut butter and strawberry jelly onto bread for the umpteenth time. The cycle never ends. You love your job, and you throw your heart into your work because you’re serving God first, project after project after project. The cycle never ends.
These are all good things, so why are they making you miserable?
If you’re like many Christians, you’ll pray for God to make you less selfish, then you’ll make a gratitude list, head to the library and borrow a book on productivity, listen to a podcast on mindfulness practices, and download a Bible study on perseverance.
Your “good Christian” activities give you a burst of encouragement. You’re doing something about your problems! But a few days later, you feel the weight of upholding your life pressing down on you again. You’re tired. You want to drop the tough class, lay in bed all day, quit your job, and live off-grid. The cycle never ends.
But what if you didn’t need God to fix you or to adopt a self-help plan? What if you need…a day off?
Break the cycle with Sabbath. God offers you a day off every week. He called that day Sabbath, and it’s your key to peace and purpose.
But if you doubt that Sabbath-keeping can bring you peace and purpose, then you may be confused by subtle but prevalent myths about Sabbath-keeping.
In this article, you’ll discover three myths of Sabbath rest and learn a simple four-part framework on how to observe Sabbath God’s way.
(Note: In this article, it is assumed that you can rest on any day of the week you choose. Jews traditionally observed Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening; Christians typically keep Sabbath on Sunday. Choose whatever day of the week serves you.)
Myth 1: Sabbath rest’s purpose is to prepare you for work, and Sabbath’s primary activity is physical rest.
‘On the tenth [day] of this seventh month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall afflict your souls; you shall not do any work.’ Numbers 29:7 NKJV
If you believe Sabbath’s purpose is to prepare you for more work, then you’ll wake up on Monday with a refreshed body but a weary soul. Many Christians unknowingly accept the myth of rest-so-you-can-work as truth because of American culture’s focus on productivity and the heritage of the “Puritan work ethic”.
In God’s economy, however, physical work does not rule our lives.
Successful Sabbath-keeping compels us to exchange the myth of rest-for-work for the truth of Sabbath-keeping as soul-care time.
In the Bible, Sabbath days, as well as many feasts and convocations, required a cessation from work. The break from routine work wasn’t intended to prepare the Israelites to resume their chores with vigor, but to create physical time and mental space to devote themselves to spiritual work. The Feast of Tabernacles pulled the Israelites away from their fields and flocks to celebrate God’s provision for them each year. Similarly, the Day of Atonement was a time to afflict their souls, enjoining the people to repent of sin (Numbers 9:27).
Even God rested, but not because He needed a nap. Instead, God used the seventh day to appreciate and enjoy His creation. By resting, God “indicates God’s autonomous choice not to be subject to his creation but ruler over it,” writes Diddams et al. (2004).
Biblically, seven represents completeness (Chuck Smith, 2000). God’s work of creation, one could surmise, was not complete until He rested to appreciate and enjoy His handiwork. So we, too, are not complete without giving our souls one day in seven to totally focus on God.
A weekly Sabbath rest reminds us that although routine work may comprise the majority of our work time, we are not ruled by our work. We are governed by our souls and our souls are ruled by our Creator. Sabbath sweeps aside the distractions of physical maintenance to declare over us one day work will end, but our souls will not.
Sabbath invites us to nurture what lasts into eternity.
Myth 2: There is a right way to do Sabbath.
If you were raised in a church tradition of strict Sabbath-keeping, then you’re familiar with the myth that’s there’s a right way to do Sabbath.
“Good Christians don’t play cards on Sunday.”
“You can’t play an instrument and don’t go to the movies, either.”
“You may look at your doll, but you must not play with her.” That’s what Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House in the Big Woods, endured every Sunday, spurring her to dread the day.
You’ve probably read about Sabbath laws in the Old Testament and religious leaders’ confrontations with Jesus because He “worked” on the Sabbath. With so many instructions and admonitions, it’s no wonder we believe there’s a right and wrong way to do Sabbath.
But Jesus dispelled that notion. In Mark 2, the religious leaders reprimanded Jesus when his disciples picked heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. His answer?
And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 NKJV
The truth is, as followers of Jesus, we are not crouched under a pyramid of Sabbath rules, last on the list of considerations.
We are at the top being supported by the solid foundation of God’s gift of Sabbath.
Now, are there things we do or fail to do that could make or break an effective Sabbath? Absolutely. Activities that keep us physically busy or mentally knotted up will defeat the gentle work of Sabbath-keeping.
An entire day of Christmas shopping at the mall is counterproductive. Hours writing a report for work or school is also not restful. But you’re an intelligent person. You know what helps your mind, body, and soul rest, and what nurtures your relationships.
You also know exactly what will sabotage your rest. You decide what you will and won’t do on Sabbath. God isn’t scowling from heaven, accusing you of being a lawbreaker.
Throw rules out of the window. Embrace guidance, like resting body, mind, and soul, meant for your good.
This day is a gift for you.
A gift is never meant to be a burden.
Myth 3: I don’t have time to do everything that needs to get done before Sabbath.
f you listed your weekly responsibilities on a job description and posted that list on a job board, no one would apply! Most people are busy. From classes to careers, commuting, caring for children, cleaning, and connecting with loved ones, our schedules are full. Productivity tools teach us how to block our time, so no minute is lost and every task that seems so important is squeezed into our saturated lives.
It’s not surprising that so many would-be Sabbath-keepers believe the myth that you do not have time to complete your tasks without working on Sabbath, too. The truth? You have time to do everything God asks you to do. The keywords in this phrase are “God asks.” You cannot complete everything you want to do or believe you should do or what you are told to do, but only what God asks you to do.
Keeping the activities that God expects you to perform and cutting the rest involves serious reflection and consideration. But the Sabbath wasn’t created only for those who don’t have jobs or classes or children – Sabbath is for you, too. You may have to remove tasks, rearrange your schedule, ask for help, or say “no” more often to well-meaning people who would fill up your days with volunteer work. Trimming your workload may involve a few minor tweaks or it may require a major life redesign.
Curtailing our tasks is a commitment to obedience.
Obedience to Sabbath-keeping rewards you with the space to seek God with an unencumbered mind and schedule. Peace and purpose are found in that space.
Don’t let these three myths rob you of the joy of Sabbath-keeping. If you’re ready to rest on Sabbath, then let’s explore what you should do on Sabbath. Here is a four-step framework to help you start.
What to do on Sabbath: A simple four-step framework
rue rest encompasses body, mind, and soul, and entrance into Jesus’s rest, which was accomplished through the redemptive work of the cross.
When planning for Sunday, you only need to “accomplish” four things: Rest, reflect, reconnect, and recline. Enjoy the freedom found in Sabbath by arranging your day however you wish with these four principles to guide you.
- Rest: A laid-back day for your body. Put your feet up, grab that nap, take a bath, watch a movie, or enjoy a relaxing hobby.
- Reflect: Get to know yourself and consider your ways. Proverbs 14:8 says, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, But the folly of fools is deceit.” No one wants to live a life without purpose. Reflection on who we are, what is most important to us, and how our lives mirror those priorities is the way we craft a purposeful life. Ultimately, reflection leads us to seek God, and seeking God sets our lives in proper order.
- Reconnect: Uncomplicated, sweet time with the ones you love. Talk about the things that matter, watch a movie together, take a stroll, cuddle. Nurture those relationships in a restful way. Next, and most important, is uncomplicated, sweet time with the lover of your soul. God made the seventh day holy, and you rest from your life work on that day so you can attend to the soul work of just being with God.
- Recline: Let your soul stop striving because Jesus is our Sabbath. He put away the works of the law and the feeble efforts we offer to save ourselves through works by fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law through His redemptive work on the cross. True rest is impossible apart from Jesus.
Chuck Smith preached about the embodiment of the Sabbath in Jesus. “… the Sabbath days were just a shadow of things to come. They aren’t the substance. A shadow is not a substance. Substance creates a shadow. The substance is Jesus. The shadow that Jesus cast on the Old Testament was the Sabbath day, the day of rest. So that Jesus has become our Sabbath as Christians. He is our rest. We have ceased from our labors; we enter His rest. And so, Christ is our Sabbath. No longer is there a righteousness of works or of the law, but the righteousness now is by faith resting in Jesus Christ.”
All four of these tasks are keys to a restorative Sunday that’s more than simple entertainment, but also feeds your soul. But remember, these principles are a toolbox to serve and delight you, not an obligation or a burden. Use them, add to them, or discard them as you plan your best Sunday ever.
For a life of peace and purpose, release these myths and end the cycle of harried, hurried existence. Walk into the freedom of the Sabbath.
Diddams, Margaret, et al. “Rediscovering models of Sabbath keeping: implications for psychological well-being.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, vol. 32, no. 1, spring 2004, pp. 3+. Gale OneFile: Psychology, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A116481813/PPPC?u=smdreglib&sid=bookmark-PPPC&xid=2a93d209. Accessed 20 Dec. 2021.
Smith, C. “Verse by Verse Study on Genesis 2-3 (C2000) by Chuck Smith.” Blue Letter Bible. Last Modified 1 June, 2005. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Gen/Gen_002.cfm
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