The Sabbath is an unfamiliar term for many of us. But did you know that observing it can actually change your life?
Has your week been a stinker? Maybe your work has been filled with relentless deadlines or perhaps your education has been overfilling your brain with seemingly useless facts. Maybe your body is tired from day-upon-day of manual labour or you’ve been chasing after your kids as they attempt to create abstract crayon art on your walls.
Evenings and weekends may not be much calmer as chores build up faster than you can clear them and some of your day job weaves in. If you do manage to find a moment to relax, it usually involves staring mindlessly at a screen—be it on your living room wall or in your hand.
If any of this sounds like your life, then you definitely need to consider a Sabbath!
It’s not what you think
You may have heard about the Sabbath but dismissed it as either outdated, pointless, too difficult or maybe just odd!
If you’re in the “Sabbath is pointless” camp, I’d encourage you to do some wider historical and biblical study regarding the Sabbath. There’s plenty of evidence to show Sabbath is not just for the Jews. It’s also not a requirement to earn salvation from God nor was it ever “done away with” as a commandment. To this day, it remains unchanged as the seventh day of the week: Saturday.
However, when one gets past all the traditional objections there’s another mental hurdle for many: Sabbath’s infamous “restrictions”.
What about the restrictions?
The most prominent instruction on how to do Sabbath can be found in the fourth of the Ten Commandments, which reads:
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8–11).
This “do no work” and “keep it holy” bit is a deal breaker for many—even if they can see the validity of Sabbath. However, Sabbath is often a circuit breaker to a busy life. It’s a period of time where we can cease the daily treadmill of effort and change focus for a moment to reset. It’s a day when the hustle of the weekly routine of work and chores is put aside.
It is true that to get the full benefits from Sabbath, we must sacrifice. This means no involvement in work or study, no serious chores, no shopping, no intense sport or distracting entertainment—it’s time away from routine and self-pleasure and a switch to some family time with a loving God. The restrictions are simply guidelines to enable a closer relationship, not rules to please some trigger-happy deity. But how can millions around the world insist these mandated activity restrictions are a blessing?
Restrictions for good
It should be noted that restrictions promising a greater good are not unique to just the Sabbath. For example, we restrict ourselves from eating French fries in every meal to help achieve the longer-term joy of better health. We don’t spend all our money on monthly flights to Disneyland so we have enough money for life’s essentials. We restrict what side of the road we drive on—a good idea that promotes long-term health. We restrict how many trees we cut down or what substances we dump in rivers, for better environmental health. And there’s even restrictions in your favourite sport that are designed to keep players safe as well as make the game more enjoyable to play and watch. Imagine how your sport would play without any restrictions!
Another good analogy that demonstrates the Sabbath’s blessing of restraint is a date night. How’s your date night going to succeed if you turn up late, then respond to work emails in-between watching the football on TV? Restricting yourself from the things that distract you from focusing on your love, who’s across the table from you, makes sense, right? The Sabbath commandment is a guideline of how to observe a single day each week where we can rest and reset from our worldly chores and distractions, refocusing on God, family and nature.
How can you be at peace while you watch a whole day (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) slip by without “progress” of work, study or chores? Wouldn’t that fill the Sabbath hours with guilt from neglecting your duties in a hectic life?
We all love public holidays, right? Do you feel guilty not going in to work or school when your boss/principal/government has given you the day off? Not likely. Work and school might be busy but you’ve been given a free pass to forget about that for the day—guilt free. Because God has asked us to separate the Sabbath from our daily work, we essentially have an excuse, signed by the Creator of the universe, the highest authority in existence, to not get distracted by work in the 24 Sabbath hours.
God made Sabbath a whole-day experience, not a few hours of focus coupled with running off from Him. It would be like turning up for a family lunch and leaving before dessert is served—let alone hanging around to chat afterwards. While the host would appreciate the short time you were present, you’re not getting the best value from the gathering.
So, if God says He wants us to set aside a whole day, without distractions, to spend with us, what an awesome offer—and who are we to argue with the “Manufacturer’s recommendation”?
A genuine Sabbath experience is very hard to explain without experiencing it. So I recommend you give Sabbath a go for a month. Try it with some others if you can.
It may be a challenge at first to learn how to switch off from life’s ‘chores’, but given a bit of time you’ll find the benefits of a Sabbath’s rhythm and rest is out of this world!
Why I love Sabbath
For me, my Sabbath rest experience can ironically be one of the busiest days of the week. Everyone in my family is involved in our local Seventh-day Adventist church. From being a musician, leading a Bible study class, performing in dramas, welcoming people into the church, preparing food or washing up for the communal lunch, and more. Church life on a Sabbath can be quite full on some weeks—and yet it is still rest. I value the time I spend with my family and the broader church family, as well as learning and marvelling at new discoveries of how much we are loved by God and hearing how He’s been spotted working in people’s lives. I also love the chance to either sit and chill with friends or go out and explore the landscape—and I can spend hours doing either without feeling any guilt for not tending to the many chores I face each week. I love Sabbath. It’s sometimes busy, but it is rest.
Should you want to give Sabbath a go. Here’s some basic tips of how to do Sabbath well.
7 Sabbath Don’ts
- Don’t keep Sabbath to try and earn God’s favour – you are already loved!
- Don’t do anything that is connected to your day job, nor pay others to work on your behalf while you’re having a Sabbath off.
- Don’t think about money and avoid the world of shops and consumerism for the day.
- Don’t clean your shower, the oven or your gutters.
- Don’t feel guilty for not attending to work or chores.
- Don’t get caught up in the entertainments of the world, like movies, TV, sports, which all take your intense focus.
- Don’t do Sabbaths alone. Find a Sabbath keeping church even and worship with a community that loves God.
7 Sabbath Do’s
- Get out into nature. Look closer. Look wider. Marvel at God’s creation, its beauty, it intricate design.
- Spend time with your family, focused on your family.
- Spend time helping others who can’t help themselves.
- Spend time learning about God, reading the Bible and contemplating what it’s saying.
- Enjoy good food.
- Relax – guilt free.
- Make a whole day of it – sunset to sunset.
Published: Signs of the Times, Australia, May 2023