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Monday, August 27, 2012

Trust and the Sabbath

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....For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.--Exodus 20: 9-11

For some time now, I have been pushing myself so hard in my work that I've pretty much worked right through the weekend.  Besides the fact that I feel guilty about my failure to take a proper Sabbath, I've heard (and can personally confirm) that this kind of schedule is bad for creating burnout and heightening stress levels.  So, this past weekend, I really tried to stop. I really did. I ended up feeling restless and even bored, and found myself switching the computer on again, just to fill the boredom.

This experiment revealed some weaknesses in me that I need to correct. It also made me think a little more about the purpose of the Sabbath in Biblical times.  Most obviously, it was symbolic of the rest that we could find in Christ, who opened the doors of heaven for those who believe in Him (see Hebrews 4: 8-11).  Without minimizing this very important meaning, I also wanted to point out some subtler messages that the sabbath rest sends.

To a mostly agrarian society, the idea of completely stopping all work one day of the week was pretty radical. A lot can happen with livestock in one day (obviously, the Bible made allowances for helping an animal in distress on the Sabbath).  Also, if a person is harvesting a field and has to stop for a day of rest, what could happen to the unharvested crop in the meantime? This carries forward today, even in non-agrarian jobs, when a worker has to leave a project half-completed, and wonders if he or she did "enough" to stem the work overload when Monday comes.

There is also the worry about finances that creeps over people when they are not working. Taking a whole day off makes people very aware of the fact that they are not making money at that moment, especially those who make little money anyway, or those who have a lot of bills.  Since money buys food, clothing, and shelter, and these things are essential for life, taking a day off is almost like jeopardizing survival.  It can be scary!

On top of these basic worries, there is a feeling of lost esteem that can overtake people who are used to actively working at a job.  There may be few people to interact with on a day off, and no accolades or any kind of emotional reward.  This is perhaps the most subtle loss of all.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that, besides the spiritual symbolism, the Sabbath is a trust exercise that God established to teach us about Him and to clear up our misconceptions about work.  We can get so involved in our work that we begin to think we can control our futures and buy our salvation and security with our efforts, and we begin to value ourselves by our labor. God wants us to see that He guards our interests, provides for our needs, and gives us the value and attention that we secretly desire--but we need to trust His word on it!  Through Christ, God's only son, God has prepared and established a future for those who know Him which can never be taken away--not even by a catastrophe that sweeps over us in one day. The work of preparation, and the work of salvation, is already done. Now He just wants us to enjoy it with Him.

Let me reiterate my point: Work is good, but it serves a different purpose from establishing salvation, protecting our futures, or giving us our value. God has already done all of that, so if at all possible, we should take time from our labors to acknowledge and truly enjoy this new-found rest with Him.  That is what the Sabbath is for--a weekly reminder of God's power and provision.


Shannon said...

Well said! One thing I'd like to point out is that the Sabbath doesn't have to be spent sitting around doing nothing--I think it was meant to be spent enjoying life and focusing on the blessings of God, whether that's your family, or yummy food, or a long walk in the woods, or lingering in worship. The day also symbolizes our freedom: the Israelites could not take a Sabbath while they were slaves to the Egyptians, but with freedom came the opportunity for rest. So we proclaim our freedom when we rest on the seventh day and allow God to work on our behalf.