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Last week I was sitting around a table in a mentoring session with some budding high-capacity leaders. I was teaching on the necessity of practicing Sabbath for longevity and health in ministry. I was surprised by their responses. They ranged from novel curiosity, to doubt, and to outright pushback. Several stated that for them a day off was impossible, and out of the question. One lady stated, “If I did that I’d be paying for it for the rest of the week!” I replied that if she didn’t she could be paying for it for the rest of her life.
Has our neck-breaking pace of American life begun to cast the 4th commandment as impossible or optional? Or do we just not understand it? Growing up in the 60’s in small-town, Oklahoma I encountered the effects of a generation who took Sabbath related ideology to the legalistic extreme. They made it about appearances, rules, and self-punishment. Now it seems an equally crippling assumption is being made.
Jesus encountered some misunderstanding related to this teaching as well. In his excellent book on the subject, The Rest Of God, Mark Buchanan brings us back to the idea that Sabbath is an attitude of the Heart. He reminds us that God rested, “ceased creating”, in order to model for us the behaviors that would maximize our productivity through dependence, restoration, and quiet contemplation. He points out that Jesus expounded on this idea, dispelling the legalistic burdens the religious officials were placing on mankind. Buchanan boils it down. He shows us we can design a period of obedient rest around this phrase: “Cease what is necessary, embrace what gives life.”
From one sundown to the next, one day out of 7, we must stop our usual occupation and feed our body, soul, spirit, and mind. We must refill our emptiness, drained as we have spent ourselves in our work. Am I saying we should let our children starve or play in traffic because mommy is having a day off? Of course not! But we can arrange our schedules to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy”.
Here are some ways and means to get you started in this practice if you have been neglecting it:
1. Design your Sabbath around your individual personality An introvert will be drained by interacting with groups. For them, solitude is healing. For an extrovert, being in a group event where you have no responsibility will energize and restore.
2. Plan ahead Get your necessary housework and domestic needs done in advance. Include your children in this process. Educate them about what it means to rest and renew. Use the crock pot, ask for help from your family. Protect your time and schedule it in. Sometimes saying Yes to God means saying no to someone else.
3. Don’t just lay around Maybe your greatest need is sleep. If you’ve neglected this practice for a while it probably is. But once you get caught up, add in play, recreation, a workout, sex, good food, music, nature, and quality time with those you love.
4. Be spiritual Saturate your day of rest with scripture and worship. Meditate, sing, dance, and read. Listen to the voice of God. Meet for corporate worship and connect with a small group. Even leaders need a small group.
5. It may not be Sunday If you are in ministry or work on Sunday, think of another day to devote yourself to the obedient practice of the Sabbath. For me and my husband, our Sabbath is Saturday. We do do work, we cut the grass, fix a meal, etc… but we cease from our usual work. No sermon prep, no blogging, no meetings, or email, or the like. We feed our marriage, we feed our spirits, we watch sports, we go for a jeep ride in the mountains, we enjoy a delicious treat of some sort.
Don’t let the enemy use burnout to defeat you. Don’t let the pride of self-sufficiency ruin what God wants to teach you. “Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 If nothing else, practicing Sabbath will teach us how to let things go, how to choose what is really necessary, and what will never count for eternity.