Some Thoughts on Sabbath Rest

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I, like many in Youth Ministry, find myself busy a lot. And, if I’m perfectly honest, there is part of me that loves to be busy. The constantly shifting schedule helps me stave of any sense of boredom; the endless list of projects, ideas, and opportunities demonstrate new ways which God is looking to lead me; and--of course—the endless coffee dates with students, families, and volunteer leaders renew my relationship with God and remind me, above all, why He has called me into this ministry in the first place.

Basically, the busyness provides me with a tangible sense of purpose, and constant, sporadic, pulses of energy that keep me going. Being busy is awesome. And, God calls us to be agents of renewal in the world, which… in a nutshell… is a busy job.

But being busy is not all that God calls us to–He also calls us to rest.

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

“Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.” – Deuteronomy 5:12-14

Rest.

Sabbath.

Sabbath rest.

This isn’t something that our culture is good at promoting–in fact, even our church families struggle. To rest is to be “lazy” or, at the very least, “missing out on an opportunity.”

Somehow, when we hear God commanding us to “work as if serving the Lord, not men,” we hear the word ‘work’ and we instantly assume we need to be actively accomplishing something– checking something off the list–to be working at serving the Lord.

But is this really the case? Does accomplishing any number of tasks contribute more to the economy of God than resting in Christ’s arms? Mary and Martha had that discussion years ago; but we still have a hard time accepting the answer. How can it be truly possible that taking time to sit at Jesus’ feet, play, recreate in His creation, or simply kick back and let your mind be still for a few hours a week is just as important to God as is our planning of the next youth group meeting?

We know it’s true. But we fight it. Maybe it’s because it’s so impractical, or maybe because it is simply so difficult.

As such, here are four possible strategies for implementing Sabbath a bit more effectively:

1. Designate a Sabbath.

If you haven’t done so already, set aside a day–or at the very least, part of a day, to intentionally rest. For those of us actively working in ministry, many times Sunday is not a day of rest. It can’t be! But working to intentionally set aside time on another day of the week is possible.

While at Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Cameron Lee suggested to my peers and I that we consider splitting Sabbath across two days–perhaps the evening of one day, and the following morning, if taking one full day as a Sabbath just doesn’t seem plausible. For instance, reserving Sunday evening and Monday morning as a Sabbath, for those who have Sunday morning duties but can take Sunday night off.

2. Make a list of appropriate “Sabbath” activities that truly provide you with life-giving rest, relaxation, and time to commune with God and others. If it’s not on the list, resist the urge to partake during your designated Sabbath.

When talking to peers, the one thing that I probably get the most flack for in my spiritual walk is my (personal) decision to not shop on Sunday. Friends and even relatives don’t understand this decision, and question me constantly on the choice.

Here’s the thing–as I’ve previously admitted–I enjoy being busy! And I am a multi-tasker, and easily distracted. Thus, if I were to run to the drug store on Sunday to pick up a prescription, I would probably also then find it necessary to grab that shampoo I was out of… and then check on the cosmetics they have on sale… and “ohh look! they have the new holiday merchandise, which is seasonal, so it could be gone again the next time I actually make it back to the store—so I should definitely check it out…” And on and on it goes.

For me, there is no “quick” run to the store.

Likewise, some people find an outing to the mall with friends fun and leisurely. As one with a difficult-to-fit body, a questionable style sense, and a solid determination to find the best deals, I look at shopping as more of a mission. There is nothing leisurely about it. It is stressful. It requires brain power. And it is simply not something that I find relaxing or helpful to the process of allowing me to be still before God.

Does this mean that all people should not shop on their Sabbaths? No! It just means that I, Annika Bangma, should not shop on my Sabbath. Know yourself. Understand whether the choices you make in terms of how to spend your Sabbath rest are helpful to you and your relationship with God.

3. Be intentional with what you watch on TV, and limit your Internet surfing; both during the week and on your designated Sabbath.

Wait–isn’t TV a form of leisure and “resting?" Sure. But is watching that one-show-that-you-didn’t-really-care-about-but-it-started-before-you-turned-it-off-and-you-got-hooked really helping you unwind and feel whole again?

In their book Time for Life (1997), Robinson and Godbey paint a picture of a population who consider themselves over worked and with no free time (and thus incurring mass amounts of stress) due to spending a half-hour here, or an hour there checking emails, Facebook, and catching that latest episode of Modern Family, followed by the re-run of Modern Family, followed by a show that you didn’t really want to watch anyway.

Obviously, all of these little half-hours of wasted time then end up eating into the chunk of time that we call “Sabbath,” as we feel that we CANNOT take a full day to rest in Christ’s goodness; as we have to finish cleaning the house, writing those emails, or typing that report before Monday morning comes around.

Robinson and Godbey also point out that many Americans have simply stopped participating in leisure activities that once brought them the most pleasure, and have instead shifted to spending their ‘free time’ alone and unacknowledged in front of a television set; even though screen time is generally reported as one of the free-time activities creating one of the lowest levels of pleasure.

If God has commanded that we take time to rest and play, and He has commanded us to do everything to the best of our abilities; then doesn’t it follow that we must learn to turn off the TV (something that provides low levels of pleasure), and do something that we will implicitly enjoy (and that will provide higher levels of pleasure) to truly rejoice in God’s gift of Sabbath?

4. Take time for Sabbath when your family and friends are taking time for Sabbath.

This one is hard in ministry. I get that. For many ministries, Sunday afternoon and evening is “go time.” Youth group meetings, small group Bible studies, praise band rehearsals and more all can happen so easily on a Sunday afternoon. After all–these are all things that can help students celebrate “God’s day.”

However, if the rest of your family occurs on a “normal” schedule, and you are on a “ministry” schedule, then when are you enjoying restful, leisure time together? 

And, I would challenge us to consider if that weekly one-hour-long youth group meeting really is more important for our (stressed out, three season athlete, musically committed, academically striving) teenagers to attend, then say, a restful Sunday afternoon and evening home with their families? Not to say that youth group is NOT important–it obviously is! But is there a way to do both? Allow some family time AND have a consistent youth program?  Is it possible to reserve at least one Sunday afternoon/evening a month as being true “Sabbath,” free from programs and ministry duties, both for our students’ families and for our own?

How about you?

How do you personally observe a Sabbath? When during the week do you celebrate this gift of God’s goodness? What is on your list for appropriate Sabbath activities?

How do you encourage your church’s youth and families in their pursuit of Sabbath rest?

Leave a comment below!

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The physical Sabbath rest God required of the ancient Israelites under the Old Covenant foreshadowed the spiritual rest New Covenant  believers enjoy thanks to Christ's saving work. Because of Calvary we do not have to seek God's approval of our good works for salvation. All that's necessary has been provided through Christ's precious blood shed on Golgotha's hill. Let's not put new wine in old wineskins.    

Thanks for these helpful ideas, Annika. I especially liked the idea of making a list of activities that refresh you and looking for ways to incorporate those things into Sabbath. I hope to make such a list, not to restrict myself but to remind me of what it is that refreshes my soul and draws my heart to God. It's so easy to bogged down in everyday stuff without getting the Sabbath rest we need.