Sabbath does not come naturally in American culture. We aren’t good at resting. But the biblical concept of Sabbath calls us away from work to rest, and not just as a weekly exercise, but as a daily attitude of our hearts.
God commanded his people in the fourth commandment to observe the Sabbath—to cease from their labor for one day each week. The Sabbath was not simply a religious rule to follow, but a central part of the life and worship of God’s people. In his book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, pastor and author Mark Buchanan has some helpful things to say about how God intends for his people to find rest.
American culture is not one of Sabbath, but one in which, as Buchanan writes, “busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth.” We aren’t good at resting. We are good at working—or at least staying busy. But the biblical concept of Sabbath calls us away from work to rest, and not just as a weekly exercise, but as a daily attitude of our hearts. Buchanan writes:
Jesus invites us to rest in Matthew 11:28, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus calls us to repent of our anxiety, stress, and worship of work and instead enjoy Sabbath-keeping.
Here are a few more of the big ideas Buchanan hits in his book.
All work is God’s work
No one loves their job every day. Why? Because work, though it is a good gift from God, has been skewed by sin. Therefore we either want to escape it or not stop doing it because it never gets done. But God in Christ calls us to rest and to work.
Jesus calls us to repent of our anxiety, stress, and worship of work and instead enjoy Sabbath-keeping.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Sabbath-keeping is simply leisure. Leisure tends toward devouring time, not redeeming it. Time is a sacred gift from God, and every moment has a particular purpose to be enjoyed with God.
Busyness vs. stillness
Busyness in our life makes us miss what is lasting and trade it for the constant allure of what’s next. This does not just affect family and physical health, but also our relationship with God. We can glorify God through doing, but the Bible is clear that God is also to be known through stillness (Ps. 46:10).
A Christian view of Sabbath means that you can rest because God is good and sovereign. While you rest, he is still working. While you sleep, he is still actively working all things for your good and his glory. The way that you appropriate this truth is not only by believing it intellectually but also by practicing thankfulness. Belief in God’s sovereign goodness doesn’t create apathy, but gratitude.
Sabbath is “imitating God so that we stop trying to be God.” We enjoy Sabbath because God did. God rested, not because he needed to, but because he wanted to. Consequently, we are called into the freedom of rest because we need to and God wants us to.
Time is a sacred gift from God, and every moment has a particular purpose to be enjoyed with God.
Sometimes it’s difficult to Sabbath when you’re nagged by feelings like: “You shouldn’t be resting, there is a sermon to write. You shouldn’t take a day off, your family needs the extra money. Quit being selfish and lazy.” But the Sabbath is not what you do when everything is done. Sabbath is the gift God gives you when there is still more to do.
The Egyptian taskmasters of Israel stood against their worship and their freedom, and the psychological slave-drivers that beat you down every time you slow down are the same. Buchanan writes:
Towards the end of his book, Mark Buchanan concludes with an anecdote about the great Martin Luther and his friend, Philipp Melanchton:
The Sabbath is not necessary for salvation, but it is a gift from God to enjoy. Take a rest. And on your day off, if you are looking for a good book to read, The Rest of God by Buchanan is a good one. It’s well written and a brilliant blend of the theological and the practical.