Friday, July 7, 2017
Taking Time to Rest
Hebrews 4:9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
The indictment for the Israelites was that they hadn’t made sabbath rest a priority. Maybe the statement was rhetorical, wondering what would have happened in the early years of occupation in the Promised Land had they explicitly followed God’s plan. But now, the writer to the Hebrews reminds the people of God that there is still a sabbath rest for them. This is both in an understanding of the already of the kingdom and the not yet. In other words, a sabbath rest from the activities of life today becomes a glimpse of the eschatological hope that we have in Christ; that we will rest with him eternally. So, we make every effort to enter there rest now, making a sabbath rest an intentional priority in life, so that we enjoy a small foretaste of what will come when we are together with Christ for all eternity. Sabbath becomes a practice that keeps us from falling both now, and forever.
I recently met a young man who pastors a rather larger church in New York City. We were having a conversation about his staff and the requirements that he has for them. He told me that he expects every staff member to take a sabbath every week and that they are accountable to one another in their weekly staff meetings. He explained that a sabbath rest went from sundown to sundown and that it involved becoming disengaged from work, social media, and devoting oneself to family and the Lord. They also teach this in their church and encourage every church member to practice sabbath weekly. The bar for spiritual discipline at his church is pretty high and I asked him if it inhibited church growth. On the contrary, he said he’s been amazed at how people are drawn to a community of faith with strong spiritual practices and in the midst of a highly urban setting, they continue to grow.
This idea of an intentional sabbath rest is something that God desires for all of us. I have to confess that there have been seasons in life where I have done well with a sabbath rest and others where I have practiced it quite poorly. When I do not make time (and it does require making time) for that rest I find myself trying to do everything in my own power. Pretty soon I feel as if I’m running on fumes. I have a bad attitude, I’m grouchy, and I begin to experience fear and anxiety. This is not the way in which God wants us to live.
We read this scripture and most of us would say, “yeah, sure, I go to church on Sundays.” That’s not the extent of a sabbath rest. However, when I was a child, my parents took the day quite seriously — there was no newspaper and there was no television on that day. I think we saw it as being a bit legalistic. Little by little my parents allowed us to do more things on Sundays — but the idea of keeping Sunday special always stuck with me. There was something unique which happened on that day, which included extended time around the dinner table, long conversations, and often teasing Dad about his sermon. But there was formation that happened on that day. We didn’t do homework on Sundays and we didn’t go shopping. We didn’t do the things that we could do on the six other days of the week. This day was special and we knew it. As a college student I continued the practice and gave Sundays completely to the Lord — not even doing homework that day. Oddly enough — everything always seemed to get done.
So now I’m preaching to myself. We, as God’s people, need to go back to creating space for a sabbath rest. It doesn’t have to be on Sunday if you are engaged in a lot of work that day. But could we take a twenty-four hour period of time and rest from all the busyness of the world and savor relationships with God and others? It may just be a little foretaste of heaven that God wants us all to enjoy. Maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s one of the ten commandments! I am making a commitment to my family and to my church that I will intentionally plan a time of sabbath in my crazy - busy life.
We all need to create time and space to rest. Let’s put down our devices and enter into a time of rest and fellowship with God and those whom the Lord has placed around us.
Lord, your sabbath rest comes as a sweet blessing. Please, help us to take advantage of the gifts you have given. Amen.