Have you ever found it hard to rest? Hard to slow down, even when you’re not at work? In this message, I talk about my biggest learning from my recent Sabbatical. The message is based on Psalm 46, and begins at 28:00.
We live in a world that never sleeps, don’t we?
It used to be that we’d refer to New York as “the city that never sleeps,” but it seems like the whole world is that way now. And it’s rubbing off on us: we’re working long hours, wasting our time getting worked up over pointless things, and not getting enough rest.
Someone once likened the human body to a seven-day wind-up clock. (Last week I wrote about a watch that ticked; today, it’s about a clock that needs winding! Watch for next week’s instalment, where we talk about sundials!) Yes, back in the day, clocks needed to be wound or they would not keep time. If the winding ritual were to be neglected, the clock would run down and stop completely.
Taking a day of rest – a Sabbath of some sort – is like winding the clock of your body, mind and spirit. We can’t work constantly and expect to keep our health at any level. And by “work”, I’m referring not only to your ‘day job’, but also to anything that saps joy from you.
Unless you’re a pastor, it’s hoped that you can take Sunday as your Sabbath rest day. For a long time, it was assumed that you couldn’t do anything fun on the Sabbath; if we adhere ourselves to the ceremonial laws of Leviticus, that’s true. (Of course, if we adhere to those laws, we should be taking Saturday off, not Sunday – but we are an Easter people, and we celebrate the Lord’s Day!)
Take time on your Sabbath for worship, for rest, and for doing that which gives you life. But above all, take time for Sabbath. Don’t let your clock wind down.
This Sunday, I’m going to be talking about the importance of Sabbath (and its connection to sin). You can join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, watch the message on Facebook Live, or catch it later on my blog or on YouTube.
It may be summer, but it doesn’t always feel like a time of rest. Honour God and yourself by taking time for Sabbath. Don’t let your clock wind down.
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5.12, NLT).
Donald Grey Barnhouse once told the story of a man who operated an ice house and lost his watch in the sawdust. (You know it’s an old story when it’s talking about keeping ice cool with sawdust!) He wanted his watch back badly, and offered a reward to anyone who could find it. Many people went through the sawdust, by hand and with rakes, but to no avail.
A young boy went into the ice house after all the searching was done, and he came back out with the watch.
How did he find it?
“I just lay down in the sawdust and listened, and finally I heard the watch ticking.”
You may not have lost your watch, but in the busyness of life, you may be missing something else: your body and soul may be out of sync. Your relationship with God may be off the rails. Your spiritual disciplines may be not all you wish they were.
With kids out of school and summer finally here, perhaps this is your opportunity to lay down in the sawdust and hear the watch ticking. Maybe now is the time to let your body and soul catch up with each other, to re-rail your relationship with God, to beef up your spiritual disciplines. You have the chance to gain some rest…in the Lord.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Jesus, Matthew 11.28, NLT).
Where I live, we’re on the cusp of March Break. School children everywhere (to say nothing of the teachers) are giddy with excitement at at week without having to rise early and sit in classrooms for a whole week.
Why does this matter? Because rest matters.
God did not design us to go at it hard every day, world without end. He established a rhythm of work and rest in creation: one day in seven would be a day of rest.
There’s been a lot written over the years of what constitutes “rest”, of what one is “allowed” to do on a day set aside for Sabbath. I remember being chastised, as a student, for buying and reading a newspaper one Sunday afternoon. I’ve known others who were not allowed to play outside as children, others who were forbidden from watching television.
Sadly, less has been written and said about what should be celebrated on Sabbath than what is prohibited. As a result, what God intended as a gift to his people became just another law to abide. Dare I say it? I wonder if some families’ rigorous attempts to honour God with a day of rest actually may have driven some people from the church.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are some people who feel that they are sufficiently indispensable that they feel they must work on a day of rest. There is an illness of spirit in that mind set, and among the worst offenders are clergy. I have some colleagues who boast that they can’t remember the last time they took a day off. That doesn’t honour God. Working well honours God, yes, but so too does rest.
God invites us to work from our Sabbath rest – on whatever day we are able to take it (heaven knows pastors can’t take it on Sunday!) – not to work so hard that we collapse into a heap one day and find ourselves physically sick because we have failed to pace ourselves at a rate that enables our bodies and souls to keep in sync with each other.
So if March Break affords you the opportunity to find time to carve out some rest, take it! If not, be sure to take some other time in the year, as well as in the week, to enjoy the gift of time away from your daily labours. Take time to rest, take time to worship, take time to enjoy recreation in its literal sense, where you find re-creation taking place through the abandonment of work for a few days.
“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[a] from all his work” (Genesis 2.1-2, NLT).
As a musician, I have always found it important to pay attention to rest. Why? Because if I’m playing in an ensemble, and the composer has given me a symbol for rest, there’s a good possibility that if I play something, it’s going to sound dissonant. Even if I’m itching to keep playing, rest symbols urge me not to, for the good of the ensemble (to say nothing of those listening).
Rest is also important in life generally. As a human being made in the image of God, I know that God designed me to have rest. My body requires sleep, and without aid of unnatural stimulants, my body will even tell me when it’s time to go to bed at night. But sleep is not all there is to rest.
God’s design for the rhythm of the earth is to have a day off in seven. God set this pattern out at creation, when the world was made in six days, and on the seventh, God rested. Fields were to go fallow one year in seven. Debts were to be forgiven after seven years. There is a rhythm of rest in all of creation.
Vacation time, no matter how much or how little our jobs allow us to have, is equally sacred time. I would argue that times for retreat, where it’s just you and God, are also very important in the rhythm of work and rest in life.
Yet we humans sometimes think that, by one means or another, we can go without rest. And do you know who can be some of the worst offenders in this area? Pastors. Because some pastors can be cursed with a people-pleasing gene, they have a hard time saying no, even at their own peril. Recently I found myself saying to a colleague, whom I love, that when we have perforated boundaries around vacation, we demonstrate to our congregations that rest is not an important part of Christian discipleship.
We – all of us – are human, not super-human. Each of us needs rest – weekly, annually. We should not deny it of ourselves, and we should not allow anyone else to attempt to deny it of us.
The writer to the Hebrews hints at an aspect of rest that we are inclined to miss, and that is that Sabbath is, in a real sense, a rehearsal for eternity. “So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today” (Hebrews 4.6-7a, NLT).
Do you take rest seriously?
Welcome to Labour Day weekend, when, ironically, we celebrate the value of work by not working! For most people outside the trade union movement, however, Labour Day weekend is mostly about getting away for one last weekend before mundane routine returns with the onslaught of September.
Maybe, though, it isn’t so ironic that we pause to celebrate work. After all, work can’t be done in any meaningful way without time to regroup and re-energize. I know people who work seven days a week, and I can’t quite figure out how – or why – they do so. The Creation story tells us that God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh. It wasn’t that God needed to rest; he’s God, after all, and God possesses limitless energy. No, God rested on the seventh day to give a model to his covenant people that the rhythm of life needs to include rest.
At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking on Sunday about the value of rest, and I will touch on how important it is to work not into our rest, but from it. It may seem subtle, but there is a difference.
We can push ourselves to the point where if we don’t take a day off, our bodies will force us into it through illness. That’s working into our rest – we’re resting because we are left with no other viable alternative. And it’s not healthy.
Instead, we should work from our rest, where our Sabbath time is used in such a way as to re-energize us for the week that is to come. And in that process, we can pace ourselves so that we don’t find ourselves saying, “Boy, I sure hope I’m going to make it to my Sabbath this week.” We should look forward to it eagerly, of course, and our bodies, minds and spirits should become accustomed to the rhythm of expecting rest in the midst of our efforts.
For many of us, that means scheduling that day of rest – actually putting it in the calendar. Nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes, and if we have blank spaces on our calendars, we are inclined to fill them – often needlessly. By blocking off an entire day for rest, it keeps work activities at bay. And it frees us to do things that energize us and bring us joy. This should include, but not be limited to, worship, sleep, and time with those we love.
So if you’re celebrating Labour Day weekend by not labouring, good for you! Enjoy the rest, and ask the Lord to let it prepare you for the week that is ahead.
Jesus said to his followers that “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27, NLT).