In this worship gathering, we hear a message with some advice from Revelation 18 on how to avoid compromise with society, particularly in an economic sense. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
Whatever you’re doing right now (other than reading this), stop.
If only for a few moments, pause from your daily activity and give thanks to God.
Do it now.
Doesn’t that feel just a little bit better?
One of the things the Lord is constantly teaching me is the importance of rest. It becomes too easy to hop on a treadmill (alas, not the kind that burns calories) and become a human doing, when the Lord made me (and you) to be a human being.
If you don’t pause from time to time, something will happen that will force you to pause.
I am reminded of a quotation by Christian author Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath: “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”
Read that again.
“So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world” (Hebrews 4.9-10, NLT).
God’s concoction: rest
I was talking with a group of people the other day about busyness, and how our society glorifies it. Anytime you ask someone, “How are you?”, you’ll get the reply, “Great. I’m so busy.”
Even the church sometimes glorifies busyness. We would look askance at a pastor, for example, who said she or he was always bored. We’d be thinking, Why aren’t you doing your job?
But there’s doing your job, and then there’s slowly killing yourself.
This isn’t a cry for help – I have lots on my plate, but I also take a weekly Sabbath, a day for rest from my regular work that allows me to be refreshed for the week to come. Yet I think we all need a reminder that the glory of busyness is entirely a worldly concoction.
The idea of Sabbath, where one day in seven is set aside for worship and rest, is God’s concoction. He modelled it for us in creation. In Genesis 1, we see that he made the world and everything in it in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested.
Why did he do that? Is God so weak that he needs time off?
Not at all! He rested on the seventh day so that his covenant people would see their own need for a day of rest.
In ancient Hebrew culture, this day of rest grew to have all manner of laws and rules attached to it. A friend of mine, a few years ago, was out for a walk in his neighbourhood when a lady called him to her door. He thought she was in distress, but she had a small task for him: to turn on her oven. She was Jewish. It was the Sabbath. She wasn’t allowed to turn on her oven on the Sabbath…laws and rules.
He turned on her oven and carried on with his stroll.
Jesus reminded his followers that the Sabbath was made for humanity, and not the other way around. He even healed on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees considered work.
Rarely, though, do we give much thought to how we observe Sabbath, mostly because we’re not very good at observing it at all.
Let me encourage you to view Sabbath not as a law, but as a gift. On whatever day you are able to take a Sabbath, accept Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11.28-30, NLT).
Work hard. And rest in the Lord.
The gift of Sabbath
That our current social situation has occurred in the season of Lent is no small irony to me. For many, though not all, Christians, Lent is a season for sacrifice and penitence, often symbolized by “giving something up” for these forty days.
And globally, we’ve been forced to give up quite a lot!
While many are still working, either from home or as those engaged in what are deemed essential services, one thing that has been taken from us is ordinary social engagement.
We who are introverts may be saying, “I was made for this!”, but with perhaps a few exceptions, even we who gain energy by being alone are finding this time particularly trying. It’s as if being told we can’t do something makes us want to do it anyway.
I haven’t left town for a week now, but as I look at photos online, the streets and highways are nearly empty. Malls are closed. Restaurants, save for take-out and delivery, are abandoned. Sports and concert venues are now echo chambers. It’s kind of eerie.
Amid all this, though, we are hearing reports that air quality in many densely populated cities is improving. Water quality is changing for the better. The world appears to be healing in ways it never would have without the spread of Coronavirus.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that Coronavirus is a good thing; not at all! But if there can be any good seen coming from it, the environment may be it. But there’s more.
When God made the world, the Genesis account says that he made it in six days, and rested on the seventh. Even in creation, there was Sabbath.
But our society, especially over the past 75 years, has been on a steep trajectory away from Sabbath. Businesses flourished, stores opened on Sunday, and busyness was considered a badge of honour.
Now, we’ve been placed in a position where, for the most part, Sabbath is not optional. We can’t go out with others. We can’t go to concerts. We can’t take our kids to their hockey practices. We’re stuck…with the people with whom we live, be it family or friends or even strangers.
It’s like we’re being forced to stop and breathe. And that’s a good thing.
We don’t know how long this season of restraint will continue, but perhaps a good question for us to consider is this: will we learn something from it?
Certainly, this time is a gift to our immediate families (however they may be defined economically – that is, by household) as we are given the gift of time to reconnect with them. It’s also a gift of time wherein we may reconnect with God.
In times like this, people who might otherwise have not given any thought to the Divine are turning the thoughts and hearts toward God – the God who made the world and rested.
This is a time of Sabbath. Embrace it. Rest with your family, rest in the Lord.
And carry that into your future, whatever it may hold, when we are free to resume whatever may be called ‘normal’. Let it be a new normal – if not for others, at least for you.
“…enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day” (Isaiah 58.13b, NLT).
By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.
Don’t let your clock wind down
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).
I heard the watch ticking
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?
Labour (-free) Day Weekend
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).