“The savings bank of human existence is the weekly Sabbath.”1
Okay, I know you may be irritated – confused – stunned or just plain old bored with my meddling with your Sundays, but in love – and no small degree of fascination – I am undaunted. This whole “keeping the Sabbath holy” thing is much bigger than you or I can imagine.
It is the most repeated commandment throughout scripture, and just a cursory study will show how overwhelmed the Jews were by this directive from God. And being overwhelmed by the magnitude of this commandment led the Israelites to an obsession with it.
Our approach in this series is to glean the positive: overwhelmed by the importance of – and to side-step the legalistic obsession.
For this is so much bigger than “Can I do this?” or “You can’t do that!” It is about the heart. Your heart, yes, of course, but God’s heart, first.
God’s heart is always about what is best for you. Did you get that? God’s heart is always about what is best for you. Do you believe that?
I doubt you do. Not fully.
But keeping the Sabbath is a gift from God to us, and a gate leading into the A+ Life.
Jesus, who drew battle lines across the legalistic obsession of the Pharisees with the Sabbath, always maintained that knowing his heart was knowing the Father’s heart, and therefore, because his Father’s heart is so tender and loving, following him was never intended to be a burden, but always a gift:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
John, Jesus’ best friend, echoed this same sentiment after only living a short time with Jesus, but after a lifetime following his Father’s commandments:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well … 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome ….” 1 John 5:1,3 Bold added
When we learn to view God in this loving and gift-giving Light, it becomes a filter through which we are better able to see this Sabbath command as the gift it truly is.
Now, I know what you really want to say at this point: “All right, just give me a list! (So I can argue with it, and against it; so I can debate it; so I can … rationalize a way to ignore it.)”
But I won’t give you a list, because this is not about a list of things to do or not do, but a way for you to be.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well “… the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:23 Bold added
This is especially true when it comes to keeping the Sabbath holy. There is a truth to this commandment: Keep the Sabbath holy, rest, don’t work.” Ignore this truth and you are ignoring a gift. But the Spirit is how we avoid the obsession with the legalistic minutia.
What does it look like to keep the Sabbath holy? It will look differently for each one of us. Because we are all different. The Truth is you are to keep the Sabbath holy. The Spirit will reveal to you the intricacies for your individual life.
But only if you want him to.
Here’s a beginning framework, a guiding principle through which you can begin to filter God’s personal whispering to you through his Holy Spirit: To and From.
The fourth commandment says this Sabbath day is … “ a sabbath to the Lord your God.” And “he rested … from … on the seventh day.” Exodus 20:10, 11 italics and from implied
Anything you are considering doing on the Sabbath can be filtered through these two words: To and From.
“Will this draw me to the Lord or from the Lord?” Not, “Is what I am planning to do a violation?” But instead, “Will this take me towards the Lord, and rest, or distract me away from the Lord, and rest?”
For example, I have been living this Sabbath-keeping now for 13 weeks. On my third Sunday I went to work out, one of my favorite things to do on Sunday afternoon. Actually it’s one of my favorite things to have gotten done, to take off my to-do list. The work-out is in fact, a work-out. But the gym is quiet; I’m getting an extra work-out in, which puts me ahead … (of somebody).
But on my way home from my work-out I heard, I sensed, the Holy Spirit whispering, “That’s not what I want for you, Sam, on our Sabbath together.” Now please hear this: I did not hear condemnation from God. I did not sense any anger from God, nor any guilt on my part.
I had not sinned; I had simply missed … it.
In these past 13 weeks I have started taking Fannie for a long walk late in the afternoon. We drive over to Cleveland Park and we walk an hour and a half route that is mostly in the woods and away from crowds. It is a heavenly time. My mind clears and my “to do” affliction wanes.
It is so restful.
On my week 4 Sabbath I decided to take a different route up through the park to Main Street. I didn’t do anything evil on Main Street. I didn’t lust at women, nor indulge in anything but a wholesome immersion of people and activity.
But on the way home I sensed this had drawn me away from the Lord, and rest. Walking in the woods draws me to the Lord; walking amongst the crowds draws me away from.
Not wrong, not evil, just from.
So no lists. Just Spirit and Truth. The truth is we are to keep the Sabbath holy. The Spirit is we are to listen for God’s loving guidance as how we are to personalize this amazing gift.
He will show you, if you want him to. He won’t if you don’t.
1. William Garden Blaikie