After the industrial revolution–after we figured out that making six-year-olds work in dark factories for the seventeen hours a day was not a good thing–we invented stuff like the forty-hour work week. And with that came the weekend. A time of rest.
Saturday is a day off. And so is Sunday. Life is good.
As an aside: I know a good chunk of America is service-based, so a lot of us work on Saturdays and Sundays. But these same jobs still maintain a forty-hour standard where anything over this amount falls into “overtime” and wages goes up. Compare this to most of human history, where there was no maximum standard. People worked all day, every day. And it wasn’t considered “hardship,” it was just normal life. And normal usually didn’t qualify for “overtime” pay.
But this raises a question.
In our modern society: Is the sabbath still relevant? Or is it something optional? Something we can do only if we need it? Like the rest of God’s direction for our life, following God’s instruction forms the backbone of our spiritual growth. To become more like him, we follow his ways.
But if we’ve built weekly rest into our legal structure–or if rest is something we can buy with enough money or influence, is the sabbath is still relevant?
I believe it is still relevant. For all of us.
But it’s not because we get tired and need a break.
In fact, I don’t believe it was ever about that.
A 200-word history of the sabbath
When God originally gave his people, the Israelites, the sabbath day, it was part of the ten commandments. At this time, the Israelites were nomadic, meaning they didn’t have any long term assets. They were dependent on God for food every single day. But shortly after, they would be putting down roots in a Canaan.
However, life in the promised land was not like life today. Most were farmers. And there wasn’t a lot of extra to go around. So became the mantra: he who did not work, did not eat.
The point of the sabbath was not rest in the take-a-break sort of way. The point was to remember that everything ultimately comes from God.
When you don’t have a bank account or savings, and when what you eat today depends on how hard you worked yesterday (literally), it’s easy to forget that you’re not the one in charge.
The sabbath was a reminder that everything we have comes from God.
In the early church, they switched from observing the sabbath on the last day of the week to the first. What day it happens is not really important. What matters is that they continued to put aside what they were doing for themselves to refocus on God who put them here in the first place.
The sabbath today
Today, the sabbath hasn’t changed.
It’s not about rest in the physical sense–though that can be a benefit. It’s still about remembering who’s in charge. And it’s about remembering our place as the creation, and a servants of the creator.
The only question for the sabbath
If the sabbath is not about stopping physical activity–if it’s not about refraining from accomplishment, and if it’s not even about which day of at the week we do it on, then what is it about?
In a word, the sabbath is about focus.
Are you setting aside a day where you are reminded that your life is not about you–that it’s about God? Are you sacrificing opportunities to advance your work, your ministry, or even the job that provides for your family, so that you can remember that it is God who gives you that work, ministry, and family?
If you’re not doing this, then you’re not taking a sabbath.
Another aside: Going to church isn’t taking a sabbath. That’s getting together in community with other believers. Both church and the sabbath are important. And often they may happen at the same time. But they’re not the same thing.
PS. A full day?
One last thought.
When God gave his people the sabbath, it was to take a day off. Not an afternoon. Not an extra long siesta one day a week. But the day.
I’m not getting legalistic here. But there is a certain value in taking a full day. A few hours is restful. And that’s good. But a full day is long. We let go of a lot when we give away a full day. But taking a full day also allows us time to dwell on God.
When was the last time you gave God a full day?
Your sabbath may look quite different from mine. No doubt, a sabbath 2,000 years ago in a Roman-occupied middle-eastern province looked a lot different than most of what happens today. But that’s okay.
Ask yourself: are you putting aside a full day to focus on God? This is the sabbath.
How to Get Started
Everybody knows, you don’t eat the whole elephant in the first bite. So how do you get started? Here are three quick tips:
1.Begin planning. If you have too many commitment, think about how you can do some of those on different days or get rid of some of them all together (the second is my preference).
2. Start Small. If a full day off isn’t a part of your weekly life, it’s okay to work up to it. Pick a 4-hour chunk. If you spend 8 hours sleeping, that’s four 4-hour chunks to pick from.
3. Bring in a Friend. Who can you do this with? Who will keep you accountable? Partner with them. And be transparent.