Practicing Sabbath

Yesterday we talked about the fact that honoring the Sabbath is something important to God. It is something He calls His people to remember and regularly practice. In the sermon we studied why the Sabbath is so important, we did not look at how to practice the Sabbath. While the Bible obviously calls us to practice spiritual disciplines like Sabbath, it doesn’t always tell us how to do them. One of the main reasons why the Bible doesn’t always explain how to do them is that these practices were so common in their culture that you didn’t need to tell people how to participate. For example, there was not a real need to tell people how to fast in Biblical times. Spiritual disciplines were so much a part of their upbringing and culture that they knew things like what you are supposed to eat before a fast, how to avoid dizziness during a fast, and how to break a fast.[1] This is not always the case in our culture today. The idea of practicing spiritual disciplines such as taking a regular Sabbath is a foreign concept to a large number of evangelical Christians.

Giving practical ways to practice spiritual disciplines is always a tricky subject because it is easy to turn guidelines into rigid rules. After all, this is exactly what some of Jesus’ contemporaries did to the Sabbath.[2] So, there is always a danger in turning disciplines into a set of rules and regulations. Therefore, we are caught in this tension between needing to take steps towards being more disciplined, but also knowing these disciplines can quickly turn into a set of legalistic rules rather than a path to experiencing God’s liberating freedom. With that being said, there are some pointers when it comes to regularly practicing the Sabbath we can learn from history and Judeo-Christian tradition. Here are a few practical ways you can begin to practice Sabbath in your own life:

  • Run your errands and prepare your house (or meals) beforethe Sabbath begins
    • Sabbath is not a day to get your “to do list” done
  • Pick a day of the week that you can regularly practice the Sabbath
    • It’s not more “authentic” to do it when it comes to you
    • Remember: The Sabbath is all about establishing a rhythm
  • Light a candle to symbolically start the Sabbath
    • This is the traditional way Sabbath begins in Judaism and is an intentional way to begin the period of rest
  • Practice this discipline with family and friends
    • Sabbath is not meant to be a private discipline
  • Set yourself up for success and start small if necessary
    • Instead of doing 24 hours, intentionally rest for 4 hours or even 15 minutes if that’s what it takes to start practicing Sabbath more fully
  • Only practice restful activities
    • Do things that bring you closer to God and others
    • Go on a walk, play games with your kids, take a nap, or read a book
  • Create a “Sabbath box”
    • Put your work projects, computer, phone, or anything else that might tempt you to break your Sabbath in the box during the Sabbath
  • Save stressful conversations for another day
    • This is not saying you shouldn’t have difficult or tough conversations in your relationships; this just means you should avoid these if at all possible on the Sabbath
    • Remember to seek peace and harmony on the Sabbath
  • Refrain from competition that puts you in a bad place (this includes watching competition that produces anger inside of you)
    • Anger is usually a result of our need for control (or unmet expectations), and the Sabbath is meant to teach us to not rely on our own strength

Some questions to think about while you are discerning how to practice Sabbath more fully are:

  • What do you do to experience rest and renewal?
  • What types of “recreational” activities actually end up draining you even more rather than giving you rest?
  • How can you avoid these types of activities during the Sabbath?”
  • What is the biggest thing keeping you from regularly practicing Sabbath?
  • When we overload our schedule, it shows that we don’t want to acknowledge our limits. What keeps you from wanting to acknowledge your limits?

For anyone looking to go deeper in practicing Sabbath, these books are a few of the resources the practical advice was drawn from and may be helpful for further study:

[1] Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. (HarperCollins Publishers: New York, NY, 1998). Pg. 2-3.
See Matthew 12:1-14, Mark 2:23-27, Luke 13:10-17, and John 7:21-24 for a few examples of this.

3 thoughts on “Practicing Sabbath”

  1. Shabbat is a day unlike other days. “For six days you shall work,” but for one day you will enter into rest. “Entering into” denotes action in getting to the rest, something contrary to our common understanding of Shabbat. Shabbat is not a day to be lazy; it is a day to celebrate rest. It is a day to bring us back beneath the wings of G-d; to allow ourselves to be gathered to Him. Shabbat is like a wedding day. We prepare so that when it comes we can focus solely on the bridegroom. Friday the preparations are finished, the meals are made, the house is cleaned, and the family is gathered to the table just before the sun sets. The candles are lit, work is finished, and G-d and the Shabbat are welcomed. A meal is celebrated among family and friends, stories are told, and we have the opportunity to experience time, holy time, with the Creator.
    In the Bible, it is time that is holy not particular places. At the burning bush G-d tells Moses that the place where he stands is holy ground. It isn’t the ground in and of itself that is holy though, it’s G-d’s Shekhinah or His presence that makes this moment holy and; therefore, the ground. Much like when G-d’s Shekhinah dwelt above the ark. Once G-d’s Shekhinah is gone, the time ceases to be holy and the ground becomes earth. This is what is meant by honoring Shabbat to keep it holy. If we no longer invite or welcome the Shekhinah of the L-rd, if we no longer “enter into” the time of the L-rd’s presence, the holiness of the day is lost.
    We enter G-d’s rest, his day of holiness, so that we might experience, for a time, the Shekhinah of G-d, as a foreshadowing of the age to come. It is a time to live in worship to the L-rd. To focus completely on our relationship with him. This does not mean a day in solitude, for we are a collective body of Christ, and we are called to honor Shabbat as a part of our community ritual. As the community of Israel was called to honor Shabbat, so we too are called to actively pursue a time of renewed unity with our G-d and with each other. “Where two or more are gathered,” seems to be a forgotten phrase that was meant to draw us together as a people, not a as a determinate rule in theology.
    Shabbat is not a something that we are required to do, it is something G-d has opened to us. A time where we get to live as though heaven has come, when we can live apart from the world and it’s desires. Lifted from the mire to stand before the King of kings in awe and wonder. Letting our spirits recharge in the light of His glory; renewing our faith and having our minds transformed by the knowledge of the one true G-d who is fully invested in the lives of his children; offering His grace to those who trust in his name.

  2. Enjoyed the article. Having stepped away from a Sabbatarian Christian organization and now fellow shipping at an evangelical church, I have seen and believed both sides of the debate.

    Whereas the principle of Sabbath is valid, and nobody will deny the benefits of rest, some Christians understand it as a means of grace, at which time it loses the grace that it was intended to contain. Matthew 12 is a case in point: the Pharisees could only use it to condemn those who were not keeping it (“condemn the guiltless”). I’ve certainly felt this side of the Sabbatarian movement since leaving (even though our family continues to rest on that day, but we don’t ascribe any redemptive value to the practice).

    I wrote an article which explains why I believe the Sabbath can be either a blessing or a curse:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: