“Labour is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline. The seventh day is a palace of time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence. In its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Have you ever answered the question, “How are you doing?”, with an answer other than, “Good, but busy”?
Pre-lockdown, our lives were full, disrupted by the tyranny of the urgent and hassled by that lingering feeling that there’s one more task to complete before we can relax. Life took on two modes: either we were busy or we were crashing.
Over-stretched, over-caffeinated and over-notified, our minds, bodies and souls became busy and we were okay with it, even though, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “busyness is the enemy of spirituality.”
To recover from our busyness, we crashed headfirst into cheap forms of rest as we binged Netflix, scrolled endlessly, accumulated more stuff and filled our calendars with more things to do.
For many of us, government restrictions in response to this global pandemic have forced us to slow down, to simplify life and to breathe once again. Once we got over the initial flurry, we have begun to come home ourselves and our souls have had time to catch up to our bodies as we have accepted limitations, become content with the simple things and adopted new rhythms of rest and work with our families.
As we face the easing of restrictions, the question we need to consider is whether we will return back to our frantic, always teetering on the edge of burn-out kind of life?
Let’s not go back to the way things were pre-coronavirus as we pushed ourselves right to the limit of ourselves, neglecting the good, true and beautiful aspects of life. Yet, may we go back even further, to the beginning, to a command for living that has been woven into the fabric of creation.
Let us introduce you to the practice of Sabbath.
In lockdown, everyday can feel the same – the same things leaking out throughout the week. We know that this isn’t the way things should be, so we’ve adapted by choosing to build in certain rhythms and activities into certain days that makes them different from all the rest.
Sabbath holds the same principle. For those of us who grew up around church, we can slip into thinking that Sabbath is all about “should nots”; others of us can think that Sabbath is about doing nothing. Yet Sabbath is about choosing to do things on a certain day of the week that lead us into intentional rest, worship and delight.
Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means to stop. Through the practice of Sabbath, we are invited to stop our work for a day and to enter into, as Tish Harrison Warren puts it, “the holiness of rest and the blessedness of unproductivity.” Through intentionally carving out a day to live differently from all the other days, we can learn to recover Jesus’ lordship over our lives and see once again that the world doesn’t hang on what we achieve, but it is sustained by what Jesus has accomplished.
Sabbath is a day for us to recover our identity in Jesus once again.
By taking a Sabbath, we are invited to receive God’s gift of repetitive and regular rest, drawing us into communion with Him. Through this weekly practice, we are formed into the ways of trust and the surrender of control, establishing a counterpoint for living and a renewed awareness of God’s presence.
Ruth Haley Barton describes Sabbath as, “more than just taking a day of rest; it is a way of ordering one’s life around a pattern of working six days and then resting on the seventh. It is a way of arranging our life to honor the rhythm of things—work and rest, fruitfulness and dormancy, giving and receiving, being and doing, activism and surrender. The day itself is set apart, devoted completely to rest, worship and delighting in God.”
In Genesis, we read of God’s pattern for a balanced life of rest and work.
Throughout the creation narrative, we read the same line over and over, “And there was evening, and there was morning – the [first, second, third, etc] day.” In Hebrew culture, days began with the setting of the sun. Our days begin with the bleary-eyed check of our early morning emails or notifications, our gearing up for work, our tasks, our responsibilities. Yet, our identity story has a different rhythm – our lives, our days, our weeks, begin with rest. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep and God begins His work.”
We live and work from a place of rest. We do not need to live with an unshakeable urgency to win, working to prove ourselves and please God. We can rest into our identity through Sabbath as it “baptises our week into the grace and mercy of God.” (A.J. Swooba)
The creation narrative ends with these words:
“By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had been doing.”
Genesis 2: 2-3
So should you.
God has established a rhythm of life, rest and work into the operating system of creation. He models out the way we are to live. It’s no surprise that His Son showed us how to take a real rest and taught us how to abide in the Vine, so we could bear His fruit in John 15.
You are invited to practice God’s way by taking a weekly Sabbath, a day to relax, enjoy life and allow God to take care of us as we draw on Him.
Before we walk you through how you could practice Sabbath, let’s consider why Sabbath isn’t just good advice for how you can find balance in your life, but is a commandment to stop and step into the rhythm of God’s own life.
The Gift of Limits
“God is the only One who is infinite. I am finite, which means that I live within physical limits of time and space and bodily limits of strength and energy. There are limits to my capacities relationally, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I am not God. God is the One who can be all things to all people. God is the One who can be two places at once. God is the One who never sleeps. I am not.”
Ruth Haley Barton
Whether it comes from ourselves or others, whether they’re real or not, so often our expectations of what we can achieve are unrealistic. Our task lists keep evolving.. We’re always playing catch up and we respond by working harder, pushing ourselves right to the limit.
Sabbath doesn’t ask us to neglect our limits, it offers us a gift within them. Sabbath offers us rest, even when we still have work to do. It allows us to down tools and to forget about our work that’s not complete and to walk away from it. Sabbath is not a bonus for work well done. As Mark Buchanan puts it, “It’s sheer gift. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of tasks and obligations, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”
Sabbath requires surrender, as we learn to trust that God is at work when we’re not, that we can rely on Him in rest, when we’ve got so used to relying on ourselves.
We need to recover what rest truly is. In short, it’s not found on any device.
Life is full for many of us, as we work, serve and care for our families and so we need a day for holistic rest, a day for replenishment of our emotions, our bodies and our spirits. The danger is that we settle for activities that we think are restful but actually numb us or distract us further.
True rest, sabbath rest is found in practices that slow us down, practices that draw us into delight and awaken our spirits into worship. In planning ahead and setting aside a day that is different from all other days we create space for our souls to catch up with our bodies, to breathe deeply and come home to ourselves. Netflix, notifications and other counterfeits of rest can wait till Monday.
In rest we can do things that set us free to enjoy God and each other and Sabbath is the moment in our week for restoration of our beings as we cook, nap, look deeply into the eyes of those you love, enjoy nature, walk, worship in community, party, paint, pray, read, talk, listen and whatever else brings us joy.
Sabbath as Resistance
In the words of Wendell Berry, “It is easy to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.”
As they fled from days of slavery and the screams of “make more bricks”, the children of Israel would have carried pathological busyness, an automated lifestyle and operating as a cog in the Empire’s machine with them. This way of life would have formed their hearts and scarred their bodies. As Moses comes down off the mountain carrying Yahweh’s commandments, we see the invitation to resist the ways of the Empire and carve out a different way of living.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to you the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is within them, but He rested on the seventh day.”
Exodus 20: 8-11
Sabbath is an act of resistance, spurring us on to walk in the opposite direction of the Empire and to set our allegiance upon the Lord our God.
We may not be in slavery, yet we are enslaved by work, by notifications, by the need to keep buying and keep up with you know who. Sabbath offers us an oasis in the chaos of modern life as we intentionally choose to not play by the rules of the modern age. This is what it means to be people living in the Kingdom of God, with Jesus being the boss of our lives and not some anonymous nerd in Silicon Valley.
One of the best things we can do is practice a technological Sabbath (take a breath, you’re about to read something crazy), by switching off our phones and enjoying a day that doesn’t revolve around a screen. Small changes that lead us offline are acts of political resistance against the attention economy which is driven by the philosophy that life is merely an instrument to be used in the quest of advancement and achievement. Imagine a day where you are able to live fully into your desire, not being distracted by notifications and hear the voice of Jesus speak above all the noise.
In an age of accumulation, Sabbath is also a day of scheduled social justice. As we set aside a day for self-restraint, not buying beyond what we need and being content with what we have, we participate in the spirit of Jubilee. When we live like unthinking machines, someone, somewhere is forced to work like a machine to give us more stuff. Sabbath is a political act of resistance, that causes us to consider why we live the way we do. Sabbath is the inspirer and all the other days are the inspired as we consider a different way to live, not just for ourselves, but for our world.
“A Sabbath day on earth is heaven’s preseason. Heaven is an eternal Sabbath.”
A Sabbath is a day for rest, worship and delight – it is a foretaste of our future that we are invited to practice in the present. Sabbath sparks our imagination with a vision of the future, where we experience an eternal Sabbath in the presence of Jesus.
We at the Vineyard are a people who centre our lives on the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom, His future being present here and now. One of the best ways for us to keep living in this way is through the prophetic practice of Sabbath, drawing our minds to long for what is to come and shaping our hearts with the desire to demonstrate the life of the Kingdom to those around us.
As Rabbi Heschel has put it, “Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come.”
A Long Obedience In The Same Direction
In an age marked by instant gratification, quick wins and burning out, Sabbath offers us a different vision for life. The invitation to follow Jesus is worked out over a lifetime of partnership with Him, it can’t be mastered quickly.
God has woven a rhythm of rest and work into His creation. Jesus teaches us to find balance in our abiding and our fruitfulness, learning to prune things back every once in a while. When we begin to walk at God’s pace, we see that His shape of life empowers us to keep going sustainably over the course of a lifetime. At His pace there’s no fits and starts, there’s only a lifetime of burning in every moment.
Also as we slow down, savour and Sabbath, we begin to value what is good, true and beautiful about life. We find ourselves appreciating depth over ease, presence over distraction, holiness over instant gratification and wonder over the endless stream of great TV.
In short, Sabbath invites us into communion with Jesus, walking slowly alongside Him on a long road in which we don’t miss a thing..
We want to invite you to set aside a day, not just this week, but every week, to Sabbath. The key to this day of ceasing work, not worrying and not allowing buying or selling to be the highest ideal is found in making it a rhythm for you and your family.
Sabbath is a day for you to prioritise three things: rest, worship and delight.
In rest we experience the recovery of our bodies, in worship we participate in the restoring of our souls and in delight we receive the replenishment of our spirit.
Whether by yourself or with your family, take some time to consider what it looks like for you to rest, worship and practice delight. Write each of these headings on a page and begin to note down the activities that lead you in these three ways. Get specific and remember, we’re all wired differently – what brings you delight will be different from the next person. There’s two themes that should appear on everyone’s list – not working and resisting the attention economy.
Make sure that you are noting down activities that are affordable (the point of Sabbath is simplifying and not spending, learning to be content with what we have), accessible (close to home), and attainable (realistic activities for your season of life).
If you are adopting a Sabbath rhythm with your family, make this a fun exercise, inviting your children to share their best thoughts and ideas. Many of us have found life-giving practices in lockdown that make our days feel different – why not incorporate some of these activities into your Sabbath?
You are invited to put into practice everything that is on your list. If these practices lead you into rest, worship and delight, if they centre your heart on being with Jesus, then have a go at them on your Sabbath.
Set aside a day, each week to build some of these rhythms in. For many of us, our Sabbath day will centre around Sunday, a day that is usually slower and already involves worship with our church community and time with family and friends. The key to this practice is planning – bring your family into the conversation and work out what you will do this Sabbath. You may need to buy food or other items in advance, you may need to arrange gatherings with friends or block out times for rest. Consider the shape of your Sabbath a few days out to set expectations and if you need to schedule it out, by all means go for it.
In the Jewish tradition, Sabbath begins at sundown and this is a helpful model for us to weave into our rhythm. Spend Saturday completing all your tasks and then begin your Sabbath on early Saturday evening and carry it through to Sunday evening.
Begin your Sabbath with a threshold moment that helps separate the rest of the week from your day of rest, worship and delight. You may want to start your Sabbath with an easy meal and praying together as a family, or lighting a candle together. Parents, starting your Sabbath on a Saturday in the late-afternoon or early evening allows your children to begin their Sabbath with you, but also creates some space on a Saturday evening for you to rest.
If your working rhythm changes each week with different shift patterns, meaning that taking a regular Sabbath at the weekend is difficult, look ahead to which days you are off rota and set one of those days as your Sabbath.
As you build this rhythm into your lives, you may want to consider which elements of your Sabbath should become rituals, repeated patterns that happen every week and also where there is flexibility for you to do different things, or invite your children to suggest their Sabbath practice for the whole family to engage with.
The secret to Sabbath is repetition as you learn to do different things on the most valuable of days. You may find that the first few weeks is a struggle as you’re tempted to pick up some work or keep checking your phone – keep going, allow the unforced rhythms of grace to take hold of you over time. As this practice becomes ingrained in your lives, you will discover that it shapes how you live the rest of the week – as you work hard throughout the workweek, you will also find yourself making the quiet pilgrimage towards Sabbath, knowing there is a day ahead for rest, for worship and delight.
We’ll leave you with Ruth Haley Barton’s reflection on Sabbath:
“I do not know everything there is to know about sabbath; in this discipline as much as any other, I am a beginner. What I do know is there have to be times in your life when you move slow . . . times when you walk rather than run, allowing your body to settle into each step . . . times when you sit and gaze admiringly at loved ones, rather than racing through an agenda . . . times when you receive food and drink with gratitude and humility rather than gulping it down on your way to something more important. Times when hugs linger and kisses are real. There have to be times when you read for the sheer pleasure of it, marveling at the beauty of words and writers’ endless creativity in putting them together. There have to be times when you sink into the comforts of home and become human again rather than using home as a hotel or a fast-food restaurant; times when you light a candle and find the place inside you that loves and then pray out of that place. There have to be times when you let yourself feel what you feel, when you let tears come rather than blinking them back because you don’t have time to cry. There have to be times to be the creature—softer, more vulnerable and more human—rather than always being tough, defended and in control. There have to be times to sit with your gratitude for the good gifts in your life that get forgotten in the rush. To celebrate and play and roll down hills and splash in water and spread paint on paper or walls or each other. There have to be times to sit and wait for the fullness of God that replenishes body, mind and soul—if you can even stand to be so full. There has to be time for the fullness of time, or time is meaningless.”
‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ – John Mark Comer
‘Subversive Sabbath’ – A.J. Swooba
‘Liturgy of the Ordinary’ – Tish Harrison Warren
‘The Sabbath’ – Abraham Joshua Heschel
‘How To Do Nothing’ – Jenny Odell