A few months ago, I started a sermon by restating Paul’s struggles in my own words. Several people thought I was resigning. Before I left for Christmas vacation, I started a sermon by claiming that I was an alcoholic and all kinds of other things.
But this time, I’m serious. I quit.
I quit because God quit.
And you should quit, too.
Because God quit.
Our Old Testament Lesson for today is Genesis 2:1-3.
1 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.
The word translated “rested” here is “Sabbath,” and it literally means “ceased” or “quit.” God quit. On the seventh day, God quit. On the seventh day, God quit all his work. And his blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.
God quit, so we quit.Listen to Exodus 31:
12 The LORD then gave these instructions to Moses: 13 “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. 14 You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. 15 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the LORD. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. 16 The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. 17 It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’”
Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and people. Those who break the Sabbath will be put to death? Really? This is intense stuff.
Later this year, we will do a five week series on the Sabbath. This is a key theme of Scripture, and a key practice of God’s people. Today, as we dig into our journey through the Old Testament for our year of making space with God, we stop here with God’s day of rest, the day God quit and was refreshed.
Christians often misunderstand the Sabbath. We hear Paul’s statement in Colossians that we shouldn’t let anyone judge us because of holy days or sabbaths (2:16), and we see Jesus arguing again and again with the Pharisees about Sabbath rules (e.g. Mark 2). It’s easy to decide that the Sabbath is one of those Old Testament Jewish things that isn’t carried forward into New Testament Christianity.
However, that’s a mistake and a misreading of these passages. In Colossians 2, Paul is arguing against legalism and over concentration on the rules and the “right way” to relate to God. Jews celebrated the Sabbath on the seventh day (Saturday). The first Christians – who were all Jews – continued the practice of Saturday Sabbath, but also added special worship services on Sunday because Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday. Slowly, as there were more and more Gentile (non-Jewish Christians) Sunday took over as the primary day of worship and rest. But that caused its own arguments. Even today, the Seventh Day Adventists (who run the SDA English Hakwons) argue that all Christians should rest and worship on Saturday, the seventh day. Paul seems to be saying: “Seventh day, first day, or third or fourth day -- it doesn’t really matter. Just make sure you spend one day a week focused on worship and rest.”
Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Don’t get lost in a bunch of rules about what you can or can’t do on the Sabbath. Instead, focus on the heart of the Sabbath – worship and rest. The Sabbath meets basic human needs. The rhythms of work and rest are built into our humanity. We are created in the image of the God, who worked six days and rested one. As humans, we are Sabbath people.
God blessed the seventh day. The Sabbath is a day of blessing, a day for being blessed. The Sabbath one of God’s key tools for shaping us as God’s people, for increasing our experience of God, and for developing his holy character in us. This is a day of blessing.
The Sabbath is a day when we can focus our attention on God, as Paul said in Colossians: “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (2:7). The Sabbath is a day to focus on letting our roots grow down deep into Christ and letting our whole lives be built on him. Practicing the Sabbath day becomes a path of blessing for our whole lives.
God offers us a simple exchange: 1 : 4: 7. One for Seven. Give God one day to focus all your attention on God and God’s people, and God will bless all seven days. 1:4:7. 1 for 7. The Sabbath Day is the anchor of the week. The Sabbath day is the tap root of faith and life. The Sabbath Day becomes the bedrock, which is the foundation of our daily life on the other days of the week. If we live the Sabbath well, we open ourselves to the steady flow of God’s blessing throughout the week. If we ignore the Sabbath, we cut off one of our key connections to God and God’s life. 1 for 7. It’s simple, but it’s profound. Give God one full day, and God will give you back a better, more productive, more God-filled week.
If you’re having trouble experiencing God in your daily life, then start with one day. Start with improving your practice of Sabbath. This year, let’s focus our efforts for making space for God on this one day. 1 for 7.
On the seventh day, God quit working and was refreshed. The Sabbath is about joining God in quitting, resting, and refreshing. Today, I want to suggest a few ways we can do some Sabbath quitting and refreshing. Throughout this discussion, my thoughts here are shaped by Marva Dawn’s excellent book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly.
1. QUIT WORKING. OK, this is the obvious one right. Part of the core practice of Sabbath is not working. We don’t have to be legalistic here. What is work for you may not be work for me. Also, there may be some emergency situations in which we do work on our Sabbath day. But the Biblical instruction is that our fundamental habit should be taking one day of every week for rest, renewal, and worship. This helps us to remember that our work does not define us. We are not slaves to our jobs or our schools or our To-Do lists. We are free people who are valuable simply because God loves us. For one day, quit working.
- Instead, REST and REFRESH. In exchange for working, focus on resting and refreshing. The Jewish practice of beginning the Sabbath at sundown on the night before has a lot of wisdom. At least once a week, get a really good night of sleep. Then, spend time that day doing things that renew your energy. Maybe you’ll do art or go for a walk or read a good book. Maybe you’ll get together with friends. Just don’t plan so much that you leave your Sabbath feeling more tired than you started. Trade 1 for 7. Rest one day a week, so that you can work better the rest of the week.
2. QUIT PERFORMING. Quit trying to measure up to society’s expectations. Quit trying to accomplish great things. Quit trying to prove your worth. Quit focusing on all the tasks that need to be done. Spend one day, when you just accept yourself as you are – one day, when your To-Do list doesn’t matter – one day when it doesn’t matter if you have accomplished as much as your peers – one day when your kids’ academic performance is irrelevant. For just one day, stop … and just be where you are right now without trying to get somewhere else.
- Instead, TRUST and LOVE. Trust God’s amazing love for you. Trust that God will direct your future. Trust that God’s love defines you – not your success. Trust that you’ll be OK if you stop for one day. And spend that time loving. Spend extra time showing your love for God. Spend extra time loving your family. Spend extra time showing love to your friends. For one day, focus all your attention on relationships instead of tasks. Trade 1 for 7. One day a week focus on trusting and loving, and love and trust will shape the rest of your week.
3. QUIT COMPLAINING AND WORRYING. I know, I know, there is so much to complain and worry about – the stock market, the economy, the weather, sports, our jobs, our bosses, our kids, our lack of sleep, our schedules, politics, rude people, annoying music, traffic, and on and on. All of that complaining and worrying is actually an attempt to control our lives. In a way, when we complain or worry, we’re trying to be God – to gain control over our world: “If I were God, it wouldn’t be like that.” But when we hear the Bible telling us not to worry or not to complain, we feel overwhelmed. How could we possibly stop worrying or complaining for the rest of our lives? Start by quitting for just one day.
- Instead THANK. Our world has more good than bad – if you look for the good. For one whole day, try to see all the good you can. Spend the whole day thanking God and people for the good things they bring into your lives. You’ll be amazed how this changes your perspective. Trade 1 for 7, and slowly thanksgiving will start to take over your whole week.
4. QUIT HURRYING. Orthodox Jews don’t wear watches on the Sabbath. For one day a week, time slows down. Whenever they get there is when they are supposed to get there. For one day a week, they are free from other peoples’ schedules. Hurry is a beast that can eat up your emotional energy. We can spend our whole lives hurrying from one task to the next, from one event to the next. Sometimes, I catch myself hurrying Emma along when we have nothing in particular we’re going to. I’ll say, “Hurry up!” Then she’ll say, “Why?” But I don’t have an answer. There is no good reason why I want to hurry, so I say the thing parents always say, “Because I said so.” One day a week, stop hurrying.
- Instead, SLOW DOWN. Build more time into your schedule on your Sabbath day. If your Sabbath is Sunday, decide how much time it takes you to get ready and to get here for worship, and then wake up an extra thirty minutes or hour earlier. Enjoy a nice patient trip to church – instead of a frenzied rush to the car or bus worrying about whether you’ll be late. Don’t plan anything for right after the worship service. Eat a long lunch with your family or friends. Read some books or play some games together. Spend some time walking in a park. Whatever you do, once a week, slow down and enjoy whatever you’re doing. You just might find that trading this one day, changes your other seven. 1 for 7.
5. QUIT ENCULTURATION. OK, that’s a big word, but basically what I mean is what Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out.” We live in a media-saturated, consumer-driven world. This societal machine will swallow us whole if we let it. Survey after survey shows that in daily practices, Christians are almost the same as non-Christians. How can we live differently? How can we think differently? Maybe it starts by quitting. For one day a week, take an intentional step out of the cultural mainstream. For all or part of the day, unplug, turn your phone off, stay offline, shun the TV, put your magazines down. For one day, step out of the cultural flow.
- Instead, engage in RECULTURATION. Christianity is an alternative society. God’s way of life is different from the World’s way of life. God’s way of thinking is different from the World’s way of thinking. For at least one day, spend the whole day letting God shape and reshape you. Shut off the culture’s flow into your life, and increase God’s flow into your life. Read the Bible or a spiritual book. Hang out with people who draw you closer to God. Pray together with your family. Spend at least one day, intentionally letting God shape your mind and heart. Trade 1 day for 7, and see how God uses this one day to shape your whole week.
Let me finish with three little parables that demonstrate the importance of the Sabbath.
In his modern classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells the story of a man in the woods sawing down a tree. He’s working like crazy, pushing and pulling his saw. His shirt is soaked with sweat, and his hands are covered with blisters. Someone walks up and starts talking to the man.
“How long have you been sawing?”
“About five hours. This is taking forever.”
“Did you notice your saw is getting dull?”
“Yeah, I guess this does seem to be getting harder.”
“Why don’t you stop for a few minutes to rest and sharpen your saw?”
“I don’t have time to sharpen my saw. I’ve got too much work to do. I have to keep sawing.”
Taking a Sabbath is one way we stop to sharpen the saw. Stopping for one day gives us more energy and more focus for the rest of the week. Trade 1 for 7.
In the 1800s a group of settlers were traveling from St. Louis (in the center of the USA) to Oregon (on the northwest coast of the USA). They traveled by wagons on the dangerous journey over the Rocky Mountains. For the first half of the trip, the whole group stopped every Sunday for worship and rest. However, about half way through the trip, some of the settlers started getting nervous that they would get stuck in the mountains during winter.
Some people wanted to travel seven days a week to make better time, but others wanted to keep stopping for the Sabbath. Eventually, they decided to break into two groups. One group traveled nonstop, seven days a week, until they reached Oregon. The other group traveled six days and rested one.
Which group got to Oregon first? The group that traveled seven days a week, right? Wrong. The group that practiced the Sabbath arrived first. That day allowed the settlers and their animals to heal and to rest. Throughout the rest of the week, they were stronger, more focused, and more energized, and, therefore, they went farther. Trade 1 for 7. It works.
Last parable. From the beginning of our marriage, Sarah and I have done a date night almost every week – usually Friday nights. We want to love each other every day, but life is busy. It’s easy to work and take care of the kids and watch some TV and go to bed. If we do that week after week, month after month, year after year, we’ll drift apart. We’ll slowly do less and less of the things that help us feel loved and loving. We need one night a week to focus on each other. We need one night a week, when our attention is directed to our relationship, not to our kids or our jobs or the rest of our lives. Then, that date night becomes an anchor for us. It gives us time to talk about stuff we need to talk about. It gives us time to be affectionate, time to be thankful that we are married, time to express our love.
Sabbath is kind of like date night with God. In fact, Jews talk about the Sabbath Queen. They encourage people to love with the Sabbath Queen so that they can fall in love with the King of Kings. When Jews begin the Sabbath with a family meal on Friday night, they light some special candles and say a prayer something like this:
Come, let us welcome the Sabbath in joy and peace! Like a bride, radiant an joyous, comes the Sabbath. It brings blessing to our hearts; workday thoughts and cares are put aside. The brightness of the Sabbath light shines forth to tell that the Divine spirit of love abides within our home. In that light all our blessings are enriched, all our griefs and trials are softened.
Cultivate a love for the Sabbath, and you will find yourself more soaked in God’s love. Develop a love for the Sabbath, and your love for God and others will grow more and more. It’s a good trade: 1 for 7. Remember that: 1-4-7, one for seven. One day for seven days. Practice Sabbath, and see how God changes your whole life.