We know that, in his life and resurrection, Jesus established a new covenant with us (Luke 22:19-20). It is a covenant that is everlasting and guarantees eternal life when we believe and follow Jesus as savior. But does that mean the old laws God established for His people became obsolete and unimportant?
For example, in the Ten Commandments, God outlined a number of directives, including that we are not to lie, murder, or worship other gods. Honoring the Lord by keeping and acknowledging the Sabbath is another, for as God commanded the Israelites through His servant Moses, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The Ten Commandments are all good directives, offered to us by God as a way to help us live according to His values and ways, and they are not obsolete. Indeed, as with other commands through Scripture, they are gifts designed to help us.
Yet Sabbath-keeping doesn’t seem to rank as high as some of the other commandments. Many agree lying and murder are evils we should never do, yet taking a holy day once a week to honor God often gets shuffled to the backburner.
This begs the question: Do we still need to honor the Sabbath?
The notion of a “sabbath” is rooted in the Book of Genesis. Our creation story (Genesis 1-2) shares how God spent six days creating the world and everything in it — the day and the night, the earth and the heavens, the sea and the plants and the animals and the people.
Then, God rested. As the Bible shares, “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 done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
The Hebrew translation reads’ way·yiš·bōṯ, or as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance offers, shabath, which means “to repose” or “desist from exertion.” It’s a time of rest, of putting down work and halting labor, of celebrating and taking a much-needed break.
In Exodus, God provided the people with bread (which they called manna) and quail, and He instructed them to gather only enough bread for that day, with the exception of the sixth day, when God requested they gather twice as much. Moses explained the Lord had commanded the extra gathering because the seventh day “is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord” (Exodus 16:23). Some of the people ignored this and tried to gather manna on the seventh day, but they found none.
God expressed frustration over this, telling them through Moses, “‘Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’ So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:29-30).
God reiterated this in Exodus 20 when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath was important to God.
Some people believe the Sabbath is a Sunday, while others believe it is Saturday. Others believe any day set aside for the Lord is a Sabbath.
Photo credit: Unsplash/janphoenix
God said the day was set aside as a day of rest. Rest, taking a break from work to engage in holy time, is a priority. Beyond that, God doesn’t say why rest is important, but He gives us a few reasons throughout the Bible. Repeatedly, God urges us to stop and simply be in His presence. In Psalm 46:10, God tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” Jesus regularly took naps (Mark 4:35-41).
You know that story in the Bible about workaholic, ultra-responsible Martha grumbling while her sister Mary lazed at Jesus’s feet, only to have Jesus say that Mary had picked the right path (Luke 10:42)? Many believe that is a commentary on the importance of holy rest. Work will always be there, so we must prioritize time with our Lord.
It’s also an act of faith to choose rest. Many live hand to mouth, both today and particularly in ancient days. If they didn’t work for food, whether hunting, farming, or gathering, they could not eat. But choosing to rest instead of work for one’s provision is saying, in essence, I choose to trust God. God will provide for me.
We might “keep the Sabbath” by going to church or not going in to the office. But if we spend the rest of the day knee-deep in work-as-usual, are we truly honoring God’s command or just paying lip service?
Here are some ways (in addition to church) to practice Sabbath-keeping in today’s nonstop world:
1. Go outside to play
Spend time in creation. Take a leisurely walk or even a hard, pounding run or bike ride… but make sure it’s about basking in God’s beauty, not exercise. It’s fine if you happen to get cardiovascular benefits, but that shouldn’t be the primary. Use your time to enjoy the world around you, meditate on God, broaden your mind, and pray. Consider your place in the world and your relationship with God. Think about how He can use you in a different or better way.
2. Relax with simple pleasures
Spend some time with young kids or animals. If you don’t have any of your own, volunteer to babysit or walk someone’s dog. Kids and animals have a unique way of looking at the world, and their perspective often rubs off on us. Kids notice things many people don’t see anymore: flowers, the colors of the sky, cloud shapes, faces in the pavement. Animals force us to pause, to breathe, to play, to snuggle. The perspective shift is a good one because it takes us outside our norm and into a new, fresh reality—a more natural, innocent, vibrant way of looking at the universe around us—that enhances our souls.
3. Get creative
Spend a day in creative mode. Bake a cake, or prepare a special lunch or brunch, and allow yourself to enjoy the process. Slow down. Don’t rush. Plant some colorful flowers… just because. If you’re a photographer or writer all week, consider spending your Sabbath in a different pursuit of your craft. Accountants might try their hand at poetry, or watercolor artists might explore the woods with a camera—for pleasure, not profit.
4. Extra Bible time
Spend some time in God’s Holy Word, the Bible. If you don’t normally read it daily, keep the Sabbath by cracking open God’s word and reading whatever draws you in: the psalms, the New Testament, or just start at the beginning. If you already have a daily or regular habit, go deeper, or switch to a different Bible book for the day. Bask in it.
5. Help a ministry
Another way to keep the Sabbath is by serving as Jesus’s hands and feet in the world. Volunteer at a shelter, mow your neighbor’s lawn, collect canned good for the food-insecure, or help an older adult with light repair work. Take your time, and look for the God moments while you serve.
In today’s nonstop culture, with stores and businesses open seven days a week, often 24 hours a day, it can be challenging to remember to keep the Sabbath. But Sabbath-keeping is important, not only because God has commanded us to do so, but because if we don’t, we miss out on needed soul refreshment.
We honor our God when we keep the Sabbath—not just by going to church for an hour, but by truly treating the day as holy, special, and different.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/petrenkod
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.