“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” - Exodus 20:8
The idea of a Sabbath is probably not new to most of you. You’ve likely heard about it in church, read about it in your Bible, and seen it outlined on countless 10 Commandment posters, but what does it really mean to "remember the Sabbath day”? How do we “keep it holy”?
Before we get into the details of all that, here’s a little bit of the history behind this sacred practice:
History of the Sabbath
We read about it from the beginning of the Bible, how God finished the work of creation and rested on the seventh day. "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 2:3)
In Exodus 16, we read about how God declared to the Israelites that the next day would be a Sabbath day and they were to gather manna and bake and boil what they needed to eat in advance, to prepare for a day of rest. Fun fact: The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew word šāḇaṯ meaning “to rest.”
A few chapters later, in Exodus 20, we read in the middle of the 10 Commandments:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
Again, in Exodus 34:21, we read, "Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.” In modern terms, that means even in the midst of your crazy seasons (*cough* Christmas *cough*) and when things are extra busy (in a good way). It’s still important to take a day of rest in the midst of it all.
The Sabbath is described throughout the Old Testament as a "lasting covenant” - a promise - between God and His people. Ezekiel 20:12 reads, "I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.”
In the New Testament, Jesus did some non-traditional things on the Sabbath, like picking heads of grain for his disciples and healing people, which was against Old Testament law. When criticized, Jesus responded that is lawful to do good on the Sabbath and explained, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).
"The God of the Sabbath is our rest, not Sabbath itself.
It’s all about relationship, not law." - Nancy Ray
The Sabbath in Modern-Day Practice
I know what you’re thinking.
In theory, it makes sense, but putting it into practice is a whole other thing. I mean, I know it’s part of the 10 Commandments, but is it really applicable for today? Isn’t it more of an ancient practice?
On the contrary. The Sabbath is a gift, a blessing, a lasting covenant between God and His people and we are invited to be part of it, even today. The Sabbath is an opportunity for us to rest in God, a foreshadowing of the rest He will provide for His children: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-10). (source)
The Sabbath is:
A time to rest from our labors.
- God set the example for us, to work for six days and rest on the seventh.
- This time away from work often gives us a mental, physical, emotional break and a fresh, new perspective when we return to work again.
A time to be filled.
- This is an important part of taking care of ourselves
- Taking time to do things that feed our souls
Honoring to God.
- we honor God by keeping the seventh day holy
- and living by the 10 commandments
A time to remember that God is our provider.
- a reminder that we are dependent on God and that He makes us holy
- time to rest in God’s promise to care and provide for us (source)
How to Create a Sabbath
Now that we’ve talked about the history of the Sabbath and why it’s important and relevant to us today, here are a few practical suggestions for creating a Sabbath day in your week:
First, choose one day in your week to be your Sabbath. As all church musicians know, Sunday is often not much of a day of rest, so maybe Friday or Saturday could work well as your Sabbath.
Second, be flexible. Your Sabbath day might vary from week to week or season to season, depending on your schedule, your family’s schedule, and what different months of your year look like. That’s okay. The important thing is to plan it out ahead of time (at least a week in advance).
Luke 23 describes a Day of Preparation preceding the Sabbath. This is an important part of having a full and complete Sabbath day each week.
Make a list of things you need to take care of before your Sabbath day so you can truly step away and rest. This might include:
- responding to all important emails
- returning any phone calls
- closing out of web browser tabs
- sending any reminders
- doing laundry
- planning out meals for the week
- grocery shopping
- cooking something ahead of time
- paying bills and scheduling bank transfers
Plan something restful for sometime during the day, whatever that might be for you: cooking, gardening, going for a hike, taking a drive, reading, journaling, going for a bike ride, visiting with a friend. Make sure not to plan out every minute of the day, though; leave some white space - time to just be.
Leave your phone out of sight for a few hours, commit to not checking your email for a day, and maybe even delete your social media apps for the day, if you need to.
Be present and be spontaneous. If you’re tired, take a nap. If it’s a nice day, take the opportunity to pack a picnic and sit outside for a while. If you’re weary, take it slow and spend time reading, watching a movie, and maybe baking from one of your favorite cookbooks.
What you choose to do on your Sabbath is ultimately up to you. Remember, it’s not about rules and mandates of what you can and can’t do; it’s about reconnecting with God and renewing that relationship. Find your rest in Him.
Do you have a Sabbath day in your schedule? How do you create space for it and what does it look like?
Free #WorkHardSabbathHard resource from Nancy Ray
What Does it Mean Practically to Keep the Sabbath Holy? by John Piper