In his book, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan offers a golden rule for the Sabbath with just two simple parts: "Cease what is necessary" and "embrace that which gives life."
Cease What Is Necessary
The Hebrew word for Sabbath means "to stop." If we're going to stop doing what's necessary, what might that look like? Here's a list to jumpstart your thinking.
We cease from:
- Work (and thinking about work!)
- Physical exhaustion
- Decision making
Consider putting into a box the various things you won't use for the next 24 hours: car keys, watches, cell phones, laptops, remote controls. And when you close the lid on the box, let that remind you that this time is set apart.
Embrace That Which Gives Life
If the above list makes you break out in a sweat, hang on. The Sabbath is actually life-giving when we free up space and time to practice it.
The second part of the Golden Rule of the Sabbath is to embrace that which gives life. In other words, stop doing what's necessary and then do what you want! What would give you the greatest sense of the abiding joy and goodness of God? Consider these five ingredients:
The Sabbath gives us the freedom to move away from the mundane, to use our imaginations. One writer describes it as passing through a day without letting it pass you by.
When our Creator finished the work of crafting, he stopped and said, "It is good." That's an expression of delight and wonder. Allow yourself to appreciate the gift of that day, to take it in completely, and to realize that it is good.
Our focus on the Sabbath is Godward. It's a time to remember and give thanks. A part of our worship on the Sabbath is experienced corporately, when we gather to sing songs of praise and to remind one another of God's provision and grace. In both corporate and personal worship, we look back on the previous six days and thank God for all the ways he made himself known to us.
When we slow down and clear away the clutter, then we can do some deeper listening—through prayer, lingering over Scripture, or journaling. Think about how God has been moving and shaping you.
Another word for the Sabbath is rest, which can mean different things for different people. For some, it really might be as simple as a nap. Parents with young children may need to lean on others to get even a few hours of rest.
This last key is one that many of us struggle with. But the Sabbath is intended for play.
Some of us have forgotten how to play. We're more comfortable in the realm of work. So instead of genuine play, we slide into mind-numbing activities like endless television viewing.
One hint of play for me is to take things outside! Bike riding or walking. For some, gardening or cooking is play—while others would consider that work. For some, play includes time with family and friends, lingering over a meal, feasting and celebrating together.
For married couples, this form of play might transform your Sabbath completely: Jewish rabbis encourage married couples to make love on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is really about intentionality. We won't casually slide into practicing the Sabbath. It starts with a decision to obey and then to receive the gift. It requires humility and trust.
Unless we trust that God is sovereign and has all things under control, we're not going to risk the Sabbath.
Will you trust God enough to obey his command to stop? Observing the Sabbath is an indication that you surrender to the Lord of the Sabbath and receive his rest. You're going to stop your pushing and striving and choose to be still.
If you do, you'll discover that God loves you not for what you do, but for who you are. And that is a source of deep freedom and true joy.