Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You’ve likely heard that before. To be honest with you, it’s one of the ten commandments I conveniently like to forget.
My busy schedule simply isn’t conducive to a Sabbath. Surely God didn’t have the 21st century and all its demands in mind when he established that command. Or so I thought.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself exhausted, overwhelmed and in tears because of my overcommitment. I had so much work to do and so little time to do it in. Resting was not an option. But it was precisely in this moment when I first heard God encourage me to remember the Sabbath, something I’ve never intentionally practiced on a regular basis before.
What is the Sabbath?
The Old Testament of the Bible was written in Hebrew, and it’s likely the word ‘Sabbath’ comes from the Hebrew verb ‘sabat’ which means to stop. Sabbath is a day of rest. The idea is to abstain from working.
The full commandment regarding the Sabbath can be found in Exodus 20: 8-11 which says, “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.” (NIV)
Why is the Sabbath important?
There are three things I want to draw your attention to in this passage as we discuss the Sabbath.
#1 Notice the structure of this commandment
First, the positive command (remember…). Second, the negative command (you shall not…) And third, the “why” (for in six days the LORD…)
I believe this shows us a lot about our Father and his heart for the Sabbath. This day is a day of remembrance, not just a day of “you shall not.” There is a very important positive purpose to it and he wants us to see that first.
This is also a perfect example of how he never asks us to do something he hasn’t experienced. Have you ever thought of that? God has literally experienced everything you’ve ever experienced so that he will always understand. We don’t have a far away God who doesn’t “get it.” When he has you walking through a season, he can empathize 100% with your emotions. He gives us the “why” behind this command. We remember the Sabbath, because he remembered the Sabbath. He’s not asking us to do something he himself wasn’t willing to do.
#2 What/Why are we to remember on the Sabbath?
It doesn’t say observe the Sabbath, it says remember the Sabbath. So what are we to remember? And why are we to remember it? Two thoughts come quickly to my mind.
First, we are professional forgetters. Seven days doesn’t seem like a long time; surely we wouldn’t forget all that our God has done for us in such a short amount of time…or would we? I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.
And secondly, you’re using that day to not only remember all that God has done for you, but also that God created our planet, our universe, and our lives in the context of a seven day cycle. When was the last time you asked him what the significance of that was? I don’t necessarily have a good answer, but for some reason he said it was best that we paused and rested (as he himself did) every seven days. Let’s ponder it and remember that cycle.
#3 Six days you should labor
God does not dislike the work you are called to do. In fact, he says 6/7 of the time you are to be pursuing that work. But the seventh day belongs to him. So do your work. Complete that to do list. Accomplish the task your boss asks of you. Tackle all the projects, but then REMEMBER. Remember the importance of rest. Remember him.
How do I define a Sabbath?
God asked me to begin observing the Sabbath, so that’s exactly what I started doing. But as I read over that passage in Exodus I knew some more conversations needed to happen. What is work? How is God asking me to live that out in my life as a Christian?
Personally, I came to this conclusion:
I’m defining a Sabbath as a day where I am not working on my business. I may still have family obligations or home responsibilities (the house isn’t going to clean itself), but I’m not going to worry about checking my email, I’m not going to start a new project, I’m not going to spend hours drafting a new blog post.
I’m going to give God space in my life to work. I’m going to give my body physical, spiritual and emotional rest.
I will have a day uninterrupted with my husband. I will make time for exercise. I will cook a meal. I will be in the presence of my savior. I will remember the reason I’m pursuing my goals of entrepreneurship. And I will remember him.
For seven weeks I will observe a Sabbath (I just finished the second week). The day of the week may fluctuate but it will be on a Saturday or a Sunday. After seven weeks I will reevaluate and take note of how things in my life have been affected. Why a short term goal? Well quite simply, I don’t believe long term goals are sustainable without short term check-ins. So for now, I’ll remember the Sabbath for seven weeks (and I have a feeling God has more in store).
Discipline Equals Freedom
I just finished a fantastic book called Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Both Willink and Babin are Navy SEALS who now apply the leadership principles they learned in combat to the business sector.
The book walks through a different principle each chapter and explains how they saw it displayed in war and in business. It was a powerful book, and it challenged me to take more ownership in my own life (which, based on the title, is exactly the outcome the authors were wanting).
For the purpose of this blog post, I wanted to share a summary of the last chapter of the book and the idea that “discipline equals freedom.”
After laying out a number of different procedures and military tactics chapter after chapter, they chose to end the book by explaining that all of these procedures and strict expectations are important because discipline equals freedom.
They had standards that every single person followed to the letter because they knew if they operated within these parameters the overall mission would be accomplished. The disciplines they had learned allowed them so much more freedom. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter:
“But there was, and is, a dichotomy in the strict discipline we followed. Instead of making us more rigid and unable to improvise, this discipline actually made us more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative. When we wanted to change plans midstream on an operation, we didn’t have to recreate an entire plan. We had the freedom to work within the framework of our disciplined procedures… In that, lies the dichotomy: discipline—strict order, regimen, and control—might appear to be the opposite of total freedom—the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.” — Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership
This is so incredibly profound and a perfect summary of our relationship with Jesus.
God gives us certain commands in life. He says some things are good and some are bad. He expects us to live within those boundaries not because he wants to restrict our freedom, not because he’s a mean God who doesn’t want us to have fun, but because he wants to expand our freedom, he wants us to enjoy life to the fullest. We can only do that when we know who we are and when we trust in his commands.
John Piper addressed this mentality perfectly when he said, “It is not freedom for a fish to sun itself on the beach. It is death. The question of freedom is: what were you made for?”
When I first heard God asking me to observe a Sabbath, I hesitated. I didn’t want to do it.
I have so many projects I’d committed to doing. I have clients who need work done, I have messages and sermons to prepare, I have goals to pursue. I work a full time job so the weekends are when I get a lot of my tasks accomplished. Won’t taking a day off each week slow me down in the pursuit of my goals?
Not even close.
God rewards me for every minute I joyfully give back to him for his mission. I won’t necessarily be rewarded with increased productivity related to my business (although I would argue that would be a bi-product) but I will be rewarded with his presence. That is the greatest gift of all.
My ultimate goal is to spend eternity with him, not just the next 50 years building a business and life I love. So I need to keep the primary goal primary and keep pursuing him.
I will stop seeing the Sabbath as a way of restricting my progress and productivity and start seeing it as the pathway to freedom. It will be the avenue God uses to help me accomplish the plans he has for me. And I cannot wait to watch it unfold.
What commandment is God asking you to implement in your life that you’re resisting? Maybe he’s been trying to get your attention around the idea of fasting or getting plugged in to a local church. Maybe he’s been urging you to start tithing or spending time with him daily. Or maybe like me, you need to remember the Sabbath. I don’t have to tell you what God has laid on your heart, it’s the thing you’re thinking about right now as you read these words.
How is God asking you to increase your freedom by decreasing the grip you think you have on your life?
It’s time to stop thinking about his commands as restrictive. Friend, I promise there is more freedom and more life on the other side of those commands than you can even imagine. Obey him, and live freely.