Recently I’ve been reading, and enjoying thoroughly, Marva Dawn’s book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting . What baffles me is how I was able to glibly ignore the command to keep the Sabbath for the first 10 years of my Christian walk.
Actually, it’s not that difficult to understand some of the reasons I neglected the Sabbath. 1. It didn’t make it onto the top 10 list of hot topics we talked about in youth group (i.e. dating, sex, and uhm…dating again). In fact, I heard my first sermon on it, that I can remember anyhow, only a few weeks ago. 2. I didn’t realize what nourishment and rest I was forfeitting. 3. It was a very easy sin to let slide by since it is one that is rarely confronted and it is not an especially “visible” sin.
However, having delved into Marva Dawn’s book and having actually tried to consciously keep the Sabbath for the past two weeks I am steadily becoming convinced of its importance as a practice that can radically orient our lives around God, provide meaning and nourishment for our week, and witness to the watching world.
During college I consciously avoided keeping the Sabbath. I rationalized that it was far too busy a time of life to set aside the ever-present pile of homework. I further pushed it aside by convincing myself that since most of the books I was reading had to do with Christianity, they could be excused as Sabbath reading (but my worry about whether or not I got it done signaled otherwise). I also convinced myself that the command couldn’t be that important since Jesus had argued so strongly against it with the Pharisees (this was obviously a hollow excuse; the very fact that Jesus was willing to argue so strongly about it demonstrates its importance, and furthermore what he argued against was their legalistic interpretation of it as a set of dry rules instead of the refreshing gift it was meant to be (Mark 2:27)). This lack of Sabbath keeping was an insidious way for me to maintain control of an aspect of life I was not willing to give over to God. To trust God to help me deal with the mounds of homework that I thought would surely pile even higher if I ceased for a day and to believe that my worth was based on something other than how productive I was being took more faith than I had at the time.
Now that I am out of school I have found going to the same job each day, five days a week, month after month can lead one to a sense of meaninglessness and monotony. Dawn argues, and I agree, that keeping the Sabbath allows for a rhythm to come into our lives that allows us to step out of the mind-numbing flow of work days, rest in God’s provision, and reflect on where we have come from and where we are going. How is our work illuminating and bringing the Kingdom? Or, in my case, how is God molding my character through the trials and joys of writing line after line of code? It also provides the much needed nourishment of physical and spiritual rest. Sabbath keeping not only involves the “do nots” of ceasing to work and worry, but also the “dos” of embracing shalom, valuing people over things, enjoying creation, and finding our worth in God’s love for us rather than whatever makes us “successful.” These practices, along with the worship in community that often accompanies our Sabbath, provide much-needed weekly nourishment.
Lastly, Sabbath keeping is a powerful witness to the watching world. It is a rather ridiculous practice if there is not a God who sustains and provides for us, for we are giving up a day of making money and securing our future. Perhaps, if the Sabbath is kept faithfully by the church the world will see a people who are more satisfied in God than themselves, and who are intent on re-orienting their lives around the hope and security of our risen Lord.