Almost 20 years ago, I suffered my last bout with depression.
And I am so thankful it has not returned: the horrible plunges, the sinking feeling in my chest, the downs, and worst, the fear of hopelessness – that I would be subject to this – again and again. I would never be free. There – there was the hopelessness. Hopelessness of continued hopelessness.
Which is why I began a journey into the idea of Sabbath; from a psychological standpoint, to a theological, and even to a physiological. I’ve swayed between several extremes of hedonistic self-centricism to dogmatic Sunday observance. I’ve studied closely passages on it, from Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, to the Book of Hebrews, to Old Testament perspectives, and even learning from Jews themselves on how they observe Sabbath. What I have come away after years of study is this:
Which is why I “labor to enter that rest” – to capture the spirit of Sabbath; it is the chief pursuit of life because true Sabbath is paradise – it is heaven. This past Sunday I taught six applications on how we might Sabbath better. While trying to avoid the above-stated legalism, I am also trying to capture the Spirit of the matter:
1. First way to Sabbath = VALUE SELF CARE
This is the beginning perspectival shift; if we don’t value self care, then why even try? It’s just another religious thing to accomplish. Sabbath is contrary to that. It is not about attaining more; it is about halting accomplishment. Valuing self-care means stopping. Here’s an important saying:
2. Second way to Sabbath = SURRENDER. LET IT GO.
Being schooled in graphic design, I approach work with a meticulousness only a lover of fonts could understand… pica, kerning, minute measurements, getting it just right. These are all things that can be slave masters. It is important to remember this:
It is the hardest thing for me to do, but let it go. Surrender it at the end of the workday. Listen to the beautiful words of this poem by Melodie Beattle:
Rest when you’re tired.
Take a drink of cold water when you’re thirsty.
Call a friend when you’re lonely
Ask God to help when you feel overwhelmed.
Many of us have learned how to deprive and neglect ourselves.
Many of us have learned to push ourselves hard
When the problem is that we’re already pushed too hard.
Many of us are afraid the work won’t get done if we rest when we’re tired.
The work will get done; it will be done better than work
That emerges from tiredness of soul and spirit.
Nurtured, nourished people, who love themselves and care for themselves
Are the delight of the Universe. They are well-timed, efficient, and Divinely led.
3. Third way to Sabbath = CEASE FROM PARTICIPATION IN THE FUNCTIONING OF THE ECONOMY
This definition comes from my OT Prof from Regent, Bruce Waltke. I think it is the most succinct definition of Sabbath. Anything that we do to advance or promote ourselves in the game of life – we are to stop on the Sabbath.
I enjoy board games like Monopoly and Risk. I like the acquisition, the aggrandizement, owning more properties, more pieces of land. It’s so much like life. In fact, in my own mid-life crisis I am beginning to see that life is so much a game. It’s just a game. Acquisition. Aggrandizement. One more hour to get ahead of the competition. One more self-depriving and-God-neglecting day. All to get further. Ahead. STOP.
Sabbath teaches us to protest.
Protest our own self-aggrandizement.
4. Fourth way to Sabbath = DON’T GO TO SERVICE; USE A SERVICE.
I am convinced Sabbath without worship is only a pseudo-Sabbath; I have heard too many people say: Sunday is my Sabbath – so I’m going to sleep in (well-deserved, I concede), wake up at noon, go to my favorite cafe, order my favorite beverage, and take care of ME. I’m going to be spiritual all day – me and my journal – and just “be” worshipful and in touch with God.
Having done this myself, here is why I now think it’s wrong:
It’s all about self. It’s only about me.
And yes, I agree “Sabbath is made for man” but at the same time it is also meant for worship unto God. There is a reason I believe, it is the 4th of 10 Commandments; it transitions between the first 3 commandments unto God and the last 6 commandments unto man. In other words, it is a commandment both for man AND unto God.
If we go on working 6 days but neglecting the worship of God, it is to fail to acknowledge the giver of work. The One who kept us from workplace injury, or the pink slip; the One who gave us livelihood and gainful employment in the first place. Failing to worship Him on Sunday is a form of ingratitude. I believe there is a monetary dimension to this as well, and why I believe tithing is important – it is a form of worship to the Giver of good gifts.
5. Fifth way to Sabbath = KEEP COMING BACK IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT.
What if you come to church and you say “OK I will worship” and you walk out and say “That was a disappointment” – do we give up on the church? Friends, there is no perfect church. We seek after ideals – especially when we are young – and that is a setup for disappointment. The church is a community of worship, and not about self-driven consumerism. Don’t make yourself a consumer to say “what can this do for ME” – because as I’ve already put forth, Sabbath is not ONLY just for YOU. Be intent on worshiping God regardless of whether your needs or tastes were met. Keep coming back. The music will grow on you. The repetitive message will start to make sense. The odd folks two aisles down will become good friends. The spirit of the service will touch you, you will sway and find yourself moving, growing, worshiping with the rhythms. Embrace it. It works if you work it.
6. Sixth way to Sabbath = STAY IN THE CENTER OF THE HERD.
This is just about the best way I can stress church attendance as a central part of Sabbath without getting legalistic. No I am not saying Thou Shalt Not Miss Church, rather I am saying missing regular worship as a part of your Sabbath is a good way to put yourself in a place of danger. It is not about rule-keeping. It is about staying where you are most connected, most supported. Skipping church repeatedly and missing Sabbath isolates yourself and makes you an easy target for the wolves of life; better to stay in the center; it is the safest place to be.
I’m going to continue teaching on Sabbath and Work with a new series beginning Sept 2016 called: Sanctifying Monday to Friday – A Study on Vocation & Spirituality. If you’d like to hear more in-depth about a theology of Sabbath, I invite you to join us!