It’s not something that we should ignore. God has made it clear that it is important to Him (Exodus 20:8–11, Deuteronomy 5:12–15). However, we, as a nation, seemingly have no qualms about skipping this particular commandment. The Sabbath is something that the United States seems to have given up on completely. Instead, we’ve filled our days with Netflix, sports, jobs and mind-numbing activities.
Why have we left the Sabbath behind? We’ve become afraid of the stillness that Sabbath requires of us.
Eugene H. Peterson writes on the Sabbath in “Working the Angles.” Peterson states that the most common answer to why people don’t practice the Sabbath is because they don’t have time. People say they don’t have time to spend with God, but that isn’t the case. People choose to put other things in priority over time with God, which is idolatry. By choosing not to take a sabbath, people are basically saying that they can live life on their own ability. By stopping and taking a sabbath, Peterson writes, we reset the rhythm of realizing that God is the ultimate actor. When people step out of the way, God moves in and does the work that only He can do.
So what does it take to practice a sabbath? Mostly, just stopping work. The Sabbath is not a day to take off and do what we want. It’s a chance to reconnect with God and with creation as a whole.
Peterson’s Sabbath involves him and his wife going on a walk through nature. While this sounds like something an outdoorsy couple would do at any given time, Peterson and his wife do something that sets it apart. They spend the walk in silence. For their entire hike, they walk next to each other and don’t break into the silence that is God’s presence to them. They take that time to see creation and reflect on what they are seeing and do not talk to each other until they break for lunch. However, the sabbath can look different for any person. For me, it may be setting time aside to read books that reorient my thoughts to the Lord; for others, it may be cooking.
Living in a world so dictated by speed and moving on to the next appointment, people in the United States may find it hard to take a step back and relax. Peterson writes, “An accurate understanding of sabbath is prerequisite to its practice: it must be understood biblically, not culturally.”
This means that we cannot understand the Sabbath in the context of the culture in which we live. We must look to the church, and it is up to the church to lead with examples on how to live out the Sabbath.
But we cannot use the excuse that we do not have time anymore. That says to God that we cannot work in time for Him. God changes the world, using His people as a tool, but He ultimately is the one who saves.
Practicing a sabbath reminds us of the fact that God provides us with the energy and ability to do our work. Remember that your sabbath can be a few hours. As you start to practice the Sabbath, start with smaller time segments and slowly make the time commitment longer.
The Sabbath is a reminder of God’s work in the world, and the world will not fall apart when we take a break.
Lexi Baysinger is a student at Greenville College and editor in chief of the Papyrus (papyrus.greenville.edu), the college’s online student newspaper.
1 Why do you find it hard to work a sabbath into your week?
2 The Lord commands us to take a sabbath. This is an act of rest but also an act of play. What will it look like for you to take a sabbath in your week?
Editor’s note for readers curious about capitalization: Our magazine’s longtime style guidelines require capitalization of Sabbath in reference to the holy day (the Sabbath), but sabbath is lower case in reference to a period of rest (a sabbath).1