When Jesus claimed that He had come to bring “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10 GNT), I’m deeply convinced He had in mind much more than a place after death. Heaven is a great thing to study and talk about, but I’ve always been far more interested in how following after Jesus and practicing His way affects the here and now in this moment.
For many of us, there seems to be a disconnect between the Scriptures and how we actually live our everyday lives in this modern, digital age. We’re so “connected” to our text messages, phone calls and social media accounts, yet we scratch our heads wondering why — even in the church — we can feel so alone. We’ve arranged everything in our lives to fit the most efficient model of doing life, but what if life was meant to be beautifully inefficient? What if the answers we’re seeking regarding a meaningful and well-lived life have been hidden in Scripture all along in some of the passages that we’ve never truly lived out?
At Freedom Church Canfield in Ohio, we’ve had the opportunity to hit the reset button. A small church that had dwindled in membership, Youngstown First Free Methodist Church was targeted for recalibration by the Ohio Conference superintendents and transformed with a new name, some building renovations, and an influx of new members.
The most important of all the changes, though, is our determined push toward learning and living out not just what God says about a topic, but what it actually means to be an apprentice of Jesus today. There are endless practices that Jesus modeled for us — from the art of hospitality to embracing grief and forgiveness.
As the pastor, this means my family and I are consistently working on applying these practices into our lives long before I’m teaching about them on a Sunday morning. In some preparation for teaching this fall, I studied the practice of Sabbath and immediately realized … hardly any of us are following the Sabbath as it seems God intended.
Most people, myself included, consider the idea of Sabbath rest to be a day (usually Sunday) where we attend a church service, take time off work, and watch Netflix at home on the couch. If we’re really extreme about the Sabbath idea, we stay away from eating at restaurants so that no one else has to work on Sunday either.
When we take the time to examine the Scripture regarding the Sabbath and the command to remember it and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8), it seems clear that sitting on the couch was probably not the main point. Embracing rest is a proactive, weekly, purposeful step toward breaking the rhythm of the rest of the week. It’s a time to focus on God, family and creation.
For my family, we’ve made the decision to take a literal 24-hour period (Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown) to engage in what we believe is a restful, life-giving practice in our modern world.
For us, Sabbath means not purchasing anything or even going to places where things are sold. It is not a day to buy, but instead to rest in thankfulness for things that we already have. It’s 24 hours where we power down all of our phones and refuse to turn on the TV, and instead invest even more than normal in each other. We read Scripture together throughout the day, and gather around a common table for our meals.
Sabbath has become a weekly period we can rely on to re-center us, transform us, and empower us for the next six days ahead. It causes us to work harder during the week, because we know that when Sabbath comes, we will truly be unplugged from anything resembling the other six days.
What’s fascinating is that this transformative kind of life Jesus offers us in the here and now is not only life-giving to us, but to those around us. When we started implementing this idea of Sabbath into our family, I began checking out several books a week for our 3-year-old daughter at the local library as an alternative to watching any shows.
As I talked to a friend about what we were doing through this day of rest, a library security guard stood nearby. When my friend and I wrapped up our conversation and I began to walk away, the guard motioned for me to come over to him. He began to explain his life in India and his recent move to the United States, where his family had essentially become addicted to their phone screens. While he tried to engage, he would arrive home from work to find his wife and two sons engrossed in whatever game or video they were watching, and he felt his life had become meaningless.
He admitted that after an everyday, nonstop rhythm of work and a seemingly nonexistent family life, he had considered if it might be better to lie down on a train track and wait for the engine to arrive. From his perch as a security guard, he had overheard the conversation about Sabbath, and it was the thing he had yearned for without even knowing what to call it.
What would happen if we began to take the words of Scripture very seriously, not a watered-down version of the commands? When it comes to Sabbath, for example, does our day of rest look pretty much the same as every other person working at our office? And if so, do you feel like God might have had so much more in store for you as an apprentice of Jesus?
Meet around a common table for a meal in your home with your neighbor. Visit the sick instead of just sending flowers. Pray for people in person instead of just telling them they’ll be in your prayers. Practice Sabbath in a way that breaks the rhythm.
None of those things are incredibly efficient, but maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the best kind of life is lived in inefficient ways as we stop, focus ourselves in this present moment, and practice the way of Jesus to the fullest.
Josh Avery is the pastor of the Freedom Church campus in Canfield, Ohio; the host of “The FMC Radio Show” podcast (fmcradio.podbean.com); and the author of “Radical Forgiveness” (fmchr.ch/Radical-Forgiveness).