Reflecting on… Is Sabbath Optional?

“Our 24/7 culture conveniently provides every good and service we want, when we want, how we want.  Yet with all this progress, we are ominously dissatisfied.  In bowing to these sacred altars of hyperactivity, progress, and technological compulsivity, our souls increasingly pant for meaning and value and truth as they wither away exhausted, frazzled, displeased, over the edge.  We have an inability to sit still and be.  As we drown ourselves in 24/7 living, we seem to be able to do anything but quench our true thirst for the life of God.  We must begin by remembering.  The rabbis insisted, that Sabbath observance began with Sabbath remembrance.  To do, one must remember.  While Christians are going to enter into Sabbath in a unique way, to remember the Sabbath is to remember who we are—children born of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  To keep Sabbath is to give time and space on our calendar to the grace of God.” 

A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Non-Stop World, pp. 5-6.

There is a fine line between technology and progress serving us and becoming enslaved to technology and progress.  Innovation can be good unless we innovate for the sake of innovation.  Self-awareness is great if it truly leads to being aware of how our strengths and weakness shape our work and relationships instead of giving us permission not to attempt things that are outside our “sweet spot” or love people with different “wiring.”  In an age of newer, better and faster, we find it difficult to slow down, think, pray and discern these fine lines.  Fine lines are not seen in a hurry.  Most often we discern them on the other side of Sabbath.  While we are not under obligation to Sabbath-keeping for the sake of right standing before God, is the Sabbath optional?  Do we miss the wisdom and richness of life with God by ignoring it?  I would argue that the answer is “YES.”

There is a prominent leader in our movement who without question is a gift to pastors and leaders.  He offers so much wisdom and insight!  Yet I take issue with him on one point.  He will assign the practice of solitude to the realm of mystics, contemplatives and introverts.  He chastises those that advocate for the practice of silence and solitude as being guilty of gift projection.  Without question, gift projection can be a problem in local churches.  Leaders too often expect their people to be like them in unhealthy and unnatural ways.  Yet when it comes to Sabbath—and solitude and silence are merely pathways to the practice of Sabbath—I see no exemptions in for people with certain temperaments or giftings.

I offer myself as exhibit A—ENTJ on the Meyers-Briggs, a D/I on the DISC, an activist in my spiritual pathway.  I could go on.  What I know to be true is that because of my “wiring,” finding a rhythm of Sabbath has been indispensable to keeping me in ministry for over thirty years.  Remembering and observing Sabbath has spared me from a life of being just productive for a life of bearing fruit (John 15: 5).  Sabbath is the most counterintuitive choice of my week, and yet, the most life giving.  It cuts across the grain of my nature to exchange being still for doing, and yet I know it is essential to my health and fruitfulness.  Sabbath helps me discern the fine line between living as one driven or called.

A. J. Swoboda is so helpful in making the connection between remembering and observing. Remembering our need for Sabbath leads to observing Sabbath for the right reasons and in the right way (where temperament and gifting do come into play). I remember to take my medication twice a day, not because I love swallowing pills but because they are necessary for my health.  Remembering to acknowledge our need to slow down and make a strategic withdrawal from activity, technology and other “good things” helps us recall who and whose we are under grace.

Is Sabbath optional?  Not if we long to live a God directed and filled life.

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, we both love and loath contemporary life.  We can’t put down our phones for fear of missing out on the latest information or connection.  Yet we confess we are weary, and lonely.  Our many social media “friends” only deepen our deep aloneness.  The pace of life amplifies the inner doubt of “Are we good enough?”  Teach us to live under grace through a rhythm of Sabbath.  Remind us of whose and who we are in the quiet places and space you lead us into each day or week.  Amen!