Reflecting on… Learning to Sit with God

“Sabbath is the ancient idea and practice of intentional rest that has long been discarded by much of the church and our world.  Sabbath is not new.  Just new to us.  Historically, Christians have kept some form or another of the Sabbath for some two thousand years.  But it has largely been forgotten by the church, which has uncritically mimicked the rhythms of the industrial and success-obsessed West.  The result?  Our road-weary, exhausted churches have largely failed to integrate Sabbath into their lives as vital elements of Christian discipleship.  It is not as though we do not love God—we love God deeply.  We just do not know how to sit with God anymore.  We have come to know Jesus only as the Lord of the harvest, forgetting he is Lord of the Sabbath as well.  Sabbath forgetfulness is driven, so often, in the name of doing stuff for God, rather than being with God.  This is only made more difficult by the fact that the Western church is increasingly experiencing displacement and marginalization in a post-Christian, secular society.  In that, we have all the more bought into the notion that ministering on overdrive will resolve the crisis.  The result of our Sabbath amnesia is that we have become the most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history.” 

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

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” 

Exodus 20: 8

Be honest!  What is your first thought when you read and reflect on the fifth commandment?  My first memory of Sabbath was as an unchurched elementary aged boy.  Young boys see and understand more than adults give them credit for.  I recall being taken to church by my Grandparents and seeing a man—obviously someone with authority—lead the choir in singing about the joy of the Lord during the service, and later angrily admonishing the pastor to go change into a white dress shirt between services.  The pastor’s off-white shirt was considered disrespectful attire on Sunday.  From that moment, the Sabbath became for me an exercise in not ticking anyone off, especially God. 

I think we all have been shaped by distortions in Sabbath keeping.  I’d speculate that few of us started with a healthy view or practice of the Sabbath.  Our first encounter with the idea or practice of Sabbath was likely at the ends of the law vs. grace continuum.  If we are blessed with a healthy, God honoring approach to Sabbath, we got there having navigated an unhealthy distortion from one end of the continuum or the other.  On one end was legalistic Sabbath keeping—a neighbor giving you the stink eye while mowing your lawn on Sunday.   At the other end was ignorance about or over-graced thinking about the Sabbath.  In that view, Sunday was functionally like any other day.  This is where many people have come from or are starting today.

Sabbath keeping isn’t an obligation that earns us right standing with God.  The gospel of Jesus Christ accomplishes that.  Still, there is wisdom in the fifth commandment.  If we ignore it, we do so to our peril.  I spend my weeks around “under-sabbathed” people living in an “under-sabbathed” world.  I fight it myself, having been born into a hard-working community and family with a personal bent toward overwork.  Every personality assessment I’ve ever taken reveals that I’m energized by ideas, hard work and accomplishment.  It would be easy… has been easy to give myself a grace-bathed “out” from Sabbath keeping.  Only those closest to me know the cost of ignoring sabbath.  Even so, I have devoted myself for almost 25 years to learning to sit with God, learning on the other side of obedience to the fifth commandment the wisdom, power and rest of living under His rule.  I’ve learned that learning to sit with God is crucial to breaking through self-deception and serving Jesus with genuine love at a pace that honors him and sustains his work through me.  A. J. Swoboda has written a wise and theologically rich book on wisdom of the Sabbath for all things in our hyperactive world.  Over the next seven weeks, we’ll sample and reflect on it together with the hope that we might live at what Alan Fadling calls the “pace of grace.”

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, we confess that we are struggling to personal responsibility with prayerful, Spirit-empowered living.  We struggle with living for our own good and glory and Yours.  This struggle has us blowing past the wisdom of Sabbath.  We may spend time with you, but often it feels like a box being checked on the way out the door to living our best life.  Teach us to sit with you… to rest in you… to rest in the gospel.  In you alone do we find fulness of life.  Amen!