Reflecting on… Rest and an Uncommon Life

“The Sabbath creates space for rest and play in our lives.  Rather than rest God’s way, we have replaced Sabbath with a kind of therapeutic individualism that seeks to self-entertain, self-please, self-sooth.  Christopher Lasch observes ‘People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security.’  Sociologist Philip Reiff echoes this point in his prophetic text The Triumph of the Therapeutic.  Reiff argues that all pleasures (in his example, sexual) are intended to be subordinated under the reign of God, but they are not a substitute for God.  In today’s age, when we have ceased celebrating God and begun celebrating celebration, we have turned the means into the goal.  ‘Religious man was born to be saved,’ writes Reiff, and ‘psychological man is born to be pleased.’” 

A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Non-Stop World, pp. 20-21.

The call to follow Jesus is always a call to an uncommon life.  We are called to forgive at great cost when others default to malicious gospel or revenge.  We are called to love those that can’t or won’t love us back.  We are called to rest in God for good things instead of crawling over others to grasp what we cannot keep.  As we saw last week, we are created for rest when FOMO (fear of missing out) pushes people towards harried, hurried living.  The uncommon life of a Jesus follower will reflect rest.  What does rest look like in a world where therapeutic individualism distorts “resting?”  In a Sabbath deprived culture, where do we find role models for rest?  Without models, do we even know what Sabbath rest looks like?

I’d argue that example and imitation is more important that information.  This was the way of discipleship in the days of Jesus and Paul.  This is where the example of the pastor and his family is important.  People are watching us.  Whether we intend to or not, people imitate us.  People take their cues for the normal Christ following life from us.  For this reason, I’ve encouraged spiritual leaders to be the most transparent people in the church.  There is risk is being real, but to live as a “perfect example” is not our burden.  Our best model is our dependence of the gospel of Jesus… daily.  Our model—as one mentor told—is less about perfection than direction.  So how do we model a rhythm of sabbath for our people.  Here are a few encouragements from my 23-year journey as an activist practicing Sabbath:

  • Develop your own rhythm of Sabbath in secret. When I discovered that I was living and serving outside the wisdom of the Sabbath, I experimented on myself.  Too often leaders—driven by insecurity or vanity—rush forward with new learning.  When the Lord convicted me about my Sabbath-less life, I spent two years quietly relearning how to walk with God.  It was a battle, but a live-giving battle.  Laura and my kids noticed the difference.  People in my ministry noticed.  By God’s grace, it was a difference I struggled to articulate until it took root in my own life.
  • “Live the life and invite others into it.” That was the advice of Dallas Willard to me over a lunch in Southern California.  When people see a difference in your pace and demeanor—peace, joy, godly confidence—they ask about it or look for ways to hang around with you.  They want it.  Invite them to practice Sabbath with you.  I used to organize weekend retreats—basically experiments in Sabbath—not so much to introduce immediate change as to stir sacred discontent.  Once people get a taste of real, soul level rest they’ll fight for it in their schedule.
  • Time, Time, Time. Modeling rest is all about intentionality with time.  I began to schedule weekly sabbath in my calendar.  Quiet times are like dining at Wendy’s.  Sabbath is seven course meal.  Timewise—you cannot do Sabbath on the cheap.  I scheduled childcare time in my week so that Laura could pursue something life-giving.  I scheduled time with family away from the house so that we could enjoy nature or take an urban adventure instead of being house bound and fixated on media.  Sabbath shaped the nature and pace of vacations.  There were seasons where we eliminated the burden of cooking by preparing meals in advance of a day of rest.
  • Eliminate hurry and noise. John Ortberg speaks of hurry sickness and the need to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”  In my life, the trigger for hurry is external and internal noise (messages).  When my family was young, I began to recognize that the five-minute drive home was not a time to dive into drivetime news or music.  It was time to be still and prepare to be a husband and father once I stepped in the door.  Off went the radio!  Drivetime became a mini-Sabbath where I parked the stress and pace of my day instead of letting it splash into the hearts of my family.

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, even in a world absent of examples of real rest, we lean into your word and Spirit to teach us.  Give us courage in our uncertain and imperfect steps of obedience, knowing that discovering real rest and abundant life are on the other side of faith steps.  Help us who lead model the wisdom of Sabbath to others.  Amen!