Have you ever worked so hard that you just wanted to sleep? I often find that my body will take the sleep it needs whether I want it to or not. I will drift off without even realizing it.
But we should never work ourselves, especially our bodies, to the point that they are taking rest from us. Even I need to learn how to rest in the Lord’s Sabbath. People have a lot of questions about the Sabbath, so I will try to clear some of them up in this post.
Work and Sabbath are not enemies. As much as the Lord expects a solid and hard work ethic to represent him, he also commands us to take the seventh day and make it holy, a rest in God’s presence.
But who knows what that means? This post may clear up some of the misconceptions and help us to understand the Sabbath better. More than understanding the Sabbath, we need to be practicing it every week. So let’s zoom in on the Sabbath.
God Our Example
What does the Bible say about work? Can I even take a break? The biblical balance is hard work for six days, and then rest on the seventh day. This is called Sabbath in the Bible, and the Sabbath, while it speaks to work ethic, is much more involved than just work.
Sabbath is a seventh day not only of rest, but of reverence for God. It is a day of reflection, of worship, and yes, of rest from labor. The point isn’t to become legalistic about how much work you can do. The rabbis were famous for their strict Sabbath laws. Our best way to understand and practice Sabbath is to look to God.
God is our chief example in Sabbath, for He worked six days creating, and then rested (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:11). The Sabbath is made special, or holy, set apart from the other days. To be sure, even in our work, as we will find later in our study, we work as unto the Lord.
But on the Sabbath, we celebrate God’s goodness and we rest. We were physically designed by the Grand Designer to rest. There is a host of medical evidence about those who do not take a Sabbath. But it must be clear that not taking a Sabbath does not just affect your body. It affects your whole being, from your emotions to your decisions to your spiritual walk.
God didn’t need to rest and he does not sleep. He didn’t do it because he needed it. He sanctified, or set apart, the Sabbath as an example to us of his expectations. God created and observed the Sabbath for our benefit.
He commanded us to observe the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. As with all of God’s commands, they are not meant to restrict us, but to show us God’s designed way to get the most out of life! Through obeying God, we live the greatest life possible on earth.
God wants the very best for you, an abundant life. But you have to be obedient and live the way He has designed life to be. Otherwise, you run into all kinds of consequences when life is not lived the way it is designed, just like if you used a sledge hammer to put up a picture in your house.
When is the Sabbath?
People like to argue about the Sabbath. When is this day? The Jews say it’s Saturday. The Christians say it’s Sunday. When is it? Scripture does not tell us what day God rested. The Sabbath day on Saturday was set up, I believe, so that the whole community could observe the day.
Christians have their Sabbath on Sunday because that is the day the Lord rose from the dead. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. Constantine made Sunday an official day for Christians in the Roman Empire in 325 AD.
But it is most likely that this was already Christian practice (1 Cor 16:2, where the first day is the first day of the work week, a Sunday on the Jewish calendar) and that he simply made it official when Rome became a Christian empire.
The important thing is that you take one day out of seven, and of course this expands to the seventh year, and every 50 years as well with the Jubilee that no one practices in God’s Law, to both rest and revere God.
It is both. You can’t just sleep in or lay on the couch. You must also revere God! People think it’s one or the other, but you must do both. Resting does not mean that you can do nothing. It means that you put a special emphasis on that day for the Lord. It means that this day is different from the other six days.
We must begin to understand the concept of rest. The Bible talks about resting in the presence of the Lord. This is what the Sabbath day was meant to be. The reason you don’t work is so you can concentrate on God’s presence alone. We can rest in him instead of our own provisions.
As a pastor, my Sabbath is not a Sunday. I’m preaching and ministering to people. Like most pastors, I take a different day during the week and spend it as a Sabbath. Even I am not as faithful as I should be to observe the Sabbath every week faithfully. And when I don’t, I feel it all week long!
Just like the tithe, the Sabbath teaches us to trust in God for that seventh day of rest. The tithe teaches us to rely on God for the other ten percent of our income. And the Sabbath teaches us to let God supply our needs for that seventh day.
The principle is that when we honor God and give Him that day for His glory, He will surely bless the day and all of our needs will be met. We see this most clearly in the wilderness with the children of Israel. They were given manna from heaven, a wafer-bread-like substance for 40 years. God never stopped providing for them this simple need of food.
The word “manna” in Hebrew means, “What is it?” But they were given manna enough for one day. If they tried to gather enough for more, it would spoil, rot and stink. God was teaching them how to labor His way.
On the sixth day, before the Sabbath, they were given a double portion for the next day. There would be no manna on the Sabbath, but the manna from yesterday did not spoil! Honor the Sabbath, and God will honor your reverence of Him.
So there is a rest in God for those who are faithful to work in six days. We honor God on the seventh and don’t work, but rather celebrate and worship Him wholly. We devote that day to Him for His glory and work. And He blesses that devotion.
One of the principles the Israelites learned in the wilderness is that God honors the six days of work we do when we set aside the seventh day to rest in him. He provides for all of our needs even when we are not working. The Sabbath is an active trust in God’s provision.
We live in a world where businesses are open 24/7/365. They claim they need the full amount of time to make the most money, but Chick-fil-A, for example, closes its doors as a corporate practice on Sundays. And they are not hurting for business at all.
God’s principles work. We’re not even getting into what it would look like to practice the Jubilee, but that’s a different topic for a different post. We don’t need to work all seven days of the week.
We can put our trust in God to provide for our needs for the one day. Beyond this, our bodies get needed rest and our souls become rejuvenated in God’s presence. We need the Sabbath more than anything.
Especially in America, we strive to live the American dream, making the most money we can so we can do “what we want.” We call this freedom, but the freedom we find in Christ, especially in his Sabbath rest, is greater than any freedom we can conjure up ourselves.
In the next post I will lay out the final step of our journey discovering the theology of work in the Bible. We will take a deeper look at God’s principles for work. Join me next time and leave a comment telling me how you practiced the Sabbath.