In my last blog post we started exploring what it meant to truly rest and the importance of taking a weekly Sabbath. We looked at some supporting Scripture, I referenced a sermon from my RUF campus pastor, and then threw in my two cents. Now I want to take a look at how we can actively observe the Sabbath.
I find it interesting that the Commandment about the Sabbath is one of the two that are written as a “thou shalt” instead of a “thou shalt not”. There’s probably a deeper, more complicated theological term for these, but I’m just going to call them “positive” and “negative” commandments. “Positive” being used in the context of things we are commanded to do, and “negative” being things we are commanded not to do. Keep in mind there are blessings in store for those who keep both positive and negative commandments.
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!”
So if we remember that the 4th Commandment is a “positive” commandment, then it only makes sense to me to focus on what we CAN do on the Sabbath, rather than what we should refrain from. See my last post for more about what it means to rest from our work on the Sabbath.
“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. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)
The most obvious way that I can think to actively observe the Sabbath is to physically rest. This could mean going to sleep early on the night before or the night of, or maybe taking a nap during the day. I find that a Sunday afternoon nap or getting to sleep early on Sunday night noticeably re-energizes me for the work week. Of course there may be more ways that you find are helpful to your body’s physical rest that may not involve sleep.
Spend time in God’s Word. Resting should be all encompassing, meaning that it attends to our mind, body, and soul. Studying and meditating on the Scriptures is the best way I know how to receive spiritual restoration and blessing.
Pray. There is a lot of prayer that goes into studying God’s Word above, but there is also something to be said for extended prayer time and praying for others. What better time to devote yourself to extended prayer time than on the Sabbath?
Trust in the Lord. Since we’re focusing on what you CAN do, I didn’t want to say “don’t’ worry about all the craziness of your life.” But that’s exactly what God wants you to do. “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phillipians 4:6) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) Take this day to dwell on trusting the Lord’s work in your life rather than worrying about the stresses of life.
Fellowship. Maybe not everyone would agree with me, but I think Sunday is a perfect day to spend some extra time with friends and family. Maybe this is a great day to have a weekly dinner with someone?
Works of mercy. “Wait a minute… did you just say “works” of mercy? I thought we weren’t supposed to “work” on the Sabbath?!” True enough, but there is a difference from the work we do during the week that provides for our needs and fulfills our God mandated calling to work and work hard, and then works of mercy, necessity, & piety. I’ll provide brief explanations here, but if you’re interested in a more full understanding of these three types of Sabbath work, click here to hear Buck’s Oct 6, 2011 RUF sermon and start listening at 37:00.
Works of mercy are not only acceptable on the Sabbath, they are encouraged! This is basically work that you do to show mercy on others, like volunteering at a homeless shelter, visiting people in the hospital or nursing home and helping them with their daily needs, or many other ways you serve others. After all, Jesus did show mercy by healing a man on the Sabbath, which was viewed as “work” by the ill informed, legalistic Pharisees. Read the full story here.
Works of necessity will be easier for you and I to be okay with, since they’re the things we just have to do every day. However, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were so legalistic that they would pitch a fit about things as simple as gathering food to eat, if it was done on the Sabbath. Jesus quickly rebuked these Pharisees. Read the full story here (sensing a trend?).
Works of piety will apply mostly (but not only) to those who work in vocational ministry, or whose main source of earning a living is done so in ministry. Clearly, if God’s people are to meet for corporate worship on the Sabbath, the priest must be there to lead them. This can be extended to other ministerial workers in our day such as music leaders, elders, and others who assist in the church. Again, read more here.
Closing thoughts: It’s sometimes easy to study something like the Ten Commandments and be tempted to look at them legalistically. Please do not take what I say in that way. The main point I’m trying to drive home is that it is imperative to set one day a week apart from the rest. God did it, so should we.
This is definitely not an exhaustive and complete list on how to honor the Lord on the Sabbath. How do you observe the Sabbath?