I remember when stores closed on Sundays and gas tanks got filled on Saturdays. It was a forced Sabbath Day, if you will. Today, there are no limitations on any day of the week, much less the Sabbath. Stores are bustling, tanks are filling, and now, homes also act as offices. Unlike in the past, more intention is required to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy.
I admit to not being as intentional about remembering the Sabbath as I should, partly because it felt like a losing battle trying to live up to all the expectations but mostly because I didn’t clearly understand how to remember the Sabbath in today’s world. In recent months, however, I’ve taken the initiative to learn and grow in what it means to celebrate this gift from God.
Where Does the Bible Say, “Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy”?
The Bible says in Exodus 20:8 to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy. Imagine how the fourth commandment must have fallen on the ears of Israelites who had been enslaved for 400 years. Resting was a privilege they had never experienced before.
What Is the Sabbath Day and What Makes It Holy?
The Sabbath day is a day of rest that follows six days of work. In the Old Testament, God stated that it was to start on Friday at sundown and end on Saturday at sundown. Most Christians today celebrate Sabbath on Sunday because it’s the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
The word holy means consecrating or being set apart, which God did by creating the Sabbath day. He set one day a week apart and blessed it. (Exodus 20:11) This blessing is grounded in God’s grace, reminding the Israelites that they were no longer slaves to man, but set apart by God. Through the Sabbath Day, God showed them (and us today) how He blesses free people to live: Work six days, rest one. It is a rhythm for holy and healthy living ordained by our Creator.
Ruth Haley Barton proposes an interesting idea in her book Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest, From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. When God ceased the creating work He had done for six days, He set an example for us to follow: ceasing from doing our usual labor, but not necessarily all labor.
This raises an interesting point. What feels like work to one person may not feel like work to another. For example, a person who works a 9 to 5 job in the office may find mowing the grass on Sunday afternoons to be a delight. As someone who grew up enjoying gardening, it’s hard to imagine it feeling like work, but others may view it as so. Here, we need wisdom and discernment to remember the Sabbath, freeing others to do the same.
Why Should We Remember a Sabbath Day?
Sabbath reflects the creation story in Genesis 1, where God, who neither sleeps nor slumbers, chose to cease working. He didn’t stop creating because He was tired. He stopped creating to show us what it means to incorporate a rhythm of rest and restoration into daily life.
Other reasons to keep a Sabbath Day:
1. It offers fresh ways to draw closer to God that we may not have the opportunity to do during the week. Delving deeper into Bible study or prayer time are important ways to worship, but so are spending quality time with family, enjoying a good book, listening to music that feeds the soul, baking with a friend, sharing life over a cup of tea, etc. In the Jewish culture, the Sabbath is a day of joy, not grieving. As freed people in Christ, we can delight in God’s presence and draw nearer to Him through every aspect of life.
2. It reminds us that we are human and have limitations. God has none, and our choosing to remember a Sabbath day reveals a trust and dependence in Him that the world doesn’t understand. Consider the nation of Israel. Pardon the expression, but it was the Chick-fil-A of its time. While surrounding nations continued to toil away on the Sabbath, sharpening their weapons and building a strong economic structure, Israel stood still, trusting God to provide for every need.
Sabbath calms the overstimulation of the mind and body that builds throughout the week. Remembering the Sabbath hits a reset button that brings restoration to our bodies.
A day of rest refreshes our soul so that we can refresh others in the coming week and serve God in a fuller capacity. “The Sabbath is the inspirer, the other days are inspired.” – Rabbi Heschel
Some argue that keeping the Sabbath doesn’t pertain to Christians today because it is an Old Testament command. While no longer bound by the law, there is wisdom in remembering it, as God commanded in Exodus 20:1, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Also, Jesus doesn’t condemn remembering the Sabbath in Mark 2:27. Still, He offers clarification when criticized for not keeping it after picking corn on the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for man, not the man for the Sabbath.”
In Walter Brueggemann’s book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, he sums it up beautifully: “Sabbath is the celebration of life beyond and outside productivity. Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms.”
Do We Need to Remember a Sabbath Day on Sunday?
In Barton’s book mentioned above, she shares the idea of a floating Sabbath, mainly for those who must work on Sundays, such as pastors. The value of this practice is that it emphasizes remembering that the Sabbath is to rest one day after six days of work, even if it’s a different rest than Sunday.
The Ten Commandments mention no particular day for remembering the Sabbath. So, while Sunday may be the day we’ve always celebrated Sabbath, it should not become a point of contention among believers. Rather, it should be a place of grace with room for everyone to remember the Sabbath as their conscience leads.
What are Some Practical Ways to Remember a Sabbath Day?
Building on the ideas shared on why we should remember the Sabbath, let’s consider some practical ways to incorporate worship into a Sabbath day, cultivating a rhythm of life that honors God.
1. If you’ve struggled to remember the Sabbath, start small and don’t feel guilty about it. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Perhaps your first step begins by praying for God to give you a fresh perspective and a joyful approach to remembering the Sabbath.
2. Spending quality time with our family honors God. What does quality time look like in your home? One idea might be to place a basket on a table where family members put their turned-off phones for an hour while you take a walk together, play a board game, or read. Sometimes the parents have the hardest time with this idea, but God will bless your efforts.
3. Set time aside for everyone in the house to answer three questions every Sabbath. My husband and I use the following questions but tweak them to your preference: a) What does your coming week look like? b) Is there any way I can help you? c) How can I pray for you?
4. Rest in knowing that whatever you accomplish in six days of work, inside or outside the home, is enough. It is enough. In believing this, we recognize that God alone is sovereign and trustworthy to accomplish whatever falls outside the realm of our workdays.
5. Receive the blessing. It sounds easy, but just as it was in Jesus’ day, many man-made rules have hijacked the simplicity, beauty, and joy of remembering a Sabbath day.
A Prayer to Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy
Heavenly Father, I joyfully and humbly receive Your gift of the Sabbath. Show me how to remember it in a way that honors You. I’m grateful for the many ways I’m able to draw near to You every day, especially on a Sabbath day. It is a delight to my soul. Thank You for the ways You fill my spiritual, mental, and physical tanks for Your glory as I rest in You and Your sovereignty over my life. Amen.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Marinela Malcheva
Cathy Baker is the author of Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Beach and Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Mountains. She writes from a tiny studio lovingly known as The Tiny House on the Hill in the Foothills of SC. As an author, Hope Writer, and Bible teacher for over twenty-five years, she encourages women to pause and embrace the seemingly small, mundane moments of their day for God’s glory. She invites you to join her in the tiny house where you’re always welcome to come in and take a seat.
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