The Gift of Sabbath Rest
Yesterday we did an old thing.
We observed Sabbath as a family, or we like to call—the Shabbat—as Jewish people have called it for centuries. The word means to rest or to cease from labor. And like our Jewish brothers and sisters of old, we started with a Sabbath dinner. We had ours Saturday night to commence a day of rest that would extend through Sunday, ending around 6pm Sunday evening.
Before getting to what we did, I want to share why we wanted to do it in the first place. We are not Sabbatarians (not yet anyway). While we are convicted that the fourth commandment should have more bearing on our lives than the common application of resting in Jesus’ work on the cross, we can’t say with certainty that it is a sin to not observe a strict Sabbath. In fact, we can’t even say what exactly would constitute work if we were were to have a strict observance. For our purposes, we obtain from our vocational labors. My husband won’t do any lesson planning or grading. I won’t work on the upkeep of the home or any formal writing. We also won’t spend much time on social media or looking at forms of entertainment that draw our attention away from God.
For us, the Sabbath is a day we get to abstain from work in order to rest in God by delighting in things that make us more happy in God. The Shabat meal commenced a day of celebrating God’s goodness, remembering both his creative and redemptive work, and enjoying all we’ve been given by him—especially this day of rest. The God who calls us to work for his glory also invites us to rest for his glory. What a kind and loving God we serve.
We got the idea from the Wilsons. While I do not agree with everything they’ve taught over the years and cannot endorse any of their published work, I am encouraged by many of their online exhortations to courageously and lovingly continue in faith-filled obedience. I also love a tradition they have of gathering Saturday evenings for a huge family Sabbath dinner. Nancy Wilson describes it as a legacy they are leaving their grandchildren.
So we had our own yesterday and invited a friend to join us.
We didn’t wake up yesterday morning with the knowledge that we would be hosting Sabbath dinner that night. I had the desire but wasn’t sure if my husband really wanted to do it, and I didn’t want to force it. We both felt pretty groggy, discouraged, and weary. There was so much to do—Well, not that much, but when you have three children three and under, even a few tasks feels like a lot. Somehow I managed to go to the gym later that morning and when I returned, Adam asked me if I wanted to have Sabbath dinner that night and if we should invite our friend who would be coming over later that evening anyway.
During the kids afternoon quiet time, I looked up a sample of Sabbath liturgy from Douglas Wilson and made one of our own for Adam to edit as he thought necessary. I left the prayer blank as well as the blessing for the wife. It would be weird to suggest how he should bless me.
Many Christians view Sabbath as a day of rest. On this day, they intentionally spend time with his people, beyond the weekly church service, and with other loved ones. Thus it’s not like we’re doing anything very different from brothers and sisters around the world.
What I like about the dinner is that allows for us to think about God, all the work he’s completed for our good and his glory, and this wonderful gift of rest. The dinner is feast. I took out our china. We served wine. And our friend even brought dessert.
As my son put it, “The Lord’s day is when we celebrate God.”
This feast is also a discipleship tool to teach our kids about God. We get to demonstrate just how great he is by setting time aside just to celebrate him. Someone recently wrote about how important it is that we show our children that God is real. This is one way we can do that.
Something about our time caused my three year old to ask, “Why do you like God?”
If we can keep with this every week, I pray this time will deepen our love for God and allow for many more opportunities to tell our children how good he’s been to us and why he’s worth celebrating.
My heart was full as I cooked and cleaned before dinner. There was something about preparing a meal for the sole purpose of worshipping Jesus with my people. This meal was for him.
And it was a time to not just give thanks for our physical test but to also rejoice in the spiritual rest we have in Christ.
I think many of us know we need physical rest. But how often are we aware of our spiritual rest in the Lord. The Sabbath helps us remember that we enjoy spiritual rest in the Lord every minute of every day.
All of us who have believed in Jesus Christ have become children of the one, true living God. His grace saves us. There’s nothing we could do to earn salvation from sin and death. Not even keeping the Sabbath will help you on the day of the Lord’s judgement. Nope. Only The work of Jesus Christ saves. By His life, death, and resurrection, we are reconciled to God forever. And we can rest. Working not to earn acceptance but out of love for the one who loved us and gave himself up for us.
The gift of the Sabbath underlines Jesus work on our behalf and the glorious rest we have in him.
Jesus freed us from sins power and gave us hearts that actually want to worship him instead, that seek to obey him. And one thing I’m leaning is that rest is an act of obedience. Whether it going to bed at a reasonable hour or setting aside a day to remember the Lord and his work. We need rhythms of hitting ‘pause’ on our daily strivings, even if only to know for ourselves that we are not slaves of our work or this world.
I know the topic of Sabbath rest is complicated. I don’t think it has to be, but I also don’t have all the answers. All I know is that our God made us to need rest. And that somehow Shabbat has a way of preparing us to do our work with gratefulness, cheerfulness, and excellence. It keeps work in its place too.
Risen Motherhood covered this topic wonderfully here. And, as always, they make sure we know the freedom we have to rest in the Lord in ways that make sense for us.
This blog post is part of my 2020 first draft series.