What about a Sabbath?

Every now and then a new book presses home, usually from a bewilderingly new angle, an old theme in such a way it gets me to thinking. And I was reading such a book when Nancy Beach, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek, gave her inspiring and insightful talk last weekend on Sabbath. Judith Shulevitz, in her new book The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time
, is the book I’m reading and pondering and wondering. She’s not really an observant Jew, but the whole idea of Sabbath fascinates her and she probes and probes and finds all kinds of ideas. A good book. 

For the moment, let’s just set aside the important distinction of the Jewish Sabbath, which is about rest from work, and the Christian Sunday or Lord’s Day, which is more about worship and fellowship than rest from work, though it necessarily involves the concept of rest. Ideas get bundled up here, and I see no reason to get overly strict about them, but one thinks of rest and fellowship and worship and family and play and contemplation and doing things for their own enjoyment … of doing things you truly want to do instead of things you have to do … of putting down “work” completely for 24 hours. It’s that “putting down” for a whole 24 hours that makes the Sabbath what it is.
The secret to Sabbath, so it seems to me, or at least one of the secrets, is the habit of setting apart a designated period of time and keeping it no matter what else beckons. And over time how that designated time begins to deepen and grow and lengthen and create memory.
It is unwise to think we’re going to change laws and retreat back to the days when restaurants and shops were closed on Sunday.
But, still, what is your ideal “Sabbath”? What are your thoughts?
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jeff Gabel

    The Sabbath is real and is designed to remind us of the Creator God. He created this world and everything in it in six days. The Sabbath helps us to worship that powerful and loving Creator God.
    There is no such thing as the “Jewish” Sabbath and the “Christian” Sabbath. Sabbath was made at creation and was sanctified, blessed and set aside for our good. The seventh day of the week designates the finish of creation not a bending to the popular sun worship cult of the early centuries after Christ lived on this earth.
    All week long points to the Sabbath and each day of the week is inspired by the strength imparted by the Sabbath just past.
    Blessed is he that follows the commandments of God instead of the traditions of men.

  • http://http:zetountes.blogspot.com Marcus

    I’ve recently started taking a sabbath of sorts and it has been wonderful. I tend to be very stressed about being productive, so I set my Sunday aside to be with people or work on things that don’t have deadlines but just interest me. All of that is much needed rest and refreshment. It also makes me not feel guilty if I spend a whole day not doing school work, etc. Before when I would take days off to rest I would feel so guilty that I wouldn’t enjoy my time off or properly rest. I’m so glad I made the decision.
    The ideal sabbath starts with church, then lunch with some friends, then some time with my wife, dinner, and then either reading or watching Sunday night baseball!

  • ari mathaea

    The Spiritual aspect of Sabbath is to rest in Jesus, 24/7. To legalize the sabbath minimizes the importance of resting in Christ continually.

  • Jan

    I keep the Sabbath and I am not a “religious” person.
    God very specifically set aside the seventh day, which is Saturday. Christians disobey the word of God with their own ideas about when the Sabbath is, and I therefore observe and note that Christians are willing to disobey God every single week.
    I could never be a Christian — they don’t obey God.
    However, I believe every word of Jesus so I can’t be a Jew.
    God asked us to leave man’s created world every Friday night and, for the next 24 hours every single week, live instead in HIS created world.
    If every human would do that every week, starting every Friday evening, this world would be a much better place.
    We would get our priorities straight, the first one being that the love of money instead of God is the root of ALL EVIL. Nothing man has made is anything we really need in order to live — God has provided all that Life demands.
    He wants you to remember that every single week.
    He’s asked that we all come to HIS world — every Friday evening as the sun sets.
    I guarantee you that worship of God has nothing to do with any church building, ever.
    If you want to know what God is really all about, quit this world every Friday night and meet the appointment that HE commanded… spending the next 24 hours with God, in His world.
    Try it tonight.
    Just STOP what you are doing tonight at sunset.
    Commit yourself to watching God’s sunset from the very beginning until the very end.
    Then refuse to leave God’s side for the next 24 hours.
    This is what God commanded from those who have faith.
    This is what will bring you closer to that God, the one you claim to have faith in.
    Try it. You’ll love it.
    I promise.
    (And so does God.)

  • http://gatherthesparks.blogspot.com Yahnatan

    Great question, Scot. Three things come to mind.
    First, Gen. 2:3 says that the reason God sanctified (i.e. set apart or made sacred) the seventh day was because on it he rested from all his (creative) work. When I look at myself, I see this proclivity towards and passion for creating, for forming, for building and shaping. Sometimes it seems like there is no end to the work that needs to be done. A Sabbath on which I cease from creative work means taking an entire day (plus an extra hour or two, in my Jewish tradition) to stop, to enjoy, to wonder, to be thankful to God for the creation that he already brought into existence.
    Second, I notice in myself the tendency to use technology to try to extend my influence indefinitely. Communicating with friends around the country, interacting with people I’ve never even met–technology has made all of this possible. A Sabbath from this kind of technology forces me to concentrate on the people who are right in front of me, the most important people in my life: my wife, my kids, my local community. Since I’m not creating, I’m really focusing on them and on being with them, on learning, worshipping, and growing together.
    Finally, Jewish tradition teaches that the Sabbath is a foretaste of the world to come. The New Testament author of Hebrews affirms the same thing when he writes (in Heb. 4:9) “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” By practicing Sabbath, I begin to shape myself to the way of the world to come; if possible, I experience a foretaste of that ultimate rest, in the here and now.
    And when, paradoxically, even resting from work seems like work sometimes, I again take encouragement from the Hebrews: “Let us make every effort to enter that rest.” Regularly practicing Sabbath is exactly that: a regular “practice” run for, and a reminder of, the ultimate Sabbath rest of God–the World to Come.

  • Phillip

    By stopping (however one observes Sabbath)and letting things go for a time, we are refocused on the God who provides and protects. Thus Sabbath acts as a hedge against various idolatries, and we are reminded that there is a God, and He is not any one of us.
    I also think we need to focus on Sabbath as PROVIDING rest. It’s not simply about our own ceasing, but providing opportunities for others to rest (e.g., our employees or our children, who seem relentlessly driven and busy these days, or that frazzled, overworked server at the resturaunt whom we should treat well and tip really well).

  • http://fodderforthesoul.wordpress.com/ Jason Feffer

    I think Sabbath is an issue that is gaining some momentum in the American church these days, and it is a very welcome momentum in my opinion. My wife and I have been practicing Sabbath for about a 18 months now, and it has been deeply transformational. It causes us to cease all those inadequate activities in which we derive false value. It forces us to slow down and quiet our lives to meet with and hear God. This has allowed us to grow in our understanding of where our value really comes from.

  • http://www.wandering-in-the-wilderness.blogspot.com David

    Sabbath seems to be one of the most talked about subjects in the Bible (not near as much as money, but it’s up there). The minor prophets warned nations of their impending doom because of their Sabbath violations. Jesus spoke of and modeled the Sabbath for us (yes, He chided the legalism of it, but He still observed it just the same). I daresay it is one of the most violated commandments.
    And God made it FOR US. To benefit us. Our weekly rhythm and health are impacted by our observance or neglect of the Sabbath. I don’t think Jesus is so much concerned about when we take our Sabbath (hospitals can’t close down for a day, for example), but that we do take a Sabbath.

  • Alastair

    I would prefer to push back on the assertion that we should conflate the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath. From my own experience, and I know many others that would agree with me, if you are a member of a small and active church, serving in various ways, Sunday can be the most stressful and tiring day of the week, a far cry from the Sabbath surely. For example, until recently Sunday for me meant driving half an hour to church, spending 1.5 hours setting up AV equipment, running AV during the service, and spending 30 mins+ tearing down, and then driving home again, all this done with a baby and wife tagging along. Nothing could be further from rest.
    Our family have now made a clear separation between Sabbath (Family Saturday) and Lord’s Day (Sunday/Church Service), and are really enjoying it. If at all possible all work and chores are avoided and as a family we enjoy Saturday together. On Sunday we now expect some work, in service of Jesus, to be done, and that’s OK because we had our rest the day before.

  • Pat

    My ideal sabbath is morning worship and then spending the rest of the day in rest and relaxation. It’s the one day that I have an opportunity for time to myself. I also wonder how Christians can truly experience Sabbath rest when some churches not only have morning worship but evening services as well, some of which high expectations, if not requirements, are laid down that one must attend. Being in church all the time is not my idea of sabbath.

  • http://mysticallimpet.blogspot.com Travis Greene

    I echo Alastair’s comments.
    Good point, Scot, that we can’t roll back laws and enforce some kind of Sabbath on everyone else. We can, however, make decisions in our sphere of influence that allow other people to have a Sabbath. This can be anywhere from Chick-fil-A’s excellent (and I’m sure costly) policy of being closed on Sundays to simply not patronizing restaurants on whatever day you practice Sabbath.
    I have heard of Christians going to a restaurant on Sunday and announcing to the waitress that they will not leave a tip, since they disapprove of people working on Sundays. Shameful.

  • John W Frye

    I think a good work for Sabbath benefit is “replenish.” God wanted his people replenished, so they rested from work and God provided food for the body. Family, tribal friends, meaningful relationships could be nurtured in a leisurely, yet intentional manner.
    I am confounded by comments that require all to honor Sabbath only on Saturday and judge those who don’t in direct contradiction to Paul’s directive to let no one judge regarding Sabbath (Colossians 2:16) and that some regard one day as holy and someone else another (Romans 14). We don’t need legalistic rants about *when* the Sabbath is honored.

  • John W Frye

    Comment #12 should open as “I think a good *word* for Sabbath benefit is “replenish.”

  • RJS

    John,
    Ah, but the original “good work” had such room for imagination.

  • Jeff Stewart

    “Today” is the “sabbath” according to Hebrews 4. σήμερον – literally “this very day.”

  • Rhoda Schultz

    As a young girl, my grandfather (a Pentecostal Pastor) served as a Sabbath Goy for some of our neighbors. We lived in the middle of a West Denver Orthodox Jewish community. Our ‘ministry’ consisted of simply carrying books to homes, turning down lights and stoves, and placing tea kettles on brick warmers.
    I often wondered why our Christian ‘Sabbath’ was so busy, in contrast to my neighbors. I am now grown, serving as a mother of five, and a worship leader. Still longing for a Sabbath rest.
    Yes, I hear the argument often that Jesus is our Sabbath rest each and every day. However, there is something significant about the rest prescribed in the Torah, a ‘sanctuary in time’. The benefits are deep and profound.
    A great book on this subject is Abraham Joshua Heschel’s ‘Sabbath’.

  • John W Frye

    RJS #14,
    Why, thank you. With a little thought, the word “work” works taking us in a whole new direction.

  • gwen

    During our “break” from organized religion Sabbath was no technology family day. Kids played lots of board games (Catan became very popular.) We might watch a television show later in the evening but the day was for family and actually BEING together.
    Now that we go to church on Sundays we have lost a great deal of family time. Youth group does Frisbee golf or something on Sunday afternoons. Sunday school puts everybody in separate rooms. Preaching brings us back together for a mutual time of agonizing boredom, but by the time we get home from that the life has been sucked out of each and every one of us. I miss my pre-organized religion Sabbath of sleeping in, breakfast and Sunday comics then hours of games. Sigh.

  • Mike M

    Are (were) Jews required to go to the synagogue on Saturdays? Assembling together on any particular day of the week can be a good thing, especially if it’s not required for one’s salvation, but does that qualify it as a “Sabbath?” I like the idea of observing a Saturday Sabbath but not legalistically. A person’s observance doesn’t necessarily have to be Friday sunset to Saturday sunset but could run from Saturday morning to Sunday morning with Sunday worship as icing on the cake. Observing Sabbath is probably akin to fasting or meditating: the benefits are beyond the expected or explainable.
    Yet, I justify working on Saturdays because even Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

  • http://www.justopenthebook.com David Edmisten, President, justopenthebook.com

    I think it’s important that the full text of God’s commandment is fulfilled “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it Holy”. More than just a day of rest from work, the Sabbath is commanded to be holy – a time of worship, a time of prayer, a time to commune with God. For my family, this means church, prayer, reading and sharing the Bible together, sometimes doing service projects for those in need. Most importantly, our focus for that day is God and everything else is pushed aside for our committment to Him.

  • http://www.sabbathtruth.com fellowservant

    We serve an amazing God! According to recent discoveries in chronobiology, every living organism has an innate seven day biological rhythm! The human immune system observes a circaseptan (7-day) cycle staring from the first day of the week to the seventh day. This leaves the world clear evidence of a living God who is actively involved with His creation, evidence that helps lead man to acknowledge Him as his Creator and Sustainer! If our physical bodies benefit from observing God’s natural laws, what spiritual blessing is God awaiting to pour into our souls if we keep His holy day? Isa. 56; 58:13, Mark 2:27,28. Why are the majority of professing Christians choosing to forget and neglect the only commandment that God calls them to remember? Are they not willing to receive His blessing?

  • Logan Anderson

    Does Judith Shulevitz care about God’s will regarding the Sabbath? She speaks as though the Sunday sabbath, is more important that the religious liberties of orthodox Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Baptists, etc. She quotes the Ten Commandments, then talks as though the first day of the week should be enforced, which would be very contrary to those very commandments. Does she not know the origins of the Sunday sabbath?
    “The Church made a sacred day of Sunday… largely because it was the weekly festival of the sun; for it was a definite Christian policy to take over the pagan festivals endeared to the people by tradition, and to give them a Christian significance.” – Arthur Weigall, The Paganism in Our Christianity, 1928, p. 145.
    “Of course the Catholic Church claims that the change (Saturday Sabbath to Sunday) was her act.” H.F. Thomas, Chancellor of Cardinal Gibbons. Nov. 11, 1895.
    “Sunday is our mark of authority…the church is above the Bible, and this transference of Sabbath observance is proof of that fact.” – Catholic Record of London, Ontario Sept. 1, 1923.
    So, just just like that, Judith Shulevitz can advocate dispensing with one of the Ten Commandments, and accepting in its’ place the papal Sunday sabbath, simply because it is the more common and accepted in today’s society? In her thinking, where does the will of God, where does the Ten Commandments, fit in? She speaks of them frequently, but seemingly can just a readily dismiss them. How does her own conscience allow that?


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