“If the Devil cannot make us bad, he will make us busy.” –Corrie Ten Boom
Dallas Willard was once asked if he had to describe Jesus in one word what would it be, and he said “Relaxed.”
I like that little idea a lot. It’s not what first comes to my mind when I try to describe Jesus…which might be why I struggle so much to relax.
It turns out that I’m not alone in this.
37 percent of Americans take fewer than seven days of vacation a year. In fact, only 14 percent take vacations that last longer than two weeks. Americans take the shortest paid vacations of anyone in the world. And 20 percent of those who do, often spend their vacation staying in touch with their jobs through their computers or phones.
We are exhausted, over-worked, always busy and always distracted from the life that is actually right in front of us. And since this is a problem that is both so pervasive and toxic, for the next few weeks, I want to review my friend A.J. Swoboda’s great new book Subversive Sabbath.
I loved this book because it seems to speak to the spirit of our age better than almost anything I’ve read in a while.
Rest as Requirement
He doesn’t do it by talking about the polarizing politics that have characterized the past few years or the advent of social media, or climate change or the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Instead he talks about the need that we all have to build into our lives rhythms of rest, and how by keeping the Sabbath, we actually address all of those other things and more.
You wouldn’t expect a book on the Sabbath to speak so much about technology or the environment or justice or community. But the truth is that our inability to rest is more related than we know to so many of the other problems we have, in fact, a lot of them are really only symptoms of the fact that we can’t rest.
And Churches are often no better than the rest of society in this regard.
A.J. tells the story about when he realized how bad churches were at this.
[Some years ago] I was in a meeting with our church’s financial board. Sitting there, it dawned on me that were I to cheat on my wife, I would lose my job. If I stole from the church, I would be run out of town. If I lied about the church finances, I would be in huge trouble. If I worshiped another god, I’d be removed. There are nine commandments that, if I chose to break, I might lose my ministry over. But if I did not keep a Sabbath, I would probably get a raise.
In fact, Swoboda says, there is a whole generation of Preacher kids who have walked away from the church because they see the church as having stolen their mothers and fathers away from them.Not because our Churches are intentionally trying to disregard the kind of life God is calling us into, but because we haven’t paid attention to how central rest is to the story God is inviting us into.
Creation and Re-Creation
Think about this, when God creates the world it’s only on day six that humans are brought into the story, and the very next day was the Sabbath. Here’s A.J. again:
Adam and Eve had accomplished nothing to earn this gratuitous day of rest. Sabbath is, in my estimation, the first image of the gospel in the biblical story. God’s nature always gives rest first; work comes later.
The idea that humans would have a rhythm of life that involved taking off a day of every week was groundbreaking in it’s day.
The stories of Genesis were originally told and circulated among a band of recently freed slaves, people who had spent their lives in forced service to Pharaoh, and it was to them that God commanded keeping the Sabbath, and told them the story of Creating it. It was a means a grace for the people of God who felt like they were in bondage
It still is.
Of all things that God created, it turns out that the Sabbath day was the only thing that Genesis tells us God called Holy. Because God knows that the way we spend the days of our life will form us more than almost anything else…for good or ill.
The God of the Bible, is literally the God of the weekend. It’s because of this story-and later because of Easter- that Christians set apart both Saturday and Sunday as a different kind of time. And how you view your time changes how you live your life.
Our modern Western culture has a bizarre relationship to time. Swoboda says that the topic of keeping the Sabbath is hostile to most of American Christianity because we worship our time more than we want to admit. We think we can make time or kill time, but time is the one thing we have no control over. It’s the one thing we can’t buy more of or hoard for ourselves. Time belongs to God and God alone.
This is why Jesus could be described as relaxed. He was never rushed, he never saw people as interruptions. Yes He wasn’t a rigid legalist about how He kept the Sabbath, but He certainly did keep it. He often would withdraw from the crowds and went off to a solitary place. Even in the middle of what we would call ministerial emergencies Jesus wasn’t hurried.
This is why I’d like to spend a few weeks with this book. I believe our frantic busyness might be a good dashboard indicator of how well we have allowed the Gospel to penetrate our own hearts.
And I think we’d all like to be a bit more like Jesus.