I want to give you a gift today. It isn’t mine to give, but I want to provide a roadmap for you to pursue the gift, should you so desire. This gift is so important that God included it in His list of the “Big Ten.” This gift can change your life. But this gift has been all but eradicated from our lives and culture.
And what is this gift, pray tell? The gift of Sabbath. I’m just now learning how to receive this gift myself. Sabbath means to stop, cease, take a break, cool it. The word itself has no connection to something holy or devout. It’s a word about the non-use of time, what we would call wasting time.
The biblical understanding of Sabbath comes from the week of creation where on the seventh and final day, “God rested [shabath] from all his work which he had done” (Genesis 2:3). This follows six days of sequence, rhythm marked by the refrain, “And there was evening and there was morning,” day one…day two…day three and so on.
The Hebrew understanding of day is not like ours. Our days begin with an alarm clock or the rising of the sun, and close with the setting of the sun or until we turn off the lights and hit the hay. But the Hebrew phrase of “evening and morning” is more than idiomatic speech; there is a sense of rhythm. To the Hebrews, evening begins the day of God’s creative work, while to us, evening is the time we quit our work and go to sleep. Even for those whose work schedules reverse this order, the concept remains—there is a rhythm between God’s work and our rest.
What transpires on a daily basis—God’s creative work and our rest—extends to a weekly basis, we cease working, while God’s creative energy continues. And what does this cause us to see? That God is on the throne, not us. This pattern teaches us the rhythms of grace. We sleep, God works. We wake and are called into God’s creative action. We respond in faith to God’s activity in the world.
Grace. As Eugene Peterson writes, “Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn. Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day. Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work he initiated” (Working the Angles, 68).
And now back to the gift. On a daily basis, you are already receiving the gift of the rhythm of grace through the Hebrew description of “And there was evening and there was morning, day one.” You go deeper into that gift when you extend the rhythm of grace to a seven-day pattern. Sabbath-keeping is built upon the daily rhythm, evening/morning.
Setting aside one day a week, whatever the day (Romans 14:4; Colossians 2:16-17), to quit doing and simply be, is divine. Sabbath-keeping is commanded by God so we can celebrate being that matures out of doing. We receive the gift of “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing” (ibid., 73).
You may argue that you have no time to sit around for a day and do nothing. But Sabbath-keeping is not about doing nothing; it is about doing the something in the rhythm of grace to pray and play, to rest and refuel, to contemplate and celebrate.
If you’re not familiar with Sabbath-keeping, I highly recommend you study it, don’t legalize it, and celebrate it. Remember, it’s a gift.