May 23, 2018
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
When my children were younger we initiated a practice of Sabbath keeping in our home. It was not so much a day of don’ts as the practice has tended to become throughout history. Rather, Sabbath meant a day of do’s; of doing things we didn’t do on other days. We learned the four major practices or movements of Sabbath from Marva Dawn’s marvelous book on Sabbath Keeping Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, resting, feasting and embracing. We composed a short rhyming prayer and each Saturday night around bedtime we would light our Sabbath Lamp and recite it together.
God give us your peace, and cause us to rest. We cease from our labor. We seek for your our best. Embracing each other, we walk in your ways. We thank you for giving this new Sabbath day.
As we kept this simple ritual we found it kept us. I used to think Sabbath keeping was all about revving up the devotional engines; a day for more prayer in order to prepare for the busy work week ahead. I understand it differently now. Sabbath keeping means entering into the rest of God.
Keeping Sabbath holy is all about realignment and reorientation around the holiness of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sabbath resets the pattern of Creation Days, which remember, begin at night. Sabbath restores our fundamental identity as sons and daughters, tangibly reminding us we are no longer slaves. Rather than being compelled by a master to work, we are compelled by our maker to rest.
The nature of Sabbath rest is very different from the typical idea of rest. We primarily think of rest as preparatory. We rest because we are tired, or we “rest up” for the work ahead. These notions of rest are functional and utilitarian and quite foreign to the “rest” of God. Though these are clearly human needs, God does not need to rest in these ways. The rest of God reminds us that rather than being defined by our work we can be delighted with God both in and through our work. And remember, to the extent we can grasp that our work is prayer, God will weave his will into and out of our work—no matter what our particular job happens to be.
Lest we forget, the last word in the Genesis 1 Creation account is, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” On the seventh day, God ceased from his creative speech and action. Rather than making anything, he made something he created holy—not the Creation, but time itself. “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
God calls us over and over, week after week, to set apart time to recover the gifted holiness of time. It happens through taking delight in the exceptional gift of God with us, the extraordinary gift of the people around us, and the “very good” gift of the creative and redemptive work behind us.
So what does all of this have to do with prayer. Let me test this theo-logic. If prayer is our work, and Sabbath is a day to rest from work, wouldn’t it mean Sabbath is a day to rest, even from our prayers? So then, on every seventh day, let us cease from the creative speech of prayer and let all our words and ways become as worship; which as Marva Dawn described in another of her books, a royal waste of time!
Let’s give Oswald Chambers the last word today. “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.” Oswald Chambers (My Utmost. October 17)
Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. So often we try to bring you into the yoke of what holds us back. Instead you call us to “take my yoke upon you” where you would show us a way of life that fits, that is easy and even light. We sense this new way of work is actually a new way of prayer. Open for us a new and living way of prayer where we might find this easy yoke. We long for this. Right here, Jesus. Right now Jesus. Amen.
- How do you understand and interpret the Oswald Chamber’s quote in your own words and experience?
- How does this teaching on Sabbath challenge your former ways of thinking? Where do you sense the Holy Spirit’s invitation to you in it?
- Does your life and identity tend to be shaped and defined according to labor and leisure? How might Sabbath reshape those categories?
P.S. Several years back I did a deep dive of research and study into the biblical practice of Sabbath keeping. I captured my learnings in a short book called Sabbath Keeping: It’s About Time. For those who are interested, you can download it at no charge here.
Join the Daily Text Fasting Challenge here. Whenever you sign up, it will begin the following Tuesday.
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.