The Rhythms of Sabbath

There are so many demands pulling at our days as we head back to school, back into schedules (and managing schedules for our kids), back into the rhythms of routine. And there is only one habit that can bring order to my chaos in the changing winds of a season without exception: observing Sabbath.

FaceChristie Penner Worden
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The Rhythms of Sabbath

I love summer! I mean, I really love summer: I love to feel the sunshine on my face, I love peaches and corn on the cob, I love the long days and lazy nights that linger. The rhythms, or lack thereof, of summer seem to give space for many of the things that immediately get squeezed out in the fall season.

Somehow, when Sabbath comes each week, I feel it no matter the season. For all I know, yesterday was Monuednursday, but Sabbath is always certain, settled. Everything else can wait because I have plans, and Jesus is waiting for me.

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The habit of Sabbath is one that began years ago for me, and I am certain that the fog of a pandemic, and the struggle to emerge from it with any rhyme or reason, would have consumed me without the anticipation and expectation of Sabbath each week. But that expectation was learned. The expectation of Jesus’ presence and time with Him was rehearsed week after week until it was just known, understood, and anticipated. And what I have learned by setting time apart, is that God’s promise of rest, on earth as it is in heaven, holds true today.

Sabbath is the intentional setting apart of a day of rest. It is many things, but optional isn’t really one of them for me anymore. While it is a choice (as it is to walk with Jesus), I learned to choose into the rhythm of rest before I really “needed” it. What I have learned about needing rest isn’t that I need a break, it’s that I need Him. I need Jesus. And the way to Him is to show up. Ever since I chose to show up for Sabbath once, I understood what I was missing if I didn’t.

So here’s what I would want you to know about His rest, so that you know it in the desert with as much confidence as you know it in the Promised Land of His Presence:

1. What you learn in health will serve you in seasons of change

Healthy rhythms are not often acquired under pressure. They need wide open spaces to try, to reimagine, to make room. They need permission within the privileges of flexibility, wonder and curiosity. If  you’re “fine” right now, if you have the bandwidth of a slower summer pace, now is your moment to shift, add, subtract, try new things. When we are healthy, we have room to grow and flourish. And if you’re not sabbathing in your flourishing, I can only imagine what God would do in six days for/in/through you that you cannot do in seven without Sabbath rest. Just saying.

2. Rhythm is meant for momentum. It is trustworthy. It also gets you back on track when you trip or fall.

If you’re a musician like me, you know the significance of rhythm to hold a piece together. Whether you are making music by yourself or in community, the tie that binds is, indeed, the metronome of time. Sabbath creates a time signature where you play six beats and Jesus plays the seventh. In order to keep rhythm, you have to trust that He will do His part. You not only don’t have to play the seventh beat, you could ruin the melody if you do (and you get to hear His sweet note, written just for you, if you don’t).

If you miss a beat, or plow right through the bar line, just know that the rhythm will pull you back into the music. No one is excellent when they read music for the first time. Practice is what it takes to play any instrument. Play this life like it’s the most glorious symphony you’ve ever heard, and play it as unto the King! And when you get to beat seven, let the Soloist wow you.

3. Rest is a promise, a covenant, a gift. It isn’t the chore. It is rest from the chores. But it does require effort to keep.

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” God requires. God created for six days and didn’t on the seventh. Why? He tells us that He stopped, looked around at all He had done, and saw that it was good. When was the last time you did that?  Have you thought about Sabbath as an opportunity to declare God’s goodness? To truly look around and say “it is sufficient”?

What this kind of pause requires is the belief that all that you have done in six days is not only sufficient as a contribution, but that He will provide on the seventh beyond what you could have done if you hadn’t stopped and declared His goodness. This kind of belief, I am convinced runs as deep--bone- and soul-deep--as the exhaustion from which you require His rest.

4. Sabbath isn’t optional. Sit with that.

While you have a choice, I wonder if you have heeded God’s call to Sabbath the same way you have to not murder or worship an idol. It’s quite blindsiding when you choose to see it listed among the same commands as not sleeping with someone else’s spouse or stealing. This matters. Giving God one of your days each week matters to the heart of God so much that He esteems it as equal to the other commands.

But we have a list in our minds, don’t we, of which ones we are comfortable with, and which ones seem, shall we say, optional? Keeping the Sabbath seems to sit with honouring our parents or coveting in the “ya, but” camp. There are caveats to these ones, aren’t there? Exceptions to the rule? I dare say no. Yet here we are. Unsure of whether or not that thing will get done or you’ll have time tomorrow if you don’t do just that one thing on the day you promised God to *try* to save for Him. Alas, there’s always next week.

5. Sabbath is a testimony of obedience and trust.

Here’s the thing: if you believe that God is who He says He is (and I know you do), and you believe that you are who He says you are (and I know you want to), then He will do what only He can do when you do what He has asked you to do. That’s the thing about “trust and obey:” you can’t know the abundance of God’s Kingdom until you engage with it on the terms set out before you. And God’s terms are this: He longs to take care of you, to give you gifts (and His are the best--there are no bad ones!); He delights in hanging out with you, listening to you, comforting you, celebrating with you and cheering you on.

But He also has things to say and would very much like you to take the time to listen. In order to do that you will need to set other things aside and trust that He’s not only worth it--but that his sufficiency is beyond need. He is more than enough. Sit a while. Bend His ear. Allow Him to bend yours. And whatever you gave up to be in His presence, I promise--*promise--*He’ll make it worth your while and take care of the things you’re fretting about (or at least adjust your perspective).

6. It isn’t a box I tick. It’s a thing I long for, and a thing I miss if not observed.

What if you just skipped Christmas morning? Or someone’s birthday? What are the chances you are just checking out of every family celebration for the next year? What would you miss if you did? That’s the heart for Sabbath I want you to consider. That it is the heart of celebration, worship, anticipation that we are invited to on the set-apart occasion of the Lord’s Day. This is holiness: preparing your heart to enter His presence and being flattened by His goodness, grace and mercy, and your invitation to it.

We talk about anticipation because you know what it’s like to wait for something significant. A holy, set-apart day is significant. And when you posture your anticipation toward the expectation that He will show up, it changes why you would give Him what He’s asked you for. He showed up last Friday and the one before. I remain convinced that He will show up this Friday, too. And what in the world do I have going on that trumps that?! Goodness, I long for His rest. A deep breath, a Holy Spirit moment of “enough” that is set apart because I set aside what was His all along. And I see that it is good.

7. Rest doesn’t have to mean stillness. (Thank goodness!)

What does restoration look like for your soul? Is it play? Maybe it’s physical activity or time spent in nature. It could be a visit to your favourite café, or a drive to that spot you’ve always wanted to see. Do you love to bake and dance in your kitchen? Throw on your favourite worship tracks and get moving (maybe that’s just me…)

Has the very definition of “rest” or some impossible picture of meditation and stillness kept you from exploring what it means to spend a day with God saying “it is good”? So redefine rest! How does your Father’s DNA show up in you? How do you best reflect His image in work and in play? What brings you joy, delight, reprieve? Do that. Do lots of that, with Him, and thank Him for the way He made you to celebrate Him uniquely.

8. Your family and friends will get it. Eventually.

Shifts in schedules, commitments and calendars are hard for everyone they affect.  But just like the beginning of a new school year, two things are always true: it is worth it and you’ll get used to it. You’ll even stop apologizing for saying no to things on your Sabbath that you would have previously said yes to (in the “before times”: before boundaries, before rest, before Sabbath).

Your “yes” to Jesus quashes any fomo of what you may be missing. And your “no” is a really good teacher. So much of what we learn from Jesus was taught in His walk, in His ways, not only in His words. And if Jesus kept the Sabbath, I have to believe there is something in it worth practicing. He is in it. He sees you, He loves you, He is with you.

As you make space for Sabbath, those who are discipled by you will grow curious. It is a funny thing, when you say “I’m hanging out with Jesus today…” few will contest that. But they may ask you the day after or later in the week what you meant by that. And if we are to bear witness to the gospel in our lives, it will show up in our ways more than our words, too.

So as I was on leave from my job, navigating trauma, crisis and new normals, I wondered if it mattered that each week still had a Friday when I seemed to be pulling on our Father’s pant leg every hour. I assure you that the dark hours of each day could not hide from the Light of the Sabbath (John 1:5). You are children of the Light. Let your light be restored for one day, so that He may shine brightly through you, even in the darkest of places.

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