Sabbath. We don’t use that word very often, and more times than not we probably clump it in Christianese verbiage that most outside of the church don’t understand. We are bad about that verbiage. We desperately need to communicate the Gospel in a common vernacular.
Sabbath: divinely set apart for rest and worship.
Technically observed as Sundays for Christians and Saturdays for Jewish folks, but that’s assuming God really cares what day of the week you take actual time to just be.
When I was in church ministry, Sundays are never a day for Sabbath…only work, so typically ministry staff that work on Sundays take a different day off. My Sabbath day was Thursday, and I had my own version of rest and worship. Since it wasn’t a ‘normal’ day to gather as a group of believers, there wasn’t any corporate worship in my day. There was worship in community, which is just as sacred. I didn’t have meetings that day. I didn’t set an alarm to wake up. Sometimes I’d go for a swim, and those were incredible times of prayer…lap after lap of chatting with my Jesus. Sometimes I would find a quiet Panera corner and dig into the Bible. God would show up in those moments at Panera, and I would learn things that I wouldn’t normally learn if I hadn’t actually taken the time to grow and be present. Honestly, I had to work hard at keeping that day set apart. Life likes to creep in and take over. If I didn’t work hard at keeping it sacred, and if I didn’t actually block it off on my calendar and commit to keeping it unplanned…it would have been full and I would have been more likely to just go through the motions instead of simply resting in him, however it materialized, in those days.
For some, Sabbath can become going through the motions of what it should look like as a socially labeled Christian with all of the social assumptions: do a quiet time, disciplined prayer, go to church – don’t forget to dress nice and modest as well as act as you are supposed to in church, church council meeting, sing in the choir and volunteer somewhere.
“Quit your worship charades. I cannot stand your trivial religious games; monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings – meetings, meetings, meetings – I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evil doings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” [Isaiah 1:13-17, MSG]
Strong words…blatant words, I think it is why I like The Message Bible version sometimes. It cuts straight through the bullshit. When believers find themselves going to church because they are ‘supposed to go to church,’ they start walking a very grey line between going through the motions and honoring God through worship. God was pissed at the Israelites, because they were going through the motions of religion and didn’t want to connect with him. They didn’t need him. They were giving sacrifices for their sin as a show, and didn’t care about forgiveness. They were ignoring the things God cared about, and it angered him that they were not willing to ‘Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.’
If you are going to church on a Sunday morning only to be seen, and not seek to encounter the heart of God for you and this world…then what is the point? If you are taking communion because everyone else is going to the front and not coming clean with God…what is the point? If you are going to small group to check that off your Christian list for the week, not for community and make yourself Gospel literate…what is the point? If you are joining the mission trip simply because your friends are going and you want to take photos to show people on social media the good you do in the world, because you are a good Christian…what is the point? If you are going to the homeless shelter to serve food to appease your guilt of your abundance…what is the point?
It comes down to your motives. Who are you looking to please when you participate in the life of the church? Are your motives pure? Is it all in expectation? Or are you looking to impress someone with your holiness and righteousness, but spent an hour yelling at your family before you came to church or small group?
Sabbath is not a particular day. Sabbath is not for ‘religion.’
Sabbath is for your relationship with the one who reigns over the universe, and has love so intense for you he sent his son as the ultimate sacrifice. Sabbath is for you to take a breath. God commanded Sabbath because he didn’t create us to do EVERYTHING. He knows we need our connection to him. He knows we need rest.
God’s heart for you is to be whole in him, and that includes a day set apart to seek him and take a deep breath, because for the other days of the week God is very serious about, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” [Isaiah 1:17, NIV]