May23WedMay 23, 2018
Two weeks ago, Janice and I spent a few days at Deer Ridge Ministries - a spiritual retreat center which accommodates couples who serve in full-time ministry. This ministry began over a decade ago to facilitate place where pastors can intentionally practice Sabbath without added responsibilities. But what is Sabbath? It is an older, Hebrew word which many people don’t use anymore. As Christians, we may think of Sabbath as our day of worship – Sunday – coupled with spending time with family and perhaps doing a little less work than normal. But let’s go back to the Old Testament briefly because Sabbath is much bigger than that.
The practice of Sabbath was commanded by God to His people though the giving of the Ten Commandments. They were commanded to rest from their labors each seventh day in order to remember God as Creator and God as Redeemer (Ex 20:11, Deut 5:15). There were even specific, God-given parameters to keep people from working more than necessary. However, by the time Jesus was in full-time ministry, Sabbath was only about rules. The traditions of rabbis had been added to Sabbath laws and were distracting many from celebrating and resting in God as Creator and Redeemer. During this sermon series in Mark, we’ll discover some of the conversations that Jesus had with the legalistic Pharisees on this topic. For example, “Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Now, the requirements of Sabbath keeping were fulfilled in Jesus. He is now our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9ff). Therefore, we do not need to legalistic about Sabbath. However…humans still need intentional, spiritual rest! How do we know? Even Jesus withdrew from crowds from time to time to be quiet with the Father (see Mark 1:35, 6:31, 6:46). Likewise, we see habits of rest and worship among the Early Church.
The challenge for people in full-time church work is that Sunday’s are rarely restful days. And the bigger challenge for Christians in the twenty-first century is that we are being conditioned to be constantly connected to our devices, work and forms of entertainment.
When is the last time you spent even 30 minutes in absolute silence with your thoughts, one passage of Scripture and God?
Sabbath keeping is completely counter-cultural…and spiritually challenging!
Now back to Deer Ridge. Our five days of Sabbath were intentionally geared to strengthen our relationship with God. Now, we were expected to join the four other couples for a formal dinner and discussion in the evening and meet once with the host couple for counsel and prayer. Otherwise, each day was to be spent in Sabbath rest. During those days, I took hours to intentionally be still before God in prayer. I listened. I asked. I prayed specifically for everyone within our congregation. My phone was off. My computer was left at home. I read through two books on leadership, one Christian novel and many chapters of the Bible. Likewise, as a couple, we did a self-guided course on Godly parenting and took many walks. Sabbath! We are so grateful that our Elders gave their affirmation towards this rejuvenating week. Oh, how we needed it!
As Christians, there is no need to be legalistic about Sabbath rest. However, I suspect that hours of prayer, reading and silence are nearly impossible for anyone without very intentional effort. As the pressure and pace of life continues to overwhelm each day, I encourage you to guard moments of silence and Sabbath in order to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). Sabbath was made for us! And we need times like this to know Him more.