Why Sabbath Lets Us Stop

For good and for bad, I’m an ambitious person. I come from the mindset: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And I will make a way. As a positive, I’m not easily deterred from my dreams and will really go for it if I want something. But over the years, God has also poked holes in my self-driven viewpoint when things haven’t gone as planned and I haven’t been able to will my way out of my problems. And if I’m honest, I’ve said hurtful things in our marriage that have stemmed from an over-inflated view of the self.

Sabbath is the gift that allows us to stop and rest from the self.

Back in December, we found out that we would be given the opportunity to take a 30 day Sabbatical this summer (our ministry allows for this every 7 years). Little did we know that this would come on the heels of a Spring wrought with uncertainty regarding our future and calling in ministry. We came into Sabbatical weary from the stress of decision-making, not to mention the ambiguity and unknowns. We knew we needed a time to unplug from ministry and routine. We needed refreshment and healing and to stop striving and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

I’ve come to see our experience of Sabbatical as an extended version of the Sabbath command of our Father that comes around each and every week to shrink our view of self and enlarge our view of God. Not just intellectually, but in a relational-trust kind of way. To say, “I can rest because You are God and I am not.” Sabbath is that gift that allows us to rest from the self. To rest from our plotting and calculating and betting and strategizing and to trust that God is Sovereign and that He’s good.

But how could we really rest when our future seemed so uncertain? We didn’t even know if our employer would stay the same or if we’d need to pursue completely different options for our neighboring vision. What a bummer to not be able to completely enjoy our sabbatical because of all the ambiguity looming overhead.

Such is the war of Sabbath every week.

How can we stop in the midst of all the loose ends? How can we rest without guilt?

Whatever the unanswered questions and unfinished details and people and projects that wave (sometimes scream) for our attention, we can stop. We can rest. Whether be it the face of the hurts of life or just the monotony of the daily grind, sabbath lets us stop to be the frail, vulnerable people that we are and live anew in the Creator-creature relationship. Mark Buchanan masterfully describes this in The Rest of God:

“That is a good definition of Sabbath: Imitating God so that we stop trying to be God. Sabbath-keeping involves a recognition of our own weakness and smallness, that we are made from dust,that we hold our treasure in clay jars, and that without proper care we break. This is not true of God. He neither sleeps nor slumbers. He runs no risk of breakdown, burnout, exhaustion, injury. God doesn’t need Sabbath or sabbatical. He doesn’t pine for vacation. He doesn’t require a good night’s sleep to clear his head or steady his hand. He doesn’t run ragged or run amok, pushing himself beyond his limits, patching himself together between bursts of striving and binges of workaholism. God is not waiting for the weekend. But not us…. we try to outwit and outrun our limits. We think we’re the exception, the one for whom busyness will translate into fruitfulness… So God, knowing both our need and our folly, took the lead. He set the example. Like a parent who coaxes a cranky toddler to lie down for an afternoon nap by lying down beside her, God woos us into rest by resting. ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’ God commands that we imitate him in order to discover again that we’re not him, and that we need him. Sabbath is a return to Eden.” -Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath

As I meditated on these thoughts, it hit me that God had perfectly timed our Sabbatical with our transition into a new season of ministry. Not just to rejuvenate us- although that, too. But to say, “You can rest from your worry and your striving because it’s not up to you. I am in control and I love you. I’ve got you.”

And not merely to stop, but to revel in the stopping.

To stop in an indulgent kind of way where we literally glory in the relief that comes in knowing we are not God.

What does this look like… practically?

“Sabbath is the holy time where we feast, play, dance, have sex, sing, pray, laugh, tell stories, read, paint, walk, and watch creation in its fullness. Few people are willing to enter the Sabbath and sanctify it, to make it holy, because a full day of delight and joy is more than most people can bear in a lifetime, let alone a week.” -Dan Allender, Sabbath

What comes to mind, is the brilliant movie, What About Bob, when Dr. Leo Marvin prescribes for Bob to “take a vacation from his problems.”

It’s kind of like that… except more like taking a vacation from being God.

Thank God that every week, we can take a day- despite unfinished business and answered questions-  to rest without guilt and indulge in the delight that comes from knowing that God is God and we are not.

Now, go take a vacation from being God.

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