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Rest - Do No Work

To remember the Sabbath is to take a day of rest. In Christianity, the typical Sabbath day is considered to be Sunday, but God’s Sabbath is and always has been on Saturday (which technically begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday). Sunday’s Sabbath was born out of rebellion to the Jewish heritage of the early Church, so to honor God and the heritage of my faith, I prefer to take mine on Saturday whenever possible. I believe that God gives special honor to those who would break away from cultural norms to align themselves with His commands and His calendar.

But putting aside the actual day and time when you take your Sabbath, the most important thing is that you remember it. Having remembered the Sabbath diligently for the past many years, I now cannot live without it. If for some reason I miss a week’s Sabbath, I feel it for the next seven days. I need that day of rest to be able to make it through the following week with enough energy, focus, and strength to keep up with God as I follow after Him.

So what does the Sabbath look like from a practical understanding?  That’s where the second part of the command comes in, to keep the day holy unto the Lord.  And as if it were not enough just to say that, God is so kind to explain it to us in the following verses, summed up by saying “You shall do no work.”

I don’t know about you, but it can be quite difficult for me to “do no work.”  It actually feels like a lot of work just trying not to work sometimes.  We’ve been taught to be productive, and we fear idleness, either because we find identity is what we do or because we want to avoid the thoughts and feelings that have time to surface when we're not distracted from our labor.  Both of these ring true for me.

But what actually constitutes itself as work?  In Jewish culture, this is clearly defined, and there are so many rules and boundaries in place to keep you from even getting close to work (like not turning on a light or using an elevator, because that constitutes creating fire, which is strictly forbidden in Exodus 35:3.  For Christians, however, we see through Jesus’ example that the letter of the law and the spirit of the law are separate, and that sometimes following the letter of the law is breaking the spirit of the law or of the greater good (for example, a doctor who ignores healing a dying man on the Sabbath is not loving his neighbor as himself and therefore putting more value on God’s law than on God himself).

This leads us to something else very important about the Sabbath, found in Mark, chapter two.  “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (verse 27).  The Sabbath is for our benefit.  It was given to us as a gift, and we should receive it as such.  But this gift looks different for each of us in our unique gifting, personality, and circumstance. 

For some of us, our idea of rest and connecting with God is caring for a garden, but for a professional landscaper, that would be considered work.  For some of us (like me), doing a load of laundry on the Sabbath is not work, but for my friend Sue, who does 15 loads of laundry a week, that’s work to her, and she refrains from it during her day of rest.  Some people can enjoy checking personal email on the Sabbath (catching up with family and friends and the latest forwarded email humor), but for me, opening up my email is work, and even if I don’t do work because of it – if it even causes me to think about work, I’ve lost the rest and peace of my Sabbath.  In your unique situation, you know what is work and what is not.  Take the Sabbath off.  Don’t work.  Just relax and enjoy the day.

It’s interesting and exciting to me that God spent His Sabbath (after creation) enjoying His work. Six days He spent working and creating and laboring, and the seventh day He spent enjoying all that He had made. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially when you work for someone else, and when your work is of no personal benefit to you and your family. Even then, you can enjoy the satisfaction of all that you did during the week for other people, and you can take joy in the fact that you were able to enhance someone else’s life through your labor.

But we all have things we can enjoy on the Sabbath.  Perhaps it’s a garden that you worked on during the week.  Perhaps it’s your family that you worked to provide for and to raise and build relationship with.  Perhaps it’s a friendship that you have been building over the last few years.  Perhaps it’s the remodeling or decorating you’ve done around the house. 

And even if you can’t find anything like that to enjoy, you can enjoy God’s work.  Go for a walk.  Hike through the woods or just find a bench in the park where you can sit and read a book.  Find God in His creation.  Find God in His provision.  Find God in His people.

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