Sabbath — It’s Rest and So Much More

To all of you awaiting our next She’s Got Issues installment — it is forthcoming.  Here’s a “tweener” that reflects some other things I’ve been learning.

For a few weeks several women have joined together for a study on Sabbath, entitled Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath.  I looked forward to this study because I inevitably find myself in some sort of cycle where I do really well with my quiet time and little by little, it ebbs away till I’m strung out – all week, all month – till I crash and burn.

Guess what part of the cycle I’ve been in.

In this study…I expected to be challenged, to create margin in my life. I have.

I expected to be reminded what Sabbath is meant to be and why it’s good for me. I have.

I expected that it would be hard for me to get back into a good Sabbath rhythm. It has been.

And so much more.

I have really learned about Sabbath – what God REALLY intended for Sabbath, what the Jews call Shabbat.

Right off the bat, I learned that my notion of Sabbath, Shabbat, was a bit off.  I took it to mean, “do nothing” — that “no work” idea. But when we look at Genesis we see that God finished His work on the seventh day.

Huh. I’d always thought I read that He finished on the sixth day. He certainly does rest on the seventh day, but something else in creation still happened that day. God created rest! (For more on this, you can check out The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man by the Heschels).

The idea that creation lacked something when it came to that seventh day was a new way of thinking about Sabbath for me.  It began to sink in that Sabbath rest is more than just ceasing work. It’s not such a negative “nothing” as it is something that has intrinsic value.

On the seventh day – tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose were created.

I realize this could be just semantics – just different words describing rest. But for me this was a game changer.  There is purpose in Sabbath beyond ceasing something (which does feel kind of negative to me).

Add to this the truth that our culture values busyness — we’re made to feel guilty or less-than if we take time to rest. This week’s lesson hit home for me: “We’ve made an idol of exhaustion. If we aren’t worn slick, we haven’t done enough…”

THAT’s the rhythm I’ve fallen into.  I work, work and keeping doing more till I am exhausted. THEN I rest. But the rest my body needs by then is so extreme, there’s no real tranquility, serenity, peace, or repose. It’s just sleep…bordering on comatose.

That’s NOT the rhythm I seek. Or need.

Maybe that’s why this has stuck with me, resonated with me. I seek a Sabbath that fills me: body, mind, and spirit.

But guess what? That kind of Sabbath doesn’t happen without intentional creation (sound familiar!?).  I have to CREATE time in my day, in my week for “Shabbat.”

And because I’m learning that Sabbath doesn’t mean I have to cease all action, maybe I Shabbat by reading or writing, working in the yard or taking a walk. Anywhere, anyway that I am able to turn off the harried life and center myself on Christ.

And the goal isn’t just physical rest. It’s also peace and tranquility – a serenity of mind and body.

One more lesson came this week about creation and Sabbath.

There’s so much ORDER to creation.  Divide Days 1-3 and 4-6 and you see that those first three days, God created habitat.  Then days 4-6, He created the inhabitants. And those days line up.  See for yourself:

Day 1 – God created day and night……………Day 4 – God created the sun and moon.

Day 2 – God created heavens and oceans. …Day 5 – God created birds and fish.

Day 3 – God created land and vegetation……Day 6 – God created animals, man & woman

With the creation of each habitat, God correspondingly created an inhabitant to have domain over that habitat. He ended with man and woman, who have domain over all the other habitats and inhabitants.

THEN – Day 7. Our Sabbath. God rested. Was He tired? No, but He was modeling for us what we need. He was making a statement – mankind has some domain, but GOD has ultimate sovereignty over it ALL!

Priscilla Shirer, our teacher, takes this a step further, explaining that it was this concept of the 7th day that Adam and Eve rebelled against. They wanted autonomy. They wanted sovereignty of Sabbath.

I don’t know about you, but this way of looking at Sabbath gives so much more clarity for me. It helps me understand Adam and Eve and the choice they made. It gives me greater understanding into why I make the choices I do. It’s about…control.

Ultimately, Priscilla teaches, “When we stay within Sabbath, we are standing with God, in that space, looking back at days 1-6, saying ‘It’s good.’” We’re taking time to appreciate what we’ve accomplished and witnessed God do.

When we Shabbat, we are resisting the urge to continue all the things that put demands on us throughout our days 1-6. We are standing with God. We rest, knowing that it’s with Him that we finally create the space for that tranquility and peace and serenity to take root in us.

Priscilla has challenged me, our group, to Sabbath in a very real, very practical way.

Sabbath, that one day out of seven, works out to be 14% of a week, so we are to commit 14 minutes of each day to Shabbat – “to resist the urge to continue, to remember who I was before Christ, to recall the work God has already done in me.”

That 14 minutes won’t happen for me unless I schedule it. And I’m pretty sure I won’t find the SAME 14 minutes every day. So to create that margin, I’m going to have to, well…create it.

Time isn’t the only thing that restrains or enslaves us, believe it or not. It can also be our stuff, our activities, our work, our relationships. To have healthy boundaries/margin in all of the areas that can keep us from God is also part of Sabbath.

With that in mind, Priscilla encouraged us to take this 14 idea into those other areas. We can create 14 inches of space – maybe literally, like our closet or pantry or freezer – anywhere that overflows to the point of becoming an area of distraction or entanglement.

I think the 14 rule can work in other areas of our lives too.  If we’re out of balance because of work (paid or volunteer), then we could carve out 14% of our time to develop healthy friendships. Time with sisters in Christ is good for my soul – but it’s often those friendships I sacrifice for my work…

Maybe it’s our appetites – food or otherwise. Scale back by “14%.” I can see where this could be taken too literally, but I’m visualizing a gradual cutting back.

If we’re glued to hours of television every night, maybe we give up a night and spend that time with God. Or if we’re feeling controlled by food, perhaps we fast a meal or eat smaller portions.

If we find we spend too much money on ourselves or never give to others, we need to trust God and let go a little at a time until we reach the point of being fully generous givers.

The idea isn’t to create something else to control us. The idea is to create margin in every area of our lives so that we create that space where true Shabbat – tranquility, repose, serenity, and peace – can occur.

The truly beautiful thing is that when we create Sabbath margin in our lives, we flourish. The fruit of the Spirit grow in us, and we reflect more and more of Jesus to others – all because we trust God and let Him be sovereign over everything in our lives.

Priscilla is right — Sabbath is about surrender. “To the extent that we yield to the Spirit’s control, that’s the extent to which we will begin to see His fruit flourish in our lives.”

Sabbath. It is rest.

And so much more.

Learning to rest in Him,

Shelley Johnson

Ideas taken from Priscilla Shirer’s study, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath, LifeWay 2014.

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

4 thoughts on “Sabbath — It’s Rest and So Much More

  1. For those reading this who shared in this study & those reading this who haven’t done this study; Shelley’s summary explains God’s creation & purpose of Sabbath perfectly!! All reading this summary (including myself) can not only learn from this summary but can also apply these concepts! Thank you Shelley for these insights. It’s a blessing!!

    Sent from my iPhone


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