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When Sabbath Doesn’t Include Church


This week I had one of the best Sabbaths I’ve experienced in a long time. We slept, went out for breakfast, wandered around, rested, had conversations, admired the fall colors, walked hand in hand…it was great. I was able to spend some time writing and there was nothing on our agenda…not even church.

In some people’s mind (and I used to be one of them) that cannot be. For them, Sabbath = church attendance.

Sabbath is a gift from God to humanity. It is such a valuable gift the One who never gets tired created it, modeled it, and commanded it. Sabbath was given as the 24 hour period from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It reminded Israel their value did not come from what they could produce. It was time set aside every week for them to remember they were beloved children of God who ultimately provides for them. Sabbath was given so that they may focus their attention and express their gratitude to him.

Historically, Sabbath set the rhythm of life for God’s people. They would observe Sabbath, spend the next several days reflecting on it and the last half of the week preparing for it. Sabbath was more than a day off. It was the metronome of their existence; celebrate, reflect, prepare, celebrate, reflect, prepare, celebrate, reflect, prepare, celebrate.

The Jewish people celebrated it on the seventh day, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Christians moved their celebration to Sunday in honor of the resurrection.

Unfortunately many have reduced Sabbath to going to church and Sunday’s have become anything but a day of rest and reflection. There are pitfalls in equating Sabbath with church attendance. First, many churches stack the day with meetings, rehearsals, and classes. “We’ll just have this or that on Sunday since the people will already be here.” [May I remind you convenience was never a guiding value of the Kingdom] Second, when we slot Jesus in from 10-noon we start to believe the rest of the day is ours. Third, we get it backwards. The focus of Sabbath is not family, or fun, or recreation. The focal point of Sabbath is God and yet family, fun, and recreation can be wonderful instruments pointing us toward him. Sometimes I get it backwards. I bet sometimes you do too.

I believe God created us to live in community and walk with others on our journey of faith. But I also believe we, like the Pharisees, can be so busy doing religious things we miss him.

Here’s one practical suggestion of how to practice Sabbath:

  • Figure out what work is for you, and don’t do it.

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