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Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy - Meaning of Rest

Rest doesn’t usually come easily... And yet rest is a pretty big deal to God. Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy meaning…

by Donny Abbott on March 04, 2022

A few Sundays ago, I spent many hours in a couple of our local hospitals due to a hernia in my stomach that eventually required emergency surgery. The surgery was completed successfully, which, in turn, led to a recovery period where I had a lot of time to contemplate exactly what it means to rest.

Rest doesn’t usually come easily for me and I suspect it doesn’t for most of us. And yet rest is a pretty big deal to God. This topic is of such importance to God that He made it one of the Ten Commandments. As we read the Ten Commandments, we see that the first three are about our relationship with God:

  • No other Gods 
  • No idols 
  • Do not take the Lord’s name in vain. 

The fifth through tenth Commandments define how we are to relate to one another:

  • Honor your father and mother 
  • No murder 
  • No adultery 
  • No stealing 
  • No lying 
  • Do not covet what others have 

But the fourth Commandment serves to bridge those before and those following by honoring God and ourselves simultaneously. The writer of Exodus tells us:

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” – Exodus 20:9-10

Sabbath, or Shabbat in Hebrew, simply means "rest" or "to stop." This command is given to the Hebrews as a reminder of what happened as far back as the account of Creation.

I like what noted theologian Walter Brueggemann says about Sabbath:

“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.” 

Don’t Forget the Sabbath

The Sabbath Day provides us with an opportunity not only to stop working, but to stop wanting, stressing, pursuing and worrying.

To just stop.

The opposite of rest of course is restlessness and as author and pastor John Mark Comer notes:

“Restlessness leads to a life of hurry, a life of busyness, overload, shopping, materialism, careerism…a life of more.”

Living this kind of life means we are constantly in a state of motion, constantly working and we’re never satisfied.

Jesus regularly practiced rest and encouraged it among his followers. We know Jesus’ earthly ministry was a busy one. He was constantly interacting with people, and not just any people but typically, needy people. People who taxed Him emotionally and physically.  And He interacted with these folks all under the scornful eyes of the religious elite, which was another added stress in his life. Big Brother was constantly watching Him.  

In Mark chapter 6 we see a perfect snapshot of the busyness of Jesus’ life.  The chapter begins with Jesus being rejected by people in His own hometown. Not a great way to start the day, feeling the weight of rejection. All of us have felt that in our lives. This is soon followed by Him dispatching the twelve Disciples to go heal people and to cast out demons, so that’s a good thing.   

Shortly afterwards, though, He hears that His cousin, John the Baptist, has lost his head in prison, so now the weight of grief enters the picture. Finally, the Disciples return from their assignments and they're regaling Jesus with stories of all they had seen and done. Now everyone is on this super high!  

Are you beginning to feel the tension in all of this?  

Represented in just a few short verses are the highs and lows every single one of us experience in our everyday lives. We’ve all had those days where we’ve had to comfort a scared toddler, celebrate our spouse’s promotion and then wonder why we weren’t invited to the book club social outing. All of us have highs and lows in our lives and apparently Jesus was no different.  

As Jesus and His Disciples are talking, a large crowd of people are gathering and Mark writes this:  

“Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”

In the midst of all the busyness that had just transpired; all the highs and lows they had experienced, Jesus understood His own need as well as the need of his followers to get rest.  

It’s here we see what writer Maria Popova describes. “Rest, instead of being something passive, is actually an act of resistance.” It’s an act of resistance against the tyranny of the urgent. It’s an act of resistance to the constant demands that are placed on all of us. Rest is saying I’m going to take some time for myself so that I can be better prepared to handle life that is in front of me. Rest directly opposes systems of anxiety, which define value in production and busyness. It’s slowing down and going back to the Brueggemann quote earlier; work stoppage.  It’s being quiet, it’s being still. The Psalmist reminds us of this:  

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

Jesus told His friends, “Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.” 

So, obviously quiet is another ingredient that’s key to getting rest. We also see Jesus doing this in a couple of other places in Scripture: 

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35.

Right now, some of you might be thinking, “Oh, is he telling me I have to go somewhere by myself and be quiet?” Maybe. It seemed to work for Jesus. Our goal as Christ followers is to become more like Him and quiet seemed to be a regular practice in his life.  

It's important to note here, I’m not saying quiet equals rest.  We’ve all been there when things go eerily quiet in a house full of kids. In that case quiet equals TROUBLE! What I am saying is that quiet can be an ingredient to rest.  

Quiet, solitude, silence and stillness…those aren’t things that a lot of us like to do.  

I like what author Henri Nouwen says: 

“Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and God alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching and guiding – we need to set aside a time and space to give God our undivided attention.”  

I think we miss out on a lot of what God has to offer us simply because we are too busy to listen to what God is saying. Or we are too afraid. Nouwen also writes:

“Empty space tends to create fear. As long as our minds, hearts, and hands are occupied, we can avoid confronting the painful questions to which we never gave much attention and that we do not want to surface.”

How many of us take the opportunity in moments of rest to, as the late John Denver once sang, talk to God and listen to the casual reply? The question for all of us to answer is simply this: Can we identify and overcome the obstacles that prevent us from regularly making a conscious choice to practice resting? 

There is a book titled “Let Your Life Speak” written by author Parker Palmer, in which he writes about finding meaning and purpose in your life. To me, the title says it all.   

Let Your Life Speak!   

Every one of our lives is saying something without talking. We are constantly communicating the things that are important to us, and those closest to us can see what we value. Therefore, the spiritual practice of resting not only affords us time to align our will with that of God, it provides us all with an opportunity for our life to speak, in gentle yet profound ways. 

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