By Russell L. Meek
Sabbath-keeping is hard to do.
I know there are arguments for and against keeping the Sabbath as Christians. But I’m not going to get into how we apply Old Testament Scripture as Christians, nor will I discuss the New Testament’s view of Sabbath as a rest we enter into as Christians.
I’m going to leave those aside and work from the assumption that the Sabbath is something God intended as both a gift for humans to enjoy and a command to keep. Here are three practical reasons we—particularly as church leaders—should keep the Sabbath.
1. God Kept the Sabbath and “Was Refreshed”
It’s clear from the creation account that God kept the Sabbath.
Six days of speaking things into being, one day of rest. God established this pattern of work at least for the Old Testament covenant community.
And He established this rest long before the giving of the Ten Commandments, of which it is a part, just like He forbade murder and decreed capital punishment long before the Ten Commandments, tying it first to the creation of humans in His image (Genesis1:27 and Genesis 9:6).
But more than just establishing this pattern of work and rest, God makes quite a shocking statement in Exodus:
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.
God “rested and was refreshed.” Think about that.
God, the creator of the entire universe and everything in it, rested and was refreshed. I could stop right here; we don’t need any more reasons to take a Sabbath. Friend, you and me and everyone else on the planet needs to be refreshed. God modeled the way for us.
2. Resting is Trusting
To rest is to trust in God. It’s a visual, physical display of our trust that God—not us—is in control.
The temptation to be productive and do all the things is particularly strong in American culture, and even more so in the millennial gig economy.
This gig economy, in which work workers take on multiple part-time jobs in order to create a full-time salary, depends on the ability to do a lot of work. It’s not unlike the agrarian culture of the Bible, where if the farmer doesn’t do the work, there won’t be food on the table.
If you’re a bi-vocational pastor, then I know you can relate to such pressure, and if you’re a full-time pastor with millennials in your church, then they certainly can relate. And if you’re either of these types of pastor, then you know the pressure of one more thing needing to be done.
Taking a day off is one way you can say, “I trust God to take care of His sheep.”
3. Resting is Worship
My mentor once told me, “Sleep is one of the most worshipful things we can do because it says, ‘I’m not God.’”
This is the crux of the Sabbath, in my opinion. We rest because we are not God. Paradoxically, we also rest because God rested, and yet God did not need that rest. Humans do need to rest.
God created us such that there’s a built-in mechanism for confessing our dependence upon—and therefore worship of—Him. We run out of energy, we burn out, and we crash.
Taking a Sabbath is a way of actively recognizing these truths about ourselves and—together with trusting God with what doesn’t get done—demonstrates our worship of him. It shows that our hope and our faith is not in our ability to do all the things, but rather it is in the One who made us.
Taking a Sabbath may or may not be a command that we must keep in the same way that, say, the commands about murder and adultery are. I think it is, but like I said, that’s a post for another time.
And anyway, even if the Sabbath command doesn’t bind Christians like it did the Old Testament covenant community, it’s a practical way we can show both Christians and non-Christians who are exhausting themselves on the hamster wheel that there is a different way—a better way.
In the end, then, the Sabbath rest is missional as much as anything else.
Russell L. Meek
Russell (PhD Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a speaker, writer, and professor who specializes in the Old Testament and its intersection with the Christian life. You can visit him online at RussMeek.com.