The “Optional” Commandment
It is culturally convenient that of all the commandments not one is treated with such condescending disregard as the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath seems to be the last thing talked about in our church, especially when our society sees business as the norm. It doesn’t seem responsible or productive to accept this gift of rest that God has commanded us to keep. I myself am beyond guilty of breaking the fifth commandment. Sabbath keeping never seemed that crucial to my walk, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In keeping the Sabbath we attend more carefully to prayer and the dialogue with God, which we so often desire.
In order to fully accept this gift we have to understand what a Sabbath looks like, not in light of culture but in light of scripture. The Sabbath is widely misunderstood as a day off. The danger in viewing a Sabbath as a day off turns the focus away from prayer and puts the motivation on productivity, motivation, and rewording effort. If the Sabbath is just a day off we miss what a real Sabbath has to offer, rest and reconnection in the deepest manner humanly possible with God. A Sabbath isn’t about completing tasks in a timely manner. Or when our Sabbath day comes we have already completed our checklist so God can finally work in our lives. No, the Sabbath is about stopping; even if there are still a million things to do, we stop because prayer and the relationship with our savior is where our resonance lies. It is simply a day in which has no meaning, it isn’t justified, it isn’t productive, and it simply doesn’t make sense. It is a day of prayer and play where we simply enjoy God for who he is. Sabbath keeping reminds us that God’s work is so important that we have to stop ours in order to see what is actually going on.
When Eugene Peterson first began his ministry, he assumed it would be a quiet life of study and prayer. He soon realized that a pastor’s work isn’t over on Sunday. His time is consumed with attending to people seeking his attention. He had so many responsibilities and demands that it becomes easy for him to fake it, or lose sight of the importance of his work in attending to God first. Eugene began to see his work as a checklist; his congregation became people who can do, rather than people of God. Although we are not all pastors, I think we can all understand where Eugene is coming from. “If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week we take ourselves too seriously” (73). Believing that we are the initiators of God’s work is a heavy mistruth that weighs us down. This type of responsibility puts too much pressure on us for no reason. The day of Sabbath is a reminder that while we take a day of rest, God is still at work in the world; we are merely an extension of his work, not the initiator. Allowing God to take command of what is rightfully his mission and allowing ourselves to keep the fifth commandment, we alleviate the pressure that often leads to a disastrous burnout. The ability to take a day off in prayer and allow our minds and hearts to refocus on God’s will for the body is what the Sabbath offers us, if we choose to accept this gift.
If we, as the body of Christ, recognize the need of the Sabbath, we might have a different kind of church on our hands. The church that keeps the Sabbath is a church of prayer, a church where we see people for who they are, not as we need or expect them. When we keep the Sabbath, when we stop, we see a world that wasn’t made for us it was made for God. Understanding the rhythm of grace is primary and that we are called to share in this world, the work that was initiated with God. We start to understand Gods work when we listen; we listen when we pray, and we pray when we keep the Sabbath.
Peterson, Eugene H. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987. Print.