The Sabbath Cure

Looking for something else? Back Home.
The Sabbath Cure

Every now and then I get to take a day for worship—but not often. What I do get is something that I make every effort to take—and that is a Sabbath rest. A Sabbath rest is a period of time set aside in a secluded place to meet with and refresh your commitment to and your enjoyment in the Lord. 

The hardest part of Sabbath is not what you think it might be. Like you, I’m busy with more than enough to do. The hardest parts are focus and attention. Which is precisely why we need Sabbath rest and why God gave them to us. 

William Wordsworth diagnosed one of our most serious, ongoing problems when he said, “The world is too much with us.” I’m confident that today’s world is more with you and me more than it was with Him. He never had a smart phone. Enough said. 

What I’ve come to see is that one of the greatest struggles I face is distraction, the great enemy of attention and focus. With the world of people and things, global problems and pandemics always at my finger tips and before my eyes, my mind is easily lost to the greater things, the deeper things—the things of God and His Spirit. And the bigger the world gets, the smaller God seems to be. I get lost to myself. I lose sight of Him. Because what we fix our eyes on, we follow, you can see that such a condition never works to the advantage of followers of Jesus.

Now, it is true that my daily quiet times mitigate this loss of sight. But I’ve found that they are not quite enough. I need a Sabbath. I need a day that seems antiquated and impossible. I need a “day of rest.” 

Gordon MacDonald’s little book, Ordering Your Private World, first opened my eyes to this need. And it has helped me with my practice of Sabbath rest for decades now. One of the goals of Sabbath, what I call MacDonald’s law, is that Sabbath happens when we move from thinking about “the world of creation to the creation of the world.” It is moving from fixation on the stuff of everyday life to the One Who creates it, controls it, and ultimately gives it all meaning. We can get so busy with the “what” of things that we lose the “why” of life. That’s my problem and that’s probably yours, too. The net result is that life becomes fragmented. It feels to me like my soul has lost track of my body—and needs to catch up. As you might imagine, this lack of personal integration can mean a lapse of integrity. So when it happens, it is serious. And Sabbath rest is God’s gift and cure for it.

What does it involve?

  1. Stopping. Stopping work whether it is done or not. Stopping the noise: not just putting down that smart phone but turning it off. Stopping and stepping out of the daily routines. 
  2. Stepping away. I’m able to “step away” and still be at home. I have a place that I don’t use very often through the week (if ever). Under my porch and tucked away from sight, I have a chair that gives me a view of nature—just some trees and bushes. They matter. I’ll show you why in a moment. My wife and I have an understanding. She gets Sabbath so when I tell her I’m going to take Sabbath time, she frees me to do it. She’s learned that I’m a lot easier to live with when my soul and body find each other again and my heart has reconnected deeply with Jesus. Sometimes, she sends me to Sabbath. (It’s a kind of time out for grown-ups who love Jesus and need to remember to love Him more.)
  3. Shifting. By shifting, I mean shifting mentally. The mind is like digital television or a radio. You’ve got to deliberately change channels or streaming apps. You’ve got to go (remember MacDonald’s law) from creation to the Creator, from what is happening around you and to you in this broken world to Who God is, what He has done and what He has promised to do. To do this, I have to coax my mind away from what is to Him. I do this by starting with my journal. First, I reflect on my week just past and the work I’ve done. I try to understand what it means and whether it mattered in the larger economy of God. Was I faithful? Was I careful? Did I blow it somewhere? Is there something I need to make right? Whatever it is, I write it (most of it) down. In this way, I go from the what of my week to the why of it, and I ask myself to consider what it meant and means to Jesus and how and whether it aligned with His Word. 

Once done, I pause to pray. I thank God for enabling the faithfulness I found. I thank Him for the growth in grace I see. I ask His forgiveness for the sin I discovered. I make plans with Him to make wrongs right. Confessing my sin to Him, I ask Him to help me realign my love and faithfulness so that I am walking aligned with Him in that area. Sometimes this takes awhile. Sometimes it takes twenty to thirty minutes. It doesn’t matter because I’m resting from everything else and focusing on Him and me before Him. It is good. It is cleansing. He is faithful. Slowly I begin to sense my spirit catching up with the rest of me. 

  1. Seeking. Next, I turn to God by turning to Scripture. Usually I don’t turn to the book I’m working through in my quiet times. More often than not, that passage comes from the Psalms or from Isaiah. We’ve all got passages that speak directly to us in ways that others may not understand. For me, Psalms 15-16, Psalm 34, Psalm 37; Isaiah 42, 2 Corinthians 4-5, Titus 2, or Philippians 3 often fit the bill. I go where I know my soul will find refreshment, encouragement, strength. When I find that, the rest really begins. I like to read and re-read the passage, mulling it over word by word and then praying it back to the Father. This way the Word starts to seep deep into my mind and then to my heart. I look especially for what the passage tells me about Who God is, what He’s done, and what He’s promised. Whatever the Holy Spirit uses to speak to me, I give special attention to and take delight in.
  2. Sitting. Finally, I set my Bible aside and with God’s Word fresh on my heart, I follow the example of the great Scottish expositor Alexander MacLaren. I “sit silently before the Lord.” I say no more to Him, but simply rest and rejoice in Who He is and what he’s done. THEN and only then, do I find my rest complete, my vision corrected and sharpened, my heart realigned with His.

Like the great, godly champion of freedom and opponent of slavery, William Wilberforce, I can say that “the Sabbath is the cure.”

You may not be able to take a full day. I don’t. But if you can take two hours on a Saturday, especially in the morning when nobody wants you or is looking for you, you’ll find the One who is the only true cure for the weary heart.