Rethinking Sabbath Rhythms

Written by Carl Greene

November 16, 2022

“People who keep Sabbath live all seven days differently.”[1] This creates an unexpected equation: 1 day lived differently = 7 days lived differently. The equation defies expectations because we routinely surrender a God-oriented Sabbath for a counterfeit, human-centric Sabbath.

The Deceptive Counterfeit

In practice, we use the concept of Sabbath as a coping technique. We keep Sabbath as a means to refresh us, to make us more productive, to recharge our batteries, to get us through another week, to make some time for God. Notice the subject of all of these activities: me. Even “making time for God” is based on my busy schedule—not His. Our practice of Sabbath all too often lands on idolatry of self.[2] The counterfeit goal is to be a better me thanks to Sabbath rhythms.

Our Lived Equation

The Sabbath we settle for is: 1 day lived somewhat differently = 6 days of nominal survival.

I believe that Sabbath offers a much richer, joy-filled experience than we are settling for. While the Sabbath was made for people, Jesus self-declared that He is Lord of the Sabbath.[3] The Sabbath is a blessing for my benefit, but it is not all about me.

Sabbath is when we remember that it is God who delivers us from bondage, not our own efforts. In Deuteronomy 5:15, we are directly reminded that “God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” We keep Sabbath, in part, to remind us of our desperate need to trust God and depend on Him rather than ourselves.

The practice of Sabbath should be so counter-formative that our entire week is reshaped by it. Rather than treating Sabbath as a break in our busy week, we have the opportunity to approach Sabbath as a transformative time.

And it gets better. A transformative Sabbath involves a week-long practice.

A Counter-Formative Practice

A quick question: when does the Sabbath start? Based on a variety of Scripture texts, the answer clearly lands on sundown.[4] What a beautiful way to be reminded that Sabbath is to be a day of relying on God rather than ourselves. The start of Sabbath rest is trusting God during my most vulnerable time—when I am asleep and unable to work.

And now, a follow up question. When do our other 6 days start? Based on the rhythm that God established at creation, sundown is the start of every single day of the week.[5] Now that is a counter-formative practice—envisioning the start of my day at sundown. Reviewing my to-do-list in the morning is not the start of my day. Trusting God as I go to sleep at night is the counter-formative practice that I do to start every day. It is a daily practice that shapes me during the week, and prepares me for a transformative delight with God on Sabbath, rather than a self-focused recharging of my batteries.

The comforting words of Psalm 23 are significant to many of us. The words are potentially so soothing that we miss part of the rhythm of knowing our Shepherd and His rest. In verse 2, the very first thing that we do is to lie down in green pastures. This is before He leads me (23:2b), before He prepares the table and anoints (23:5), and before my cup overflows (23:5).[6] A reminder that we start our day by resting under His sovereign care.

1 Day Lived Differently = 7 Days Lived Differently

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of using a counterfeit Sabbath to make me more productive and ready to survive another 6 days. I want to live a biblical Sabbath that offers release from the bondage of depending on myself rather than God. I want to embrace a Sabbath rest that transforms my life the whole week through.

A practical step in the process is to mark out where my day begins. It begins at sundown. When I surrender. When I remember Who is God, and that ‘god’ does not happen to be me. I lie down in green pastures because he tells me to, not because I think it is a practical way to be recharged.

“Great God . . . I pause now to ask you to sift my thoughts, weigh my words, sort my deeds of today. Bury whatever was unworthy. Lift to highest heavens whatever was worthy. I am a sinner, greatly in need of your saving grace, but that’s not all I am. I am also your beloved child to whom you have promised saving grace. I claim your promise, God, and take it to my heart . . . As I hover at the edge of sleep, I entrust myself to your faithful keeping. Amen.”[7]

 

[1] Brueggeman, Walter. 2017. Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 43.

[2] Isaiah 58:13-14

[3] Mark 2:27-28

[4] Leviticus 23:32, Nehemiah 13:15-19

[5] Genesis 1:1-5

[6] Thank you to Jimmy Mellado, CEO of Compassion International, for introducing me to this concept. https://www.compassion.com/executives/santiago-jimmy-mellado.htm

[7] Plantinga, Cornelius. 2021. Morning and Evening Prayers. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 20-21.

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