Seventh Day Baptists are known for our desire to obey God’s call to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We contemplate how to faithfully execute God’s expansion of that command: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your …” (Exodus 20:9-10). We comprehend that God connects our stopping to keeping the sabbath day holy. We marvel at God’s explanation: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). We ponder the reality of a tireless God who, declaring the work of creation complete and very good, stopped working, dedicated that pause to Himself, and invites us to participate in the blessing.
We intuitively understand that this call to stop is a call to rest. We resonate with rhetoric of the author of Hebrews as we sense that the Sabbath offers a perfect analogy for the promise of God that in Christ we will enter His rest—and that Christ, our High Priest, will do all that is necessary for us to “draw near the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We hear Jesus’s affirmation of all those things when He says,“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). We recognize that the Gospel of Matthew wants those words ringing in our souls and ears when we consider Jesus’ demonstration of sabbath-keeping as He interacts with His disciples and the religious leaders of the day.
In short, we know that God in Christ has called His people to a life marked by faithful work and fulfilling rest—a rhythm modeled by God’s sabbath command and a promise to be fulfilled in the last day.
Some of us, at times, not only know these truths but also experience them: a balanced flow from work to stopping and then again to work—a flow undergirded by living in and perceiving Christ’s promised rest.
And yet, many of us do not. We juggle and drop events; We agree to too many tasks and discover to our chagrin that some tasks must be left ugly and unfinished; We feel a pervasive sense of weariness that undercuts work and, surprisingly, undermines rest—discovering that neither work nor rest accomplish what they should. In these times, we, with the society around us, demonstrate that busyness has become both a valued measure of success and a great distractor from what is best. We have, in this sense, become conformed to this age. When I think of the balanced flow God designed for us—from work to stopping and then back to work—I know that there have been many times in life when I’ve disrupted that flow. I’ve seen that my practice of stopping (or not) for Sabbath has been the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”—a place where I can first discern the pressure that comes when I fail to attend to Christ’s important call: “Come to me…and you will find rest for your soul”.
To be crystal clear: There have been times when my mind and body cry out, “Sabbath-smabbath! Keep Working. You’ve got to get this done.” In those times, I’ve discovered that my focus has shifted in perilous ways—and God in grace has helped me see them and recover.
Sometimes, my actions proclaim that I believe the outcome depends on me. Even as I recognize the valuable insight and effort provided by others, I mistakenly try to bear the weight of an entire project—expecting that if I do my job in the right way, success will be guaranteed. One of the ways God has helped me see that I’ve twisted my thinking and developed an overwrought sense of self-importance has been by demonstrating that my patterns of planning, troubleshooting, communicating, and doing don’t shift on Sabbath. In those moments, God brings home the truth He’d already taught: The outcome never depends on me. We plan. God causes.
Sometimes, I trick myself into believing that I am valuable because I get things done. Since God calls us to work, getting things done isn’t a problem—until you start to believe your only value comes from getting things done. One of the ways God has helped me see that I’ve forgotten my place is by helping me notice that I’m starting to treasure the count of tasks completed on Sabbath. In those moments, He reminds me that is not my works which matter—but the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, I fail to do the work I should do. I choose other tasks. I engage in other conversations. I invent other work. Every now and then a task will arise that I simply don’t want to do, and I thoroughly avoid it. Then, when Sabbath draws near, the work seems to cry out, “Why don’t you do me now?” That metaphorical cry carries weight, and the lingering unfinished task can easily encumber the goal of stopping. Yet, here too, God has graciously allowed his provision of Sabbath to help me see the folly of my choices. He has helped me remember his call, “six days shall you labor and do all your work.” He also reminds me that by His grace and through His strength I can tackle any task He sets before me.
In these ways and others, God has used the Sabbath to help me see when my focus on work has shifted in perilous ways and has graciously reminded me of His love and restored me to His path. Because of His work, I can rejoice that God in Christ has called His people to a life marked by faithful work and fulfilling rest—a rhythm modeled by God’s sabbath command and a promise to be fulfilled in the last day.
Andrew J. Camenga serves the German SDB Church in Salemville, PA, as pastor. He is grateful to God for the blessing of walking through life alongside his wife, Kristin, and daughters, Elisa and Annika.