I think nearly everyone agrees that we live in the fastest paced society of all time, where everything happens at the click of a mouse, the push of a button, even the literal blinking of an eye. Everything is as close to instantaneous as possible, and if something doesn’t happen quickly, we set about to make it so—two-minute noodles, instant mashed potatoes and instant oats (I love food!), etc. And while it’s great that we can do things more quickly, it’s also true that we’ve increased our workload and, by extension, our level of stress. Statistics tell us that most dads are so busy they spend less than 20 seconds a day of quality time talking with their children. The impact this has on the family unit and the wider community is both significant and concerning.
As Dr Bob Moorehead, a former pastor of Seattle’s Overlake Christian Church, puts it in The Paradox of Our Age, “The paradox of our time in history is that we spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgement, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. . . . We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.”
We’re flat out, worn out and stressed out. We need time out! No matter how much we might try to take one day at a time, several days always seem to attack us at once. We’ve run out of time for each other and for God.
But the Bible informs us that God didn’t intend for our lives to be this way. He didn’t and still doesn’t want us to be run off our feet, stressed and suppressed by the cares of this life. God wants our lives to be as stress-free as possible. So what is it that we’re missing in our lives if this isn’t the way God designed life to be? Let me tell you: God’s strategy for stress relief is one practised by millions of people since the beginning of human life on earth.
In fact, Jesus Himself claims to be the God of rest. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, italics added). Jesus offers you and me rest, and in order for us to be able to receive it, He invites us to spend time with Him one day within each weekly cycle. God wants us to stop and revive in order to survive. This is not to be just whenever we feel like it, but as a regular time devoted to Him.
How do we know this is what God wants? The very first verse in the Bible, says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Once upon a time, the earth was covered in darkness and without form! So the first thing God did was turn on the light: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. . . . And he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (verses 3–5). Then the Bible tells us that God continued to create our world step-by-step over the next five days, until at the end of the sixth day He looked at everything He’d made, observing that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
But God’s week of Creation still wasn’t completed, for “by the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating he had done” (Genesis 2:2, 3). The words bless and sanctify mean “to set apart for a holy purpose” (italics added). These three things—bless, sanctify and rest—God didn’t do on any other day.
In the Hebrew language, the word rest is shabbat. Any time this word is used in the Bible in reference to the seventh day of the week that God blessed, it simply appears as “the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was given to humankind for our good—for rest, for God foresaw that the human body needs rest in order to enjoy a healthier, happier and longer life. Jesus said that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28, italics added).
Just as our bodies have built-in mechanisms for restoring broken bones and for resisting diseases and overcoming them, they also have a mechanism for dealing with stress and pressure: it’s rest. The Sabbath day switch-off is God’s coping mechanism against stress. It’s the day He rested, blessed and sanctified. It’s for everyone, and not just one race, the Jews. The Sabbath was God’s gift to humankind long before the Jewish nation existed. We all need rest.
God didn’t make the Sabbath, then look around and say, “OK, we have a Sabbath here, I guess we ought to make some humans to go with it.” Rather, the Bible tells us that God loves the humans He created so much that He wants us to become intimately acquainted with Him. And that takes more than 20 seconds a day—or 20 minutes.
God values this time so much that He made it one of His 10 commandment laws—the fourth, which reads, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). It’s the only one of the commandments that tells us to “remember,” so it’s important. These commandments were also written on stone in God’s own handwriting, which suggests both how important they are and how permanent they are. There are just three instances in the Bible of God writing something by His own hand, and this is one of them—again, underlining the importance of the Sabbath.
The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). That is, God is relational. And He knows that all relationships are developed within the crucible of time. So God made a special or sacred time, setting it aside for us to spend with Him. And He did this because He loves us. Love can’t be commanded. The seventh-day Sabbath is really a weekly “date” that God has with us. It’s a time for love, because we are loved; a time for relationship development, because God wants to be in a relationship with us.
I’m a Sabbath keeper. And as I reflect on the significance of the Sabbath, I recognise it as a gift from God because He loves me—the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift, if you will. And from the most wonderful Friend I know.