Sabbath: 4 key characteristics to remember

My interest in the Sabbath came from a painful experience. In the excitement of a season of church growth, I neglected my spiritual well-being by routinely neglecting the Sabbath.

Are you ready to abandon the illusion that you are indestructible and indispensable? Ready to obey the command, receive the gift, work the plan and love the Person who is calling you to rest in Him?

My interest in the Sabbath came from a painful experience. In the excitement of a season of church growth, I neglected my spiritual well-being by routinely neglecting the Sabbath.

My physical, mental, emotional and spiritual gas tanks became empty. I justified my schedule — and my ambition — to myself, my family, my staff, my church. I was blindly racing down the road to burnout without a clue that God provides an exit ramp of rest.

Spiritual erosion

By God’s grace, I had no scandalous train wrecks or moral meltdowns; but spiritual erosion had clearly crept into my life and ministry. My burnout turned into a season of clinical depression that lasted about four years. Finally emerging from that season, I learned four lessons about the Sabbath.

Sabbath is a COMMAND to obey (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath sits at No. 4 on the “Top 10” list we call the Ten Commandments. We can get so caught up in ministry that we view God’s command to keep the Sabbath as a luxury for the underemployed or uncommitted.

Sabbath, or “shabbat,” has the literal meaning of STOP. It does not mean slow down. It means stop. It is a weekly 24-hour cease-and-desist order! It is a reminder that we are hard-wired by our Creator to work hard, then rest easy.

When we disobey Sabbath, we telegraph to God and others that we trust our abilities more than we trust God’s creational plan. Rejecting or neglecting a commandment of God is nothing short of open rebellion. It demonstrates a lack of trust in Him and His wisdom. Would the One who called us to ministry let that ministry fall apart because we obey Him?!

Sabbath is a GIFT to enjoy (Mark 2:27). The LORD gave the Ten Commandments to a group of freshly emancipated slaves. Slaves don’t usually receive gifts, much less days off. God signaled they were no longer slaves, but His sons and daughters. He lavished both refreshing food and replenishing rest upon them. In response, He received their obedience as acts of reverent worship.

I sometimes marvel how quickly I slip back into my chains of slavery. I become my own Pharaoh. Why do we long to return to Egyptian bondage with its constant pressure to produce? We dare not return to Egypt without a fight!

When we walk in the door of our homes, we must intentionally enter the world of our spouse and children. Our homes must become havens of rest for us and for them.

Acts of self-denial and sacrifice are commendable; but if we neglect our Lord, ourselves and our families, God is not well pleased. God sanctified the Sabbath. He blesses those who courageously and consistently receive it as a gift.

Sabbath is a PLAN to implement (Genesis 2:1-3). The Sabbath is God’s master plan for time management, indeed for total life management. He introduced — and modeled — this plan from the dawn of creation.

Jesus modeled a life marked by both diligent work and deliberate rest. Sometimes He encouraged the crowds to stay and eat, He healed one more person, He prayed all night. Other times He retreated to the lake, the mountains, or the wilderness for rest and renewal.

A healthy Sabbath lifestyle includes seasons of intense work followed by seasons of intentional rest. Keeping the Sabbath is not a surrender to laziness, lackadaisical service, or low expectations. We are to work hard for six days.

Burnout is not the result of working too hard, it is the result of resting too little.

We keep the Sabbath holy and fresh by placing boundaries around our job and life. By saying “no” to negotiables and making strategic “yeses” for our Lord, our family and our own soul care, we experience the abundance Jesus promised.

Sabbath is a PERSON to love (Colossians 2:16–17). Sabbath is more than a time management principle or a creational commandment; it is a “shadow” of the true rest we ultimately find in Jesus Christ. Sabbath is the Savior who invites us to rest in Him!

Jesus made it clear. Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, he said.

While the creational principle, the gracious present, and the disciplined practice are compelling, they pale in comparison to the glorious Person of Jesus.

He alone declares I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Mark Dance and originally published by Baptist and ReflectorDance is a former pastor, including Ridgeview Baptist Church in Church Hill and cofounder of the Care4Pastors Network.

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