“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
Keeping a Sabbath day is more than a discipline, it’s also one of the Ten Commandments. To keep a Sabbath is to set aside a 24-hour day in which you do no work to rest in God’s person and provision. Sabbath is a time to refrain from your normal responsibilities in order to pray and play with God and others.
“Do No Work” on Your Sabbath
“Do not work.” That’s the starting point of Sabbath and why as a discipline it’s a way of practicing abstinence or self-denial. But the point of Sabbath is reliance on God and resting in his love.
Do no work means not working at your job, not earning money, not getting engrossed in projects, and, as much as possible, not engaging in your normal life responsibilities, including at home. Obviously, if you have children at home you still need to care for them and you may need to prepare meals or do other things around the house, but as much as possible you do these things before or after your Sabbath so that you can just relax and be in God’s presence.
Ways to Practice Sabbath
In the first century followers of Jesus changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, but the NewTestament teaches that any day of the week can be set aside as a Sabbath day (Romans 14:4-6). What’s important is to have one day in seven and it’s best to try to keep the same day each week, ideally making the first day of the week. It’s good if your Sabbath can include community worship and fellowship with friends at church, but pastors and many others have too many responsibilities on Sunday to practice Sabbath rest effectively.
Setting aside 24 hours for true Sabbath rest may seem too difficult for you with all the responsibilities you have and as you try to make your way in an overcommitted, hurried, and materialistic culture that has no sense of Sabbath. My advice is to start where you are. Don’t be legalistic about Sabbath-keeping as the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day. Just do your best to devote one day to resting in God in a special way. Then either as part of that day or on another day experiment with Sabbath as a discipline by setting some hours to focus on heeding the Biblical advice, “Make every effort to enter [God’s] rest” (Hebrews 4:11).
To learn to enter God’s Sabbath rest you’ll probably need to incorporate solitude with Jesus, especially as you’re first learning this discipline. Solitude helps us to unhook from the pressures of daily life — our responsibilities, the expectations people have for us, media, and noise.
A Sabbath day is not the same thing as “a day off”. On a day off you do as you please, whether it’s doing a special activity or getting caught up on household projects. A Sabbath day is dedicated to the Lord. Even as you relax or enjoy being with friends and family you maintain a prayerful focus.
Here are some examples of how you might focus your prayers on a Sabbath day:
- Set aside some time to Abide in Prayer with the words, “Yahweh Shalom” or “The Lord is Peace” then practice God’s presence with this prayer all day long. (“Yahweh Shalom” is from Judges 6:24 and it is the name of a Shabat song that Jewish families sing together to begin the Sabbath.)
- Seek to enjoy each moment with God so that the haunting words of an old Jewish Sabbath prayer would not be true of you: “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.” (See, “Sightless Among Miracles.”)
- Meditate on “Jesus’ Sabbath Day” (a Lectio Divina Guide on Mark 1:21-39).
Other Disciplines Related to Sabbath
In addition to following the Biblical command to set aside one day a week as a Sabbath day unto the Lord there are a number of other disciplines that can help you to practice Sabbath rest every day of the week:
- Sabbatical: Setting aside some weeks or months away from your normal work for spiritual renewal.
- Setting Boundaries: Saying no to commitments or people’s expectations. (See “Jesus Set Boundaries.”)
- Pilgrimage: Visiting a sacred place to encounter God in fresh ways. (For an example read our article, “Walk Where Jesus Walked in Israel (It’s Not as Easy as You Think).”)
- Sleep: Sleeping (nine hours or more!), lingering in bed in the morning (see “First Thoughts in the Morning“, or taking a nap until you are fully rested and de-stressed and doing this to trust that God is in charge of your world.
- Slowing Down: Driving in the slow lane on road, walking slowly, or puttering around the house to practice living at a more relaxed, prayerful pace. (We have many articles on being unhurried including, “Hurry Up and Be Still.”)
- Statio: A Latin term used by monks to refer to the discipline of arriving to meetings or events early in order to submit the activity to God and to pray for yourself and the people you’ll be with.
Additional Resources on Sabbath
These additional resources will help you to better understand the Sabbath from a Biblical perspective and how you can use rest as a discipline to grow in the grace of Christ:
- Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered (My book)
- Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross (My Book)
- “Slowing Down for a Sabbath Rest” (Article/Class)
- “Sabbath as Praying and Playing” (Article/Class)
- “Six Unhurried Words” (Devotional Story)
- “God’s Sabbath Rest for you Today” (Audio)
The best way to learn the practice of Sabbath for pastors and other men and women in ministry is on a Sabbatical. We show you how this can be a reality for you in our Sabbatical Guide.