When Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, it was considered blasphemy by the religious powers-that-be. This is not surprising, given how fanatical they were not only about keeping the Sabbath, but about forcing their views on others regarding precisely how to keep it. Stiff penalties were imposed on those who violated their dictates. As a result, the Sabbath became a heavy burden of restrictions and obligations, which was the opposite of what God had intended when he handed down the Sabbath law through Moses.
A whiff of that same fanaticism can be found in some Christians today. Yes, sanctifying the Sabbath is a Commandment, but I’m firmly on the side of Jesus in believing that God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, not for his. If we love God and make him the center of our lives, spending a day only with him and his Word is pure pleasure and rejuvenation, in the same way as spending time with someone we deeply love is pleasurable and rejuvenating. There is no burden in being with those we genuinely love and who genuinely love us in return. There is no grudging sense of obligation or feeling that we’re missing out on something, or that we’d rather be somewhere else. If we love God, we look forward to the Sabbath each week, we don’t dread it.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this blog, I’m a relatively new believer. I was raised an atheist, so keeping the Sabbath was never ingrained in me as a child. I had to learn it as an adult, after I was reborn. But that learning process was slow. Initially, the Sabbath for me just meant going to church on Sunday morning and then doing whatever I pleased on Sunday afternoon, including working. I didn’t see it as a day of rest and rejuvenation or a time to spend with God. That understanding only came later when I noticed that far from being rested on Monday morning, I was still tired from the previous week’s labours. Technically, I considered the Sabbath only as a church day, and nothing more. The “day of rest” part escaped me.
As I my faith grew and I started to get to know God as my Dad (which only happened after I’d left Catholicism, three and a half years after my rebirth), I found that I wanted to spend more and more time with him and his Word. In fact, I was taking time off from my work to spend with God, as being with him and reading the Bible were such pleasures. However, as much as God wants us to put him at the center of our lives, we still need to work. The Sabbath law not only stipulates one day of rest, it also stipulates six days of labour. In taking time off from work to spend with God and his Word, I was shirking the part of the Commandment about labouring. Just like working too much, not working enough became problematic for me.
But growing in faith is a learning process for born-agains. Babies don’t come out of the womb diaper-trained and fully able to walk and talk. It takes time and lots of boo-boos. Learning about God’s Sabbath and how to keep it as Jesus taught us to keep it was a very long learning process for me, mainly because I didn’t take it seriously enough. Seriously, yes, but not seriously enough to consider exactly what Jesus meant when he said the Sabbath was made for us.
I am happy to report that I am now out of the diaper stage with regard to the Sabbath, and that the worst of the messy boo-boos appear to be behind me. The Sabbath for me is now something I look forward to all week, not something that happens every day. I labour for six days, as required, and completely rest on the seventh (I don’t even do the dishes!). Sometimes, on rare occasion, I am called to work on a seventh or an eighth day in a row, but I never purposely schedule work. If an emergency arises, I deal with it, but then I take my Sabbath afterwards. This is what Jesus taught us to do in scripture.
The result of adopting and living what I believe is the spirit of the Sabbath Commandment is that I LOVE SABBATH! It is by far my favourite time of the week, and I look forward to it the way I used to look forward to Christmas when I was a kid. In fact, I love Sabbath so much, I start it already on Saturday evening, after sunset. (I believe that is biblically sound, for you purists out there.) During Sabbath, I keep meal preparation to a minimum, and as I mentioned, I don’t do dishes or any housework at all, including making my bed. I am a completely lazy slob for a whole day, and I love it! Even just the sight of my messy bed makes me smile, because it’s a clear sign that it’s Sabbath.
As for being with God, there is no greater pleasure than spending an entire day with him without feeling like I’m shirking my work duties in some way. It took me a while to get there, but I’m now like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, enjoying his company and learning from him, rather than like Martha, running around doing all kinds of unnecessary chores that only make me tired, cranky, and frustrated.
If your day off is not a pleasure for you, if it is not restful and rejuvenating, if it is not deepening and strengthening your faith and your relationship with God and his Word, you might want to reconsider how you’re keeping your Sabbath.
Now when Monday morning rolls around, I’m ready to face the work week again. I don’t dread it; I’m ready for it, and I look forward to whatever the week may bring. This, I think, is proof not only of the importance of keeping the Sabbath, but of keeping it as God intended and as Jesus taught us.