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Rethinking the Sabbath

by Robin Gough

     When I was a child learning the 10 Commandments, we typically skipped over understanding the fourth commandment – “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” “That doesn’t apply to us anymore,” I was told. We learned the commandment for memorization but not practice. Yet, I remember, always trying to understand why this was the one commandment that didn’t apply to us.

     At 38 years of age, it’s the commandment I want more of in my life. But, to help you see that, I need to jump back and look at the commandments that lead to it.

   It is always essential to get the first three commandments right.

   “I am the Lord your God. You will have no other gods before me.

   “Don’t make yourself an idol.

   “Don’t take MY NAME in vain.”

     God is the only god; no other gods or idols take his throne. We get that part…mostly. Idols are things that we place on the throne and worship instead of Yahweh. To the Hebrews, that was graven images, such as the golden calf. But for us, sometimes those idols are a bit more difficult to as quickly point out. Many times, I’ve found that the idol I place on the throne of my heart looks quite a bit like…me.

     The third one, “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” I have heard that one repeated so many times in my life. Every time someone writes OMG on a post or I hear my kids say it, and I tend to react by saying, “Choose a different phrase” or “Say ‘oh my goodness’ please.” But, as I’ve studied, I’ve come to see that commandment about less focused on what I say and more about how I act. When the translators of the KJV were working on that commandment, they chose to render the verb as “take” instead of the more literal and natural meaning: “You shall not bear the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” That is a big difference!  “Bearing the name of Yahweh” is comparable in meaning to the High Priest bearing the names of the tribes of Israel on his breastplate and bearing the name of Yahweh on his forehead. He represents—in both directions—those whose name he bears. To bear his name in vain would be to enter into this covenant relationship with him but to live no differently than the surrounding pagans. (See Carmen Imes, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters)

        Worship God alone.

        Represent Him well.

 How does Sabbath play into that?

     The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat which means to stop. Think about that for a second. What would it mean for you to stop…everything? Stop working, stop fighting, stop buying, stop selling, stop rushing, stop worrying, stop trying to impress. Just stop. Stop and rest in the promise that God is enough. That amid our busy lives of go, go, go, and more, more, more – that God gives us a time to stop and to rest. Its purpose is to prevent busy-ness for one day a week to enjoy life.

     We shift from being controlled by the word to controlling and managing our world. We worship God – wholly and alone. We represent Him well. And yet, we are distracted people.

  1. J. Swoboda, in his book, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World wrote these words:

“[The Sabbath] has largely been forgotten by the church, which has uncritically mimicked the rhythms of the industrial and success-obsessed West. The result? Our road-weary, exhausted churches have largely failed to integrate Sabbath into their lives as vital elements of Christian discipleship. It is not as though we do not love God—we love God deeply. We just do not know how to sit with God anymore. We have become perhaps the most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history.”

     Sound familiar? Do those descriptions in that last sentence describe you? I sure hit a couple of them. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

     Sabbath allows us to live in awareness of His movement in our lives. It gives us pause to consider His action in our world. Sabbath represents standing against the normal fast-paced, adrenalin driven, entertainment cravings of the world. It helps us find who sits on the throne of our hearts and examine our representation. This is why Jesus says “the Sabbath was made for man – not man for the Sabbath.”

     Here are some suggestions:

  1. Plan ahead. Set aside a day of rest. Take care of tasks ahead of time to relieve yourself from worry. Think ahead of things that nourish you and incorporate them into your day.
  2. Discuss it with your family. Invite those closest to you to join you in this process. Find ways to enter this day of rest without force, rush, or demand.
  3. Remove distractions. This step can be one of the most difficult but also one of the most rewarding things we can do for ourselves. Put your phone away for a day. Turn off the TV. Keep the computer turned off. Remove the noise. These things are excellent tools but can be such deterrents to spending time with God.
  4. Pray. Prayer is the most important. Pray before, during, and after. When temptations arise to worry, pray. When you’re convinced you need to check your email, stocks, or even Facebook, be reminded that God is in control, and he can manage all that concerns us as we settle into his rest.

     So, what does Sabbath look like for you? And better yet, how can you make that happen – now? If God rested, it might be a good indication that you do too.


                                        Robin Gough is Worship leader at Fairfax CofC, Fairfax VA

5 Responses to “Rethinking the Sabbath”

  1. Tresa Roth says:

    This is a great reminder. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Brandon Johnson says:

    I’m being led to sabbath worship lately. I feel like a lot of believers are. Good word. I enjoyed your message. I also feel that sabbath is an “identifier” of sorts. A mark that distinguishes the people of God. Your thoughts on Sunday vs Saturday? Email me! I’d love to discuss.

  3. Rebecca Brown says:

    Thank you! This was so well written. My family started celebrating Sabbath as Jesus did about a year ago. Every Friday night we have a family dinner and usher in the presence of the Lord. Saturday’s we study Gods word with a group who observe the sabbath.We have learned so much about scripture that has been missed understood because our Savior was not America’s but Jewish . The rest and peace is incredible and when we come together with our church family we meet with hearts ready to pour worship to our King!
    Btw we were neighbors as kids, so glad the Lord uses Lil old Pine Prairie for His glory 😁

    • Robin says:

      I remember you and your family well! Thank you for your comment and the encouragement in seeing it done! Blessings!

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Philippians 4:13