October 3, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Isaiah 58:13-14 (NRSV)
If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Sometimes we think of sabbath keeping as a burden, as something demanded of people by a demanding God. Through the prophet Isaiah, God offers a different perspective. The sabbath is not meant to be a burden, but a delight. When we learn to delight in sabbath, we are able also to delight in the Lord.
Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest
In Isaiah 58 the Lord is once again urging the Israelites to keep the Sabbath. We find this sort of thing often in the prophetic writings. God begins by saying, “If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day . . .” (58:13). Now we might expect what follows to be something like, “then you will be my faithful people and I will bless you.” But that’s not what God says. Rather, God adds more about the sabbath, “If you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable . . .” (58:13). God is looking, not only for people who keep the Sabbath, but also for people who delight in the sabbath. The Hebrew word translated as “delight” can also mean “enjoyment, pleasure, or luxury.” God wants us to experience the pleasure of the Sabbath.
What happens when God’s people do this? Verse 14 continues, “Then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob . . .” (58:14). The first thing that happens when we delight in the Sabbath is that we will also “delight in the LORD.” Taking time away from work to rest and worship, to be refreshed and renewed, and to enjoy good gifts of food, music, and friendship will open our hearts to enjoy God more deeply. God is, after all, the giver of all good gifts.
The notion of sabbath as a time of delight may be new to many of us. I admit there was a time when the connection between sabbath and joy was completely foreign to me. But then I met Liz. She was one of my closest friends in college. Liz was a Jewish woman who kept the sabbath religiously (pun intended). She did all that was required to refrain from work from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown. I never once heard her complain about it, even during busy exam periods. On the contrary, Liz looked forward to the sabbath much as I might look forward to a holiday. She’d prepare foods for sabbath meals, baking challah (braided bread) and other specialties. She delighted in candle-lighting, sabbath prayers, and shared meals with friends and family. As I watched the joy that my friend experienced each sabbath, I began to wonder if I was missing out on something special. If I had been able to ask Isaiah about this, I expect he would have said, “Yes, you are. But God invites you into the experience of sabbath.”
Decades later, I have begun to understand more about how sabbath can be a delight. After a busy week of work, I often find myself eager to join my church for worship, sometimes arriving early so I can sit quietly in the sanctuary and, well, rest. I also know how much my soul is eager for times of more substantial rest, like vacations. There is something wonderful about being able to say to myself, “The work is done for now. This is a time for rest.” (I’m also grateful for a boss who encourages me to do this!) To be sure, my vacations are filled with plenty of adventures. But I also cherish the opportunity to begin each morning in stillness, reflecting on God’s grace in my life and jotting down some notes in my journal without feeling like I need to hurry up and get to work.
Can you relate to thinking of sabbath as a delight? If so, why? If not, why not?
Can you remember a time in your life when you particularly enjoyed a time of rest? If so, what was that like for you?
What helps you to delight in the Lord, that is, to enjoy God’s presence in your life?
Talk with a good friend or with your small group about their experiences of and feelings about the sabbath.
Gracious God, I confess that sometimes I think of sabbath more as something you demand than as a gift you offer. Help me, I pray, to learn to view sabbath as a delight. Moreover, in my times of regular rest, help me to discover new delight in you! Amen.
Banner image by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Sabbath Delight.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.