Devotional Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest

An empty chair sitting on a peaceful lawn

Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest: A Personal Postscript

There are different ways for us to receive God’s gift of rest. One way involves setting aside time each Sunday for prayerful reflection on the past week. It’s something you might try. 

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A water lily floating on a quiet pond

Graciously Receiving God’s Gift of Sabbath

When we take in the wide expanse of biblical teaching on sabbath, it seems clear to me that God intends for us to rest regularly and intentionally. Our times of rest may well be private, though we also need to gather with other believers on a weekly basis for worship and fellowship. Moreover, though we rightly put aside our ordinary work in order to receive God’s gift of rest, we should follow Jesus in recognizing that certain kinds of work – healing, for example – are fully consistent with faithful sabbath keeping. The sabbath is God’s gift to humankind, a gift that enhances restoration, relationship, and reflection. I believe we need to receive this gift today as individuals, friends, families, and churches. 

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A Bible and a cup of coffee overlooking a quiet dawn

What Happened to the Sabbath Among Christians?

Though the first Christians observed the sabbath since they were Jewish, before long Christians innovated. Some observed the sabbath on Saturday and gathered on Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Others made Sunday their “special day.” Though Christians differ on the specific, throughout the centuries most have set apart one day a week as a special day, a time for worship, prayer, and reflection. 

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Sabbath: A Time for Healing, Part 2

The example and teaching of Jesus encourages us to do good on the sabbath. This includes healing and other acts of compassion and concern. We should be open to how God might want to use us during our times of rest for ordinary work. However, those of us who are inclined to work too much, including volunteering at church, must be sure we don’t miss the central “activity” of sabbath, which is rest.

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A sheep standing alone on a hillside

Sabbath: A Time for Healing

In several places in the biblical Gospels Jesus healed on the sabbath. This got him in trouble with the Pharisees, who believed that healing was work and therefore unlawful on the sabbath. Jesus did not deny that healing was work, but he insisted that it was right to do good on the sabbath, including healing bodies and souls. In our times of rest we should be open to the healing God wants to do in us and through us.

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Two men praying, standing with their hands on each others' shoulders

Sabbath: A Time for Prayer

Like all faithful Jews in his time of history, Jesus prayed on the sabbath. He prayed in synagogue services, during traditional sabbath meals, and when he was alone with his Heavenly Father. The example of Jesus encourages us to make prayer central to our regular times of rest. The teaching of Jesus on sabbath prayer reminds us to pray with authenticity whether we’re with others or by ourselves. Prayer is not a show either for God or other people. It’s genuine, intimate communication with God. What could be more fitting for the day when we stop working in order to turn our hearts to the Lord? 

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College students sitting in a circle outside talking to each other

Sabbath: A Time for Meaningful Conversation

In synagogue gatherings, Jesus engaged in conversations about significant things. His example shows us that meaningful conversations are essential to our experience of sabbath rest. Sometimes these will happen in the context of our church community. Often significant conversations will take place in other settings, especially as we share food together. No matter the way we do it, we need to include meaningful conversation in our regular times of rest. 

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An open Bible in front of beautiful pink flowers

Sabbath: A Time for Scripture

The example of Jesus in Luke 4 reminds us of the centrality of Scripture in sabbath observance. As we stop working in order to rest, we open our minds and hearts to hear God speak to us through Scripture. We do this through both individual reflection and congregational worship. As we hear others read and interpret God’s written Word, we ask the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and inspire us. And we set aside time for prayerful meditation on biblical truth. 

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A wheat field

The Lord of the Sabbath

The example and teaching of Jesus will help us discover how we should receive God’s gift of sabbath today. For this reason, we study the biblical gospels as well as the whole biblical narrative. But, in addition to studying, we ought also to pray, asking Jesus for wisdom about how, in our cultural milieu, we might experience the regular rest God intends for us. The same Jesus who once spoke in a Galilean field speaks today through Scripture, through the community of his followers, and through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

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Calling the Sabbath a Delight

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.

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God’s Call and Promise to All People

Biblical passages like Isaiah 56 show us that the gift of sabbath is not something God intends only for the Jewish people. Though it is central to their particular covenant with the Lord, sabbath is something God intends for all human beings. Moreover, Isaiah 56 adds something that we have not seen before, the connection between sabbath-keeping and happiness or joy (56:2, 7).

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When God Hates Our Sabbaths

Sabbath matters to God, to be sure. But it is only part of what it means for us to live in right relationship with God and people. For God to be honored in our resting, we must also seek God’s kingdom and justice in all that we do.

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Using Your Authority to Help Others to Rest

Scripture makes it clear that regular rest isn’t only for the privileged and powerful. God wants all people to experience sabbath. Those of us with authority and influence have the chance – indeed, the obligation – to make sure others in our lives have the opportunity to rest well. In this way we embody God’s grace and justice.

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The stained pants legs and work boots of a blue-collar worker

Sabbath and Slavery

In Deuteronomy 5 we come upon a significant connection between sabbath and slavery. Through Moses, God makes it clear that the sabbath is to be for all people, including slaves. It is not just a privilege for the elite and the powerful. Moreover, God’s people are to keep the sabbath in remembrance of how God saved them from slavery in Egypt. For us, remembering how God has saved us from sin and death motivates us to receive God’s gift of sabbath and to make sure those who work for us are free to rest as well. 

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Women preparing sandwiches at a Five Guys restaurant

Who Gets to Rest from Working?

In Exodus 20, God says that sabbath rest is for everyone, including “you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” Each of us must take seriously the implications of this commandment for ourselves. And if we have authority over others in the workplace, we must make sure they have the opportunity to rest and refresh on a regular basis.

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