October 29, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Mark 2:27 (NRSV)
The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.
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.
Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest
For the last several weeks, I’ve been doing a series of devotions on the theme Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest. If you’re interested, you can access the whole series here. Even though as Christians we are not compelled to keep the sabbath according to Jewish traditions, I believe that God wants to give us the gift of regular, intentional, and restorative rest. In recent devotions, I’ve shown how Scripture has led me to this conclusion. I’ve also explained that, from my reading of Paul’s letters, we have freedom with respect to exactly how and when we keep the sabbath. Therefore we should approach this topic with grace, extending that grace to others who don’t think or practice exactly as we do.
Learning to think rightly about rest is certainly important. It can be foundational for living rightly. Scripture provides the sure foundation for our understanding of sabbath. But I confess that sometimes my study of Scripture is more about informing my mind than transforming my life. I could easily do a series of devotions on sabbath without altering my own sabbath practice. Yet, by God’s grace, I try to take what I’m writing to heart in a personal way, letting it touch my thinking, my feelings, and my daily living.
I thought I would share with you two changes I’ve made in my personal sabbath practices. I’m doing this to encourage you. I’m also doing this because telling you what I’m doing will help to keep me accountable.
In general, my “sabbath” begins on Saturday afternoon and continues through Sunday afternoon. I try not to do ordinary work during this stretch of time, though sometimes I’m preaching on Sundays or doing other work-related things (like traveling).
For the most part, I’m able to let this time period be free from ordinary work as well as be an opportunity to gather with my church for corporate worship. I have sometimes struggled, however, to know what to do with myself on Sunday mornings after my devotions and before I go to church. Without a plan, it’s tempting for me to use that time poorly, even doing some of my ordinary work if I’m feeling especially pressured.
This devotional series on rest challenged me to rethink my own practice on Sunday mornings. I asked the Lord for guidance and waited. Then, several weeks ago, an idea occurred to me. Perhaps Sunday mornings could be a time for prayerful reflection on the past week. I could take out my calendar and walk through the past seven days, jotting down key events or learnings in my journal, thanking God for good gifts, and praying for people who need it in a special way. (If you’re familiar with the Ignatian examen, what I’m describing here would be a weekly version of the examen.)
Since I’ve been engaged in this practice, I’ve found it to be helpful to my soul. Thinking about the past week and taking it before the Lord helps me to be grounded emotionally. It reminds me of God’s gifts and stirs up my gratitude. It encourages me to intercede for those who need it. And it helps me to reflect on my life and work in a way that feels fully consistent with the point of the sabbath.
As I share this practice with you, I realize that some Life for Leaders readers might try it on for size. That would be great. Let me know how it “fits” for you. I also know that some readers couldn’t imagine finding such quiet time on Sunday morning. If you’re a parent of young children, the time before worship on Sunday can be anything but a moment for calm reflection. In my family growing up, it was always the most stressful and hurried time of the week.
Will my rather new Sunday morning reflective practice become a regular part of my life? I hope so, because it has enriched my Sunday morning sabbath experience. Among other things, it gets my heart ready for more engaged worship. But whether I’m doing this particular practice in a year or not, I want to continue to grow, not only in my ability to understand God’s gift of rest, but also in my ability to unwrap it and enjoy it.
Have you modified in any way your practice of weekly rest in light of this recent devotional series? If so, what you have done and why?
Can you think of one way you might do something to be even more able to receive God’s gift of rest on a regular basis?
If it makes sense to you to give it a try, set aside some time next Sunday for prayerful reflection on your past week.
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of rest. Thank you for meeting us at different times and in different ways. Help us, we pray, to discover how best to receive the regular rest you want to give us. As we rest, may we become more aware of you and your work in our lives. As always, to you be all the glory. Amen.
Banner image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 3 Reasons to Practice Sabbath Rest.
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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.