The Habits of Growing Disciples 2: Keeping Sabbath

As long as I’ve been following Jesus, I have been interested in spiritual growth and transformation. I’ve been interested in the ways that Christ-followers grow. This series is something of an outgrowth of this interest.

My goal is to be a spiritual leader (like the abbot in a monastic community) whose job it is to exemplify the spiritual practices. I want to see you develop the spiritual habits as well. Then, as we’re all growing in our spiritual journey, we will become the revolutionary spiritual community God intends for us to be! That possibility, to me, is incredibly exciting!

I recently read a statement that really emphasized the value of this series, for me: “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Today, I want to talk about “sabbath keeping,” observing “sabbath time.”

Questions about Sabbath

  • What was the original meaning of Sabbath, and how did that seem to change?
  • How do you think Jesus understood Sabbath?
  • Do you think Sabbath is a particular day (24 hour period; Saturday or Sunday?) or is quality of time during the week?
  • Is the Sabbath the same as “the Lord’s Day”?
  • What activities can you not do on Sabbath/Sunday that you can do on the other six days of the week?

Sabbath in Judaism (Old Testament)

Genesis 2.2-3; Exodus 20.8-11; Exodus 23.12; Exodus 31.13-17

The word “Sabbath,” which comes from the verb sabat, means “to cease, desist, pause, rest.” The root of Sabbath means “to catch one’s breath.”

“Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)

“Sabbath—Shabbat—is the heart of Judaism. When Jews who have become inattentive to their religion wish to deepen their observance, rabbis tell them with one voice: You must begin by keeping Shabbat.” (Dorothy Bass)

Sabbath in Christianity (New Testament)
Among many Christians, “Sabbath” has become synonymous with “the Lord’s Day.” In fact, many Christians in the early centuries observed both the Sabbath and then met together for worship on the Lord’s Day, representing the day Jesus arose from the dead (at least until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70).

However, the New Testament doesn’t give any clear guidelines on continuing to “remember the Sabbath.” Paul wrote in Colossians 2.16b–17, “Don’t let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival. These things are only a shadow of what was to come. But Christ is real!”

That said, I believe that sabbath time (daily and weekly time) is vitally important to our spiritual journeys. Personally, I can’t imagine my life without sabbath time! I remember in the earliest days of my spiritual journey, getting to know God intimately; if I missed my early morning sabbath time, I could literally feel the difference. I felt as if I was spinning my wheels.

So, what does it look like for Christ-followers to keep the Sabbath today?

1 – Feel the rhythm.

There’s a rhythm in the creation story (Genesis 1-2). God made the world in six days, and rested in one. That’s the rhythm God operated in.

Rhythm is about knowing when to play and when not to play. It’s learning when to be on and when to be off. It’s the difference between making music and just making noise. When we don’t have rhythm, our life is less and less music and more and more noise (chaos).

Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time for everything …” And, God created the world with four seasons. Rhythm is built into the system!

What about Jesus? How did he keep the Sabbath holy?

“Jesus was accused of being a Sabbath-breaker, but the truth was the opposite: Jesus was a master Sabbath-keeper!” (Leonard Sweet)

There’s a rhythm to Jesus’ life In the Gospels. He’s giving, producing, serving, often surrounded by crowds of people with tremendous needs. Following those moments of intensity, Jesus gets away and observes sabbath time. Here are a few examples: Mark 1.34–38; Mark 6.45-46; Mark 4.35-36; Luke 5.16.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples this rhythm. The disciples have also been out giving, producing, doing intense work, and Jesus invites his disciples, afterward, to rest.

I believe it’s important for us to create space in our lives throughout the week, and not just on the Sabbath or on Sunday.

“Sabbath does not come just once a week. Every day needs a holy hiatus. Every week needs to be well ventilated with sabbaticals.” (Leonard Sweet)

One way I like to think about it is with the phrase, “engage/disengage.” Like Jesus, we need to spend time engaging people, as well as time where we “abandon” (or leave) the crowds to re-group and focus on God. This rhythm is important!

“Rest and worship. One day a week—not much, in a sense, but a good beginning. One day to resist the tyranny of too much or too little work and to celebrate with God and others, remembering thereby who we really are and what is really important. One day that, week after week, anchors a way of life that makes a difference every day.” (Dorothy Bass)

2 – Focus on God

Sabbath: “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been doing and is doing.” (Eugene Peterson)

Observing sabbath time helps us to focus on God, and to remember that God is in charge of the universe and we are not. It’s a good way to remind ourselves that it’s not about us; but that it’s about God!

3 – Soak in the Scriptures

Scripture plays a vital role. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture – reading it, reflecting on it, meditating on it, until it literally becomes a part of us! The only way we experience true transformation is when we internalize God’s Word.

4 – Listen to God. Talk to God.

The order is intentional, putting the emphasis on listening: Listen, first, then talk. And it should be an ongoing conversation. I think that’s what it means to practice the presence of God, to pray without ceasing, to have a running conversation with God that never ends.

Several years ago, Leadership Journal interviewed Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen. They were asked about how they understood prayer …

“Prayer is first of all listening to God. It’s openness. God is always speaking; he’s always doing something. Prayer is to enter into that activity. … Prayer in its most basic sense is just entering into an attitude of saying, “‘Lord, what are you saying to me?'” (Nouwen)

“The problem with describing prayer as speaking to God is that it implies we are still in control. But in listening, we let go. … The spiritual life is not something we add onto an already busy life. What we are talking about is to impregnate and infiltrate and control what we already do with an attitude of service to God.” (Foster).

5 – Exercise faith

In Exodus 16, God told his people that he would provide manna for them six mornings every week. But on the sixth day, he would provide double the amount they needed so that they could store up enough manna for the Sabbath. It was an exercise of faith!

6 – Discover true peace

“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” (Lily Tomlin)

“Peace is not something we find when your latest crisis is over. What usually follows stress, of course, is the next stress. Peace is not discovered; it is created. You don’t make less stress, you create more peace.” (Ben Lerner)

I believe that in order to truly experience God’s peace, we must practice sabbath time consistently in our lives!

Invitation to practice sabbath keeping …

“It is not so much that we ‘keep the sabbath’ as that the sabbath keeps us — keeps us whole, keeps us sane, keeps us spiritually alive.” (Leonard Sweet)

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.'” (Matthew 11.28)

One of the ways to describe our life with God is dance. In fact, a word used in the early centuries of the church’s life to describe the Trinity is “perichoresis”: peri (around) and chor (where we get choreography) — to dance around. It’s the picture of the Trinity circling in a dance, and through creation and salvation, we are invited to the dance. And keeping sabbath is a great way to practice the dance!

(We closed the service today by singing a wonderful Shaker song, “Lord of the Dance.”)

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