Since You Work on Sunday, When Is Your Sabbath?
Is your ministry anemic and terribly routine? Are you exhausted most of the time? Are there few items on tomorrow’s to-do list that excite or renew you? Then try these four regimens of rest.
By Cal LeMon
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8–11).
So when is your Sabbath (not to be confused with “Sunday”), and how are you doing at keeping it holy?
You may be slightly indignant in response to that question. Of course you are holy because it is your job to be holy, especially on Sunday.
Notice your job and Sunday are professionally glued together. But I asked about the Sabbath, not Sunday.
On any Sunday you may bolt out of bed at 5 a.m. for one last, frantic review of your sermon, call the worship leader at 6:30 a.m. to make sure that sore throat will not create a no show, and then listen to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to quiet your mind on your manic drive to your reserved parking slot.
If you are in pastoral ministry, you work on Sunday. And since you work on Sunday, you are also violating the Fourth Commandment.
The command of the Fourth Commandment is to rest. In resting, God sanctified this special day (Genesis 2:3) as a time for remembering His faithfulness; and, in return, His people will experience restoration for the next 6 days.
So, if you, God’s spokesperson, are working on Sunday, when and where is your Sabbath?
Becoming Weary in Well-Doing
Do you often complain about your work in your ministry burying you?
Do you keep a to-do list that never gets smaller?
In the past week have you complained to your spouse, a staff member, or close friend that the top of your desk looks like a city landfill?
Do you subscribe to the adage, “burning out for Jesus,” is a great way to use up one’s life?
If your answer to these questions is yes, you need a Sabbath, not another Sunday.
The Regimen of Rest
The Sabbath is a biblical mandate to rest. Sunday is a day of the week when the church gathers to receive encouragement, instruction, and care provided by people who are often out of emotional breath.
So, the servers do their important work on Sunday. But Sunday may not be their Sabbath because the Sabbath is a day of rest, not work.
Dr. Garry Hamel, a prolific business writer, gives the context for our frenetic world in his book, Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life:“Employees around the world have been strapped to the wheel of continuous improvement. With eyes glazed, they have repeated the mantra: faster, better, cheaper. Employees have found themselves working harder and harder to achieve less and less.”1
The first regimen of rest, then, is to stop running.
Notice Scripture calls for a day of rest, not a power nap.
I grew up in a pastor’s parsonage where the mandated Sunday rest was palpable. There was no TV, no sports, no playground … just Sunday School and worship in the morning and the Christ’s Ambassadors meeting and Sunday evangelistic service at night.
Within these tight, often suffocating parameters, I do remember the ease of taking a nap. It was a day like no other in the week. There was a pervasive quietude about the day that is still with me. A day when I stopped running.
There are two important qualities about this first regimen of rest. First, a Sabbath cannot succeed if we measure it in minutes. The length of time when the ministry merry-go-round comes to a grinding halt must be long enough for someone to lose track of time.
The second quality of rest is the discipline to get comfortable with silence. Thomas Moore, in his illuminating work, The Care of the Soul, said: “A common symptom of modern life is that there is no time for thought, or even for letting impressions of a day sink in. Yet it is only when the world enters the heart that it can be made into soul. The vessel in which soul-making takes place is an inner container scooped out by reflection and wonder.”2
If there is no time or space to think, reason, and then pray, we never get to “scoop out” the inner container of our spiritual lives to receive the reflection and the wonder.
Practically, we only create silence when we block out time and let our colleagues and family know we will not be available and then go to a place that encourages a lot of staring and prayer. (I regularly use a remote Trappist Monastery in Ava, Missouri.)
The greatest threat to establishing this part of the Sabbath is what we fear most … isolation. And, at the same time, if your iPhone is buzzing and text messages are cascading onto that screen, there is no rest … just business (ministry) as usual.
We often neglect the third regimen of rest: accurately recording spiritual insights.
The apostle Paul, a role model for me of someone who struggled being good enough for God to love and use, had a lot to say about aligning his inner mind with the mind of his Lord. In 1 Corinthians 14:14,15, the apostle, giving instructions on glossolalia in personal worship, said, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.”
This balance between the mind and spirit is essential for us to exit the Sabbath silence with pragmatic instructions from our Lord. In other words, when rest reveals you have wandered onto holy ground, immediately write down or use a voice recorder to guarantee these spiritual marquees will not dim with time.
The final regimen of rest is worship.
“But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:10). Here is my experience connecting worship with rest.
I am on a personal prayer retreat, seated on a forest floor, my cell phone off, my prayers rambling and disjointed. The only voice I hear is the whisper of a gentle breeze through fading oak leaves. I hum, “I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. …” And then suddenly my spirit blossoms with an awareness that Someone has slid into the silence with me. Thoughts I have not visited before pour into my mind. Solutions are no longer gauzy and undefined. A plan begins to line out in my mind. I am humbled. I cannot speak. I start breathing Someone else’s breath. I breathe deeply. I begin to whisper, “Thank you, Jesus.”
James Emery White, in his enticing book, Serious Times, said, “We all need to start talking about the big issues again. But the call runs deeper — we need to think about such things in light of our faith. This is what a Christian mind is about: the difference between the shallow pools of information and the deep waters of wisdom.”3
Spiritual, emotional, and physical rest will always snuggle us up next to the heart of God. With every beat we will realign the cadence of our lives. He will vacuum clean the priorities of our self-induced hype and holiness.
And, we will worship … with a simplicity and clarity that will stagger our spiritual imaginations.
Sunday Is Not Your Sabbath
If you look closely at the language and syntax in Exodus 20, the people were to remember and keep holy the Sabbath, and mark it by rest.
Is your ministry anemic and terribly routine today? Are you exhausted most of the time and find very few items on tomorrow’s to-do list that excite or renew you? Have you, over the past year, judged yourself to be spiritually out of breath?
If your answer to any of those questions is yes, you need a Sabbath, not another manic Sunday.
You work on Sunday, so when is your Sabbath?
1. Gary Hamel, Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life, rev. ed. (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2002).
2. Thomas Moore, The Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (New York: HarperPerennial, 1900; reprint, New York: HarperPerennial, 1994), 286 (page citations are to the reprint edition).
3. James Emery White, Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 101.