4 Ways to Practice Sabbath Keeping
This Sunday I preached about Sabbath-keeping as a way of life. The below is the concluding, application-based portion of the message.
Let’s get specific for a minute, and talk about how a Sabbath way of life can make its way onto our calendars.
For an hour
You could think small, to begin with: one hour. Right, God didn’t say, “Remember a Sabbath hour and keep it holy,” but I think observing a Sabbath hour is very much in line with God’s intentions for our God-centered rest.
I’ve alluded a couple of times from the pulpit to my inordinate love for personal productivity literature and related apps. There’s a classic book called Getting Things Done by David Allen. His basic goal is to get his readers and clients to a point where they are not using their brains to keep track of commitments—get everything out of your head and into a trusted system you know you’ll keep coming back to. The end result of implementing such a system is that in any given moment, you know that you are doing what you should be doing. What you are saying yes to is what you should be saying yes to, and what you are saying no to is out of mind.
This may seem simplistic, but if you don’t have a dedicated hour like this each day or at least every other day, the alternative is that every hour available to you is an hour where you could be doing something… anything… 100 hundred different things. A Sabbath lifestyle, on the other hand, includes setting apart chunks of time where we put all work aside and rest. And we don’t feel guilty about it, because we are doing it deliberately, as a way to train our attentions on God.
A Daylong Sabbath
Another way that we can put Sabbath-ing into our schedules is through a weekly Sabbath day. Sunday is a good candidate here. It didn’t take the early church very long to move from the observance of Saturday as Sabbath to Sunday as Sabbath. One big reason for this was that Sunday was the day of resurrection, so it became the day the church gathered weekly for worship. To make their Sabbath about both leisure and Lordship, it shifted to Sunday.
Which day we take a Sabbath is less important than that we have one every week. And times when we can least afford to take a Sabbath are the times we most need to. So put it into your day planner or phone or wherever you keep your schedule—make it a daylong appointment: “Sabbath.” And if one of your primary vocations is parenting or caretaking, and those sweet loved ones of yours won’t let you observe a “day off,” talk to one of your church leaders and we’ll help you get childcare lined up!
You could go even bigger with Sabbath-keeping: a day or half day every month where you go on retreat… not just taking a day off, but actually physically going somewhere else—to the beach, for a daylong hike in the woods, for an overnight camping trip.
Finally—one more suggestion for a specific way to practice keeping a holy, God-focused Sabbath: one of our former church attenders shared with me his regular practice of a techno Sabbath. No, it’s not a day devoted to Electronic Dance Music (though that’s not a bad idea), but it’s a Sabbath from technology. I’d heard of these and always thought about taking one, but there was something about a conversation with him that made me feel like I finally had permission to unplug, to disconnect.
Of course, you can turn all your devices off for a short period of time—an hour, for the morning, during dinner and after it. But I’ve found a full 24-hour break each week from technology is both embarrassingly difficult and surprisingly life-giving. It serves the same purpose as fasting. Rather than reaching for a device that has a potentially life-changing notification on it, I try to offer those energies instead to God.
At first, there are feelings of withdrawal—no access to notifications that increase the rush of adrenaline and excitement when someone replies to that email you were so eager about, or when someone hearts your Instagram photo or retweets your witty observation about humanity. All that stuff just goes on… without you. At least for a day.
You could even try to have your techno Sabbath coincide with your weekly Sabbath.
Establish Your School Year Practices Now
As we begin a new school year, we have the opportunity to establish and re-establish practices of faithful living. Take some time this week, if you haven’t already, and think about what Sabbath-keeping this fall is going to look like for you. If you have other people with whom your schedule is interdependent, involve them in the conversation—sit down with your calendar and actually write in your Sabbath-keeping practices, so that they don’t get forgotten, or scheduled on top of.
I pray that God would give us the strength to be deliberate about making Sabbath observances central to how we go through our hours, days, and weeks. As we do so, may we find that prayer of Isaiah fulfilled: “O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength.”