How to make Sabbath an exercise in hedonism

I have noticed increased chatter on the topic of Sabbath recently. I’m thrilled to hear people talking and writing about this essential practice (and commandment). Most of what I am hearing and reading is an effort to reclaim the joy of Sabbath. This is wonderful, because for many, Sabbath carries connotations of dry, boring days where activities are intensely restricted. It is, they believe, a day stripped of anything fun. This is not true! And these writers and teachers are helping us reclaim the joy present in God’s gift of Sabbath.

We need to be careful though. An overemphasis on the joy of Sabbath can be as equally damaging as a focus on rigorous restrictions. I get it. We need to reestablish the joyous nature of Sabbath. These teachers are attempting a course correction, and I support them wholeheartedly. But, let’s be careful we don’t swing the pendulum too far.

Sabbath is a discipline practiced in two parts, disengagement and engagement. It is a day we are intentional about our actions. We refrain from productive activities, and we choose to do those things that bring us life. Both disengagement and engagement is intentional on Sabbath.

Sabbath is highly intentional. Without intention it too easily becomes just another day. If you don’t believe me, try Sabbath for just one day. You won’t believe how opposed your practice will be. All those chores you avoided during the week become oddly attractive. You will be pulled toward all kinds of productive activities.

If we don’t balance engagement with disengagement, Sabbath can become a day of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. I have had many wonderful days of joyful activities where I hardly gave God a thought. If God takes a backseat on a day of fun, Sabbath becomes an exercise in hedonism.

Sabbath rest involves both engagement and disengagement. I am thrilled to hear the increased talk about Sabbath and push to reclaim its joyous nature, but let’s keep a holistic picture of the Sabbath practice. It is a day to disengage from the raging current of culture and productivity as well as a day to engage deeply with the one who created rest.

Sabbath’s Reminder: He Is God and We Are Not

I once wrote about my son and an experience with banana chocolate chip coffee cake. It was a lesson in boundaries. Some boundaries are about safety; others are about order and structure. This is not only true in parenting but also in our relationship with God. Some of God’s commands are simple reminders that he is God and we are not.

Sabbath is one of these boundaries. When we live in the Sabbath rhythm, we are reminded we cannot control time. Despite all our technological advances and abilities to multitask, every day still consists of twenty-four hours. There are still seven days in a week and 365 days in a year. Time remains firmly outside of our control. And when we acknowledge that, we acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.

Sabbath is like tithing. When we tithe, we are acknowledging that our finances and possessions are God’s, and we are only stewards. We give back the first ten percent as a physical representation of this reality. In the same way, Sabbath is a physical representation of the fact that all of time is God’s.

Grounding time in God

Sabbath is a physical way of rooting our time in God. Time is inescapable. It is an element of everything we do, so when we center our time in God, our whole lives become grounded in him.

Sabbath introduces a rhythm in which our weekly order revolves around resting in God.

For three days, we work.

We anticipate the coming rest and spend our time and attention preparing to welcome in Sabbath.

Then she comes; we rest from work and busy thoughts and activities.

We engage Sabbath.

We connect intentionally with God away from the distractions of the other six days.

Then, for the next three days, we move from Sabbath back into the world. The intentional break from culture allowing us to view work and life through new eyes.

We bring Sabbath rest into the world.

And the rhythm begins again. This cyclical rhythm makes Sabbath the pinnacle of our week. When this pattern becomes rooted in our lives, every day is pointing toward Sabbath living. When every day is rooted in the Sabbath life, we find our whole lives centered on and rooted in God.

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