The Revolutionary Act of Sabbath

These days I think a lot about spiritual formation. Many people do, since it has become kind of in vogue.

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson defines this as “primarily what the Spirit does, forming the resurrection life of Christ in us.” This work has already begun in Christ (i.e., Eph 2:4-7), but we are called ever more into this resurrection life in Christ by the Spirit.

Spiritual formation = formed by the Spirit.

I’m convinced the healthiest way to move toward spiritual formation is first of all heeding the call to slow down.

It’s nearly impossible to do this in our world. Everything—including the church—is about moving faster, doing more, doing bigger and better. Even if we do not hear those exact words, we feel the narrative that our culture is telling us. It seeps out of every nook and cranny.

It is all exhausting. We know it. We’ve been there.

We know it full well.

This is why I believe Sabbath rest can be so revolutionary.

Now, I am aware that, when one hears someone speak of Sabbath, it may be that we feel this is very rule-oriented. It comes across as torah-oriented.

Relax…in a sense.

Haven’t we figured it out that there are some rules that are healthy, good, liberating?

But that’s just it. Our hearts are fairly hard. Our ears have become quite dull.

We are not interested in being told of anything we must do. Even if it gives us life.

But what if that which we are told is, again, liberating?

That’s what Sabbath is. A healthy, good, liberating life instruction for the people of God.

I do believe that Christ is our great Sabbath rest, according to Hebrews 4. Yet I used that concept to disregard a real, practical Sabbath in life. It wasn’t good. And I was drowning because of it.

Rest is such an important concept for the Jews. This is why I believe the refrain in Genesis 1 declares, “And there was evening, and there was morning…” Seems backward, right? Evening…morning. Should it be the other way around?

Not for the Jew. They believed work was to come out of rest rather than believing we rest from our work.

Very enlightening.

And as I was reading just today, I was reminded that the words of Genesis 1-2 were written after the people had come out of Egypt. They were a reminder that they no longer had to be ruled by the oppressive cycle of Egypt where work would never stop. Work would stop…even for an entire day.

We ourselves are stuck in Egypt. America has become the new Egypt where we never stop to rest, to listen, to worship (well, we do for 1.5 hours), to recreate, to be.

“Jewish sabbath began in the evening when the family set aside all the to-dos of the work week. As the lamps were lit, everyone settled into the evening calm of Shabbat. Candles, prayers, blessings, food—it all represented delight and refreshment in the presence of God and each other. When bedtime came, the family rested in God’s covenant protection. They woke on sabbath morning to a world they didn’t make and a friendship with God they didn’t earn.”

—Adele Calhoun, Handbook of Spiritual Disciplines

Sabbath is a trust issue, in many respects. But it will liberate your mind, body, soul as you lean into trusting God in the midst of the rest.

No one may notice anything tomorrow or next week. But over time, there will be a slow and subversive change. In our life, in our families, in our local church communities. Remember, Sabbath is essentially a collective practice. I want to practice a personal Sabbath. But I also want to consider how to do this as the gathered people of God.

God invites us to Sabbath. We can enter his provision of rest or we can continue down the path we have trod for some time now.

One will form us into the image of Christ. One will form us into the image of Egypt-America.

I know what has been a truly better path—to join with the rest-giver in Sabbath.

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