“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” — Deut. 5:12-14 (NLT)
As a Fellow, rest is not something I come into contact with very often. When I do, it’s like a chance meeting with a long lost friend. I miss them, but I know it’s unlikely that I’ll see them again anytime soon and don’t know how to reincorporate them into my life.
I really would love to have a quality type of rest in my life, but I’ll be honest here: Rest is low on the totem-pole of responsibilities and my choices demonstrate that I believe rest isn’t worth my time. I fill my time with different forms of work, including my day job, seminary classes, serving with the church, and even spending time with friends. How great a priority is rest in your life? Not sleep, not vegging out, but wide-awake soul rest. Is it a great enough priority that it takes up 1/7th of your life? Definitely not for me. When I think of my to-do list, rest doesn’t even make the top ten.
But Sabbath rest does make God’s top ten list. It’s right there next to ‘don’t murder’ and ‘don’t make idols.’ If having rest is on God’s top ten, then surely it should be on mine. It should also be beyond being ‘worth my time’ because it is not merely a suggested use of time, it is a commanded use of time. What is also remarkable is that work itself, while mentioned in the commandment, is not the focus. Man seems to always focus on work and thinks of good rest as a luxury that no one can afford, but God chooses otherwise here.
Something else to consider here is that the kind of rest the Lord is referring to is not our usual idea of rest. He qualifies its meaning by including phrases like “keeping it holy” and that it is “dedicated to the Lord your God.” When I think of rest, I don’t usually think of holiness or dedicating that time to God. Most of the time I see my rest time as for myself, to do whatever I want to do. I have a feeling that by commanding us to rest, God isn’t commanding us to watch Netflix for an entire day. So how does He want us to spend that time? The Lord gives away His desire in the commandment by stating in verse 15 that it is a time to “remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm.” We are to remember His works of faithfulness in our lives, to reflect on His goodness, and spend time knowing Him.
When I look at rest in this light, the word itself seems insufficient. “Rest” is a word we throw around a lot to fit anything that is relaxing or can be enjoyed. The word Sabbath, however, makes the command become less of a random activity or feeling and an actual event. It was an actual date. It’s one of those words that I don’t really associate with myself, though. Instead, I think of traditional Jews and picture people like Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, doing his milk-delivery rounds in Anatevka and talking to fiddlers. I am more used to the term ‘day of rest’ and, naturally, like the sound of it, but I rarely make it a regular part of my week. It’s even rarer that my time of rest occurs every seventh day. Maybe that’s because rest has become such a casual thing. Rest happens after all the work is done and is seen as something that can always be done later. And later. Unlike rest, maybe giving the day a title made it more official and respected and, therefore, more likely to happen regularly.
Rest is clearly not a priority in my life, but when I compare it to the other Commandments, I realize that I take all the others very seriously. What makes us sacrifice the Sabbath day? Why do we believe it isn’t as important? Holy, God-dedicated rest is so good for our souls. When we participate in that kind of rest we are able to honor our Creator and know him more fully, which are two of the greatest acts we can do on earth. If man’s chief end is really to know God and to enjoy Him forever, then this kind of rest is truly time well spent. It is the best of time. I want and hope that I can make rest an important part of my week like the Lord tells us to do. Making changes takes intentionality, but that’s what it takes to reconnect with a long lost friend. Maybe the first step is calling your friend and saying, ‘let’s pick a day – say Sunday? – and let’s catch up.” You hang up, ready for the day, knowing you’ll go from there, one step at a time.