The Gift of Sabbath: I Am Not a Machine

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In Genesis 2, at the end of the creation story, we read,

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.

The creation story starts with God working and ends with God resting. After six “days” of world making, it’s done. The universe is “completed.” And you think your week was productive?

Then we read that God rested. Make sure you catch that. God rested.

God, who doesn’t need sleep or a day off or a vacation, who doesn’t get tired or worn down or grouchy, who is without parallel to any other being in the universe, rested.

We are made in his image.

We are made to mirror and mimic what God is like to the world. [tweet this]

God works, so we work. God rests, so we rest. Work and rest live in a symbiotic relationship. If you don’t learn how to rest well, you will never learn how to work well (and vice versa).

After all, the opposite of work isn’t rest — it’s sleep. Work and rest are friends, not enemies. They are a bride and groom who come together to make a full, well-rounded life.

Sabbath isn’t just a day to not work; it’s a day to delight in what one Hebrew poet called “the work of our hands.” To delight in the life you’ve carved out in partnership with God, to delight in the world around you, and to delight in God himself. Sabbath is a day to pull up a chair, sink into it, look back over the work of the last six days, and just enjoy.

The word rested in Genesis 2 is shabat in Hebrew, where we get the word Sabbath. It essentially means “to stop” or “cease” or “be complete,” but it can also be translated “to celebrate.”

Jews have been practicing the art of Sabbath for millennia. We have a lot we can learn from them. They talk a lot about menuha — another Hebrew word that’s translated “rest,” but it’s a very specific kind of rest. It’s not just a nap on the couch. It’s a restfulness that’s also a celebration. It’s often translated “happiness.” And to the Jews, menuha is something you create. It’s not just that you stop working and sit on the couch for a day every week. It’s about cultivating an environment, an atmosphere to enjoy your life, your world, and your God. It’s more of a mode of being than a twenty-four-hour time slot.

We all need a little menuha once in a while. And that’s what the Sabbath is for.

The Sabbath is a day when God has my rapt attention. It’s a day when I’m fully available to my family and friends.

The Sabbath is a day with no to-do list. It’s a day when I don’t accomplish anything, and I don’t feel guilty.

It’s a day when my phone is off, my email is closed, and you can’t get ahold of me. 

The Sabbath isn’t a day to buy or sell — to get more. It’s a day to enjoy what I already have. 

It isn’t a day to be sad.

Because the Sabbath is a day for menuha — for the celebration of life in God’s very good world.

After six “days” of universe-sculpting work, God rested. And in doing so, He built a rhythm into creation itself. We work for six days, and then we rest for one. And this cadence of work and rest is just as vital to our humanness as food or water or sleep or oxygen. It’s mandatory for survival, to say nothing of flourishing. I’m not a machine. I can’t work seven days a week. I’m a human. All I can do is work for six days and then rest for one, just like the God whose image I bear.

After God rested, we read,

Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.

There are two fascinating words here that we need to drill down on: blessed and holy.

The word bless is barak in Hebrew, pronounced like the president. A barak, or a blessing, in the creation story is a life-giving ability to procreate — to make more life.

God baraked three times in Genesis. First, God blessed the “living creatures” (the animal kingdom) and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth.”

Then He blessed human and said the exact same thing, “Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth.”

And then He “blessed the seventh day.” So he blesses the living creatures.

Then He blesses human.

Then He blesses, a day? How does that work?

The Sabbath has a life-giving ability to procreate — to fill the world up with life. No matter how much you love your job or fine-tune your work/ life balance, by the end of the week, you’re tired. Your fuel cells are on empty. But rest refills us — with energy, creativity, vision, strength, optimism, buoyancy, clarity, and hope.

Rest is life-giving. Because God baraked the Sabbath day.

Next we read that God made the Sabbath holy. In Hebrew, it’s this weighty, serious word — qadosh. What does God make holy?

Time.

The Sabbath. This God isn’t found in the world of space — in a temple, on top of a mountain, at a spring, around a statue or a monument. He’s found in the world of time.

For six days we wrestle with the world of space — the hard work of building civilization. But on the Sabbath, we savor the world of time. We slow down, take a deep breath, and drink it all in.

We push the Slow-Mo button.

It’s a day where your goal is to savor every second. Because it’s holy.

A holy Sabbath to the Lord.

This language of holy to the Lord is used all through the Scriptures. It can also be translated “dedicated to the Lord.” So the Sabbath is an entire day that is holy, set aside, dedicated to the Lord.

It’s a day for rest, and it’s a day for worship.

When I Sabbath, I run everything through this grid — is this rest? Is this worship? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I delight in it; if the answer is no, then I hold off until the next day.

Because the Sabbath is not the same thing as a day off. Make sure you get the difference.

On a day off you don’t work for your employer, but you still work. You grocery shop, go to the bank, mow the lawn, work on the remodel project, chip away at that sci-fi novel you’re writing…

On the Sabbath, you rest, and you worship. That’s it. [tweet this]

Think of the Sabbath like a weekly holiday. You don’t just wake up on Christmas morning and think, What should we do today? No, you get ready for it. The same is true for Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July or your birthday or anniversary — you plan and prep and shop and look forward to it for days at a time.

Here’s what I’m saying: there is a rhythm to this world. For six days we rule and subdue and work and draw out and labor and bleed and wrestle and fight with the ground. But then we take a step back, and for twenty-four hours, we sabbath, we enjoy the fruit of our labor, we delight in God and His world, we celebrate life, we rest, and we worship.

The Creator God is inviting us to join Him in this rhythm, this interplay of work and rest. And when we don’t accept His invitation, we reap the consequences. Fatigue. Burnout. Anxiety. Depression. Busyness. Starved relationships. Worn-down immune systems. Low energy levels. Anger. Tension. Confusion. Emptiness. These are the signs of a life without rest.

You can skip the Sabbath — it’s not sin. It’s just stupid.
You can eat concrete — it’s not sin. It’s just dumb.
You can stay awake for days at a time like Josh Lyman in The West Wing. Go ahead. God’s not mad at you. But if you do that long enough, you’ll die.

At one point, Moses calls the Sabbath a gift. That’s exactly what it is.

Just like work, when it’s done right, is an act of worship, the same is true with rest.

You can rest as an act of worship to God. [tweet this]

Excerpted with permission from Garden City by John Mark Comer, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

How often do you keep the Sabbath? Sadly, many of us may be thinking I don’t have time to take a whole day off every week. What would change if we considered it a present from God for our spiritual, mental, and physical health and happiness? If you don’t regularly set aside a day of rest and worship, try it this week! Come join the conversation on our blog. We want to hear from you about the gift of rest! ~ Devotionals Daily

John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer serves as the lead pastor of Solid Rock Church in Portland, Oregon, a city voted as the “most depressed in America” by a recent nationwide study. Coffee, food, culture, indie bands, and lots of depressed people. He fits right in. Prior to planting Solid Rock in 2003, John Mark was the college pastor at a Calvary Chapel megachurch and played in a band signed to BEC recordings. John Mark is married to Tammy and they have two boys, Jude and Moses. They are in the process of adopting a little girl from Uganda.

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