Sabbath: Can I Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy My Life?

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Sunday feels odd without church in the morning. It’s the time in the week when we take our bearings, and if we miss it, we’re just following our noses. ~ Garrison Keillor

Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy your life?

This question asks whether it’s possible to integrate our Christian responsibilities with our human desires. Can we live for the high purpose of redemption and still enjoy the normal pleasures of creation? The key that unlocks the answer may surprise you. It floored me.

Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy your life?

The answer seems impossible because of our limited resources. There isn’t enough of us to go around. Time spent at the beach with family is time not used to tell others about Jesus. Money placed in the offering plate is money not available for next summer’s vacation.

There is also the problem of trust. We fear that if we tell Jesus we’ll go anywhere and do anything, He might just take us up on it. The cost could be big, as with missionaries who send their children to boarding school for months at a time. It might also be small but still more than we’re willing to pay. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I was in seminary, I heard a pastor of a thriving church say their secret was Sunday afternoon prayer meetings. My first thought was how wonderful it would be to have this pastor’s ministry. My second thought was, “But I’ll miss the NFL!” God toppled my idol by moving my team to Baltimore, where it promptly won the Super Bowl. I learned the hard but necessary lesson that while sports are an excellent diversion from life, they must never get in the way of life. How foolish!

The key to solving both problems — limited resources and lack of trust — is found in God’s special day of delight.

Sabbath rest is essential for enjoying life, and only Christians are wholly able to keep it holy. If this is true, then not only is serving Jesus not a roadblock to enjoying life, but it is the only way we can.

Gift of Rest

The problem of limited resources assumes that creation and redemption must always compete. Attention paid directly to creation cannot simultaneously be paid to redemption, and vice versa. This is true so long as we focus on what we are doing, as we only have so much money and energy to spread around. But what if creation and redemption are reconciled at a deeper level, not by doing but by not doing? This is precisely what Scripture teaches about the Sabbath.

The Hebrew verbal root for Sabbath (sh.bat) literally means “to cease or rest.” Stop. Take a break. Don’t do anything of economic or pragmatic value, on purpose.

And the reason for this rest? Would you believe it’s both creation and redemption? Exodus 20:8-11 says we must rest every seventh day to follow God’s example when He made the world:

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:11

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 also grounds the Sabbath rest in redemption. God tells Israel to rest every seventh day to celebrate their deliverance from slaving seven days a week in Egypt.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. — Deuteronomy 5: 15

To understand how the Sabbath integrates creation with redemption, we must learn what it means for each. The Sabbath was the climax of creation week, when God stepped back and savored the works of his hands. He blessed the Sabbath and said it was holy, a day to delight in the beauty of his world and enjoy leisurely communion with Adam (Genesis 2:2-3). God commands us to follow His example, to rest every seventh day to appreciate family, friends, and the life we have made. Rest is the goal of work, not the other way around.

We don’t rest merely so we can work, but we work so we can rest and enjoy what we have done.

Rest is not only our finish line. It’s the starting line too. Creation week underscores the primacy of rest by starting humanity with a Sabbath. As a creature of the late sixth day, Adam’s first full day on earth was the seventh-day rest. He took a break even before he started to work (a practice still followed by Michigan road crews). The first Sabbath was God’s special gift. It wasn’t a reward for a good week of work. Rather, it was the starting point for the week ahead.

Sabbath is a gift because it is a day for enjoyment.

This day doesn’t just permit us to take a break; it orders us to be nonproductive, to refuse to show up for work. To stop whatever it is we are doing and just be. To lift our eyes from the grindstone and see the bigger picture. To soak in the pleasure of being alive in this beautiful world that God made especially for us. We properly enjoy the Sabbath when we spend it on whatever rejuvenates us. When we invite friends over for lunch, take a nap or a walk in the woods, play tennis, or read just for fun. When we daydream about anything or nothing at all.

Because the Sabbath is a gift, it won’t force itself on us. Like any other gift, it must be received.

This is harder than it sounds, because we won’t accept and unwrap the Sabbath unless we are content. Only those who have enough are willing to rest with whatever they have. When we start our week with the Sabbath, we are saying our lives are already full. We don’t work to fill a void or make a name for ourselves. We labor from gratitude, not to become somebody but because we are somebody. We already have enough, even before we accomplish anything.

Excerpted with permission from Becoming Worldly Saints by Michael E. Wittmer, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

Do you take a day of Sabbath rest every seven days? Maybe for you that day is Sunday — church with family or friends, brunch, bike ride, walk by the lake, read in the shade, or listen to great music from the late B.B. King, Hillsong, James Taylor, Keith Green, Carrie Underwood, etc.  Maybe you feel under such pressure to perform, keep food in the pantry, and take care of the bills that you feel a day off from work is impossible. Have you ever worked to the point of illness or injury? Or maybe you just need a reminder that the Sabbath day is a gift from God! Come join the conversation on our blog. We’d love to hear from you about the gift of rest! ~ Devotionals Daily

Michael E. Wittmer

Michael Wittmer is currently Professor of Systematic Theology at GRTS in Grand Rapids, MI. He is the author of Heaven Is a Place on Earth, Don’t Stop Believing, The Last Enemy, and Despite Doubt. He and his wife, Julie, live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with their three children: Avery, Landon, and Alayna.

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