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  • Writer's pictureDavid and Marilynn Chadwick

Sabbath Rest: Stop Working

by Marilynn Chadwick It’s been said that Americans are the only people who worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship. Maybe that’s why keeping Sabbath is so hard. Many of us enjoy feeling productive, and taking a day off seems to slow us down. The word Sabbath, or sabat in Hebrew, means “to cease, desist, rest.” Put another way, Sabbath simply means to stop working. The very first use of sabat, translated “rest,” in the Bible is in Genesis 2:2-3 NIV: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 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.” Sabbath can be described as taking one day each week to rest from our work. Work six days and rest one, a rhythm which follows God’s pattern as Creator. Work and rest are holy. Both are an example of what it means to be created in the image of God. So what are some practical ways to embrace rest and resist overworking? Perhaps we can learn a few tips on Sabbath-keeping from observant Jews. Worship, rest, family time, taking a walk, and reading are among the activities considered good Sabbath practices by the faithful Jew. What is not good on the Sabbath can be summed up in three words: “work, commerce [shopping and spending], and worry.” During their trek through the desert, God instructed the children of Israel to gather manna for six days and rest on the seventh, a type of training ground for later Sabbath-keeping (Exodus 16:5). Even before Moses received the Ten Commandments, God was training the Israelites in rhythms of rest. When God gave Moses the law, He reminded him of how He brought the Israelites out of slavery. “Slaves cannot take a day off; free people can,” writes theologian Dorothy Bass. In her book “Keeping Sabbath, Practicing Our Faith,” she sounds a wake-up call for Christians to return to the practice of Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath rest is a weekly testimony against the perpetual grind of a slave’s work, she adds. It gives us a picture of who God is and what it means to be created to be in His image. God’s fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” points us back to Creation (Exodus 20:8 NIV). More words are used to explain this one than any of the other nine, so Sabbath-keeping must be important to God. Sabbath makes space for nurturing our families, our church, and our communities. Sabbath-keeping helps us care for our souls in an age when many are desperately thirsty for inner peace. Rest from our work is also a theological theme woven throughout the Bible. It describes the liberating life of grace for the believer who has found true rest in Christ’s salvation. Perhaps St. Augustine could have been hinting at our need for Sabbath rest when he made this famous statement in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

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