8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 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.
The first Sabbath Road sign is “STOP.” The underlying principle of the Sabbath is the continuation of “normal” life for six days, but the stopping of “normal” life on the seventh day. This is primarily what the command to “keep it holy” means. In essence, keeping something holy means that we keep it separate. We don’t allow it to get polluted with all the garbage of the other days of the week. The Sabbath day is supposed to be different from the remainder of the week which is filled with labor and work responsibilities. The Sabbath should be distinct and reserved for special activities. While Monday through Saturday are chaotic days filled with responsibilities and the hectic pace of life, the Sabbath-structured week should include one God-saturated day. To keep the Sabbath holy there will be certain activities we avoid; not because we are forbidden from doing them, but because we choose to structure our lives according to God’s wisdom.
Think of what this work-free day would have meant in the ancient world. Their calendar had no weekend. If you were a slave or day-laborer, about 98% of the population, your life would have been characterized by the constant, monotonous, ever-increasing workload. There were no vacations, only the occasional religious holiday. But to everyone, God gave the gift of the Sabbath – a day when the work stopped in the marketplace and in the fields. In the beginning, they must have felt that the Sabbath was one of the most wonderful gifts God had ever bestowed upon them. It was like being held underwater for 6 days, but on the 7th day, you found the surface and saw the brightness of the sun.
It is a sad reality that many people who grew up in the Christian faith were given a tradition of the Sabbath that was more life-denying than life-giving. Well-intentioned parents and grandparents did their best to impart to their children an obedience to the Sabbath, but the result felt more like a day of suffocation than a day of fresh air. The Sabbath was a gift to humanity so that once a week we all might be able to catch our breaths, take in God’s life-giving oxygen and experience a kind of mental, physical, and spiritual renewal that is necessary to stay centered in life.
Recommendation: Spend some time considering how your life can better reflect the Sabbath structure of 6 and 1. What would a God blessed Sabbath day look like in my world? Don’t think of the Sabbath in terms of what God does not permit you to do, but think of the Sabbath in terms of the activities and responsibilities that YOU will not permit into your life on that day. What in your schedule is polluting the good intentions of God for you in the Sabbath blessing? In this way, you learn to guard your Sabbath day as God’s gift and blessing to you. Perhaps on this day you make a rule: No emails on this day. Or you decide no “work talk” on this day. Whatever it is, STOP normal life for a day and take a breath. Your soul will thank you.