We have all had to explain what the sabbath is to someone who doesn't know. For many, after sharing the details, blessings, and beauty of this holy day it leads to the question “isn’t that just a day off?” Of course we know that the sabbath is more than just some time off work, but all of us have slipped into the belief that sabbath is a weekly crash pad for us to fall into after a hectic week. So how can we correct this perception? The answer is in the practice. This episode of ANN InDepth follows host Jennifer Stymiest, guest host Morgan Kochenhower, and guest Frank Hasel, the Associate Director of the Biblical Research Institute, explore how to prepare for the sabbath.
Preparing for the sabbath in western cultures often means a mad rush at the end of a friday workday to prepare for the sabbath in a race against sunset. Instead of easing into the sabbath throughout the week with emotional, spiritual, and mental preparation, we collapse, so exhausted from a week of prioritizing work, family, friends, internal conflict and kids (for those who have them), that we have no energy to really indulge in this holy day. As a result, we try to fit in everything we couldn’t do on a weekday: prayer, devotional, bible study, time with family and friends, etc. In the end, we go through the motions of the sabbath, seeing it as a special occasion to pull out our Christianity through listening to songs we only listen to on Saturday and clothes that are only pulled out for this weekly ritual. By crawling to the sabbath after a spiritual drought, we dump gallon upon gallon of “holy stuff” into one day causing a flash flood that never really waters the root of our need.
Kochenhower expands by explaining how we live our lives in a cycle of stress and pressure. This is a cycle of stress that the world is starting to wake up to. Major athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are experiencing the burnout that comes with constant work and pressure to perform. Even in our attempts to make sabbath “work for us” such as picking a day, deciding how to rest, or whether we can “find time” to take a sabbath at all, exposes the core flaw that makes the DIY sabbath the world tries to produce so unfulfilling: selfishness. This is something that we as sinners all slip into unconsciously, we have all been guilty of wanting the sabbath to abide by our schedule, our time, our desires. In making Sabbath what we want it to be, we remove the holiness that makes it so powerful. In removing God from the structure of the sabbath, either in picking a more “convenient” day, and deciding what is done, we are unconsciously saying that it is us who makes sabbath holy and that it must abide by a consumerist ideal of what worship is meant to be.
But what if we broke the cycle? What if, rather than reaching the sabbath with an empty cup and the expectation for it to be filled, we came already overflowing with joyful worship? Hasel suggests that preparation for the sabbath should happen throughout the week, “Plan your weekly cycle to prepare for the sabbath so that in the end the sabbath is the crown so to speak, the culmination point of the week rather than the point where you you're completely exhausted and have no energy to enjoy this day of beauty.” Living for Christ is meant to influence every aspect of our life, however it is something we must balance with the chores and responsibilities of everyday life. The sabbath is the day set aside to fully live in worship, where the things of this world can become secondary to the joy of immersing in God and his church. As Hasel states “It's not vacation time, it's time for God, and time for my neighbor, time for the human beings that He created and so the sabbath really gives us an opportunity to reconnect to the source of life.”
Shifting our practice on how to enter the sabbath begins with a shift in ideology.
“We usually talk about keeping the sabbath, but really the sabbath keeps us.” Hasel continues by saying that this day is one that reminds us of God's grace and gift of rest. Allowing the week to be saturated with portions of worship and grace, alleviates the pressure to sustain the entirety of our faith in one day. For those with children, learn how to provide ample variety of activities and introduce the sabbath, not as a day where fun stops, but a day to be excited for, and set apart for the right reasons. In preparing for the sabbath throughout the week, we are also preparing our minds and hearts, so that on the arrival of the sabbath, we aren’t fighting to shift gears into worshipful rest, but leaning into what we have been savoring throughout the week. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform your practice of the sabbath, and let the preparation begin.