Sabbath: A Recurring Preview
OCTOBER 14, 2023
by Adam Ramsey
The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that literally means “to cease” or “to rest”. The Scriptures teach that after creating the universe as we know it, “on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:2-3). Have you ever considered that the very first thing in Scripture that God himself set apart as holy was not an object or a place but a period of time?
A Rhythm for Flourishing
It was this act of God at creation that later set the pattern for the Jewish Sabbath—a weekly day of rest commanded for all God’s people (Exodus 20:8-11). While the practice of Sabbath as it was for the Israelites is no longer required of New Testament Christians, the principle undergirding it remains. God has built a rhythm into existence for the sake of human flourishing, in which, every seven days, we pause from efforts to produce, and we practise worshipful gratitude for what we have. Eugene Peterson reminds us that it is “not a day to get anything done but a day to watch and be responsive to what God has done”.1 A day that reminds of us of our humanity—that being faithfully present means embracing our limits and being aware of our need to rest.
Life may indeed be a struggle, but it is also a gift. Jesus taught us to view the Sabbath in this way—as God’s gift to us—when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). To refuse such a gracious gift only reveals that we treat our work with more seriousness than God’s word. Like a joke without a pause is a life without a regular Sabbath; it just doesn’t land.
A Sanctuary In Time
I love the way that Abraham Heschel describes the Sabbath as a “sanctuary in time”.2 A sanctuary is a place of refuge and renewal. A sanctuary within time is a period of renewal, carved into each week, when we can breathe again: inhaling God’s unwavering faithfulness and exhaling all that burdens us into his care.
The Sabbath is a sanctuary in time, in which time is sanctified—that is, set apart—for the explicit purpose of practising delight in both the Creator and what he has created. It is when we remember that the sum of our life is not in what we accumulate or achieve but in what we have been given. It is a 24-hour period located within each week of our lives that reminds us that whatever amount of time has been allotted to us is precious, that life is a gift, and that we are first and foremost worshippers rather than workers. As Heschel describes it, this sanctuary within time called “Sabbath” is “a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord”.3
The Pinnacle of Life
If all this is sounding a long way from your current weekly routine and you’re wondering where to begin, I’ve been greatly helped by author Pete Scazzero’s four easy-to-remember statements. Each Sabbath, you’re essentially looking to do four things. Stop work. Enjoy rest. Practise delight. Contemplate God.4
1. Stop work: What do I need to pause? What areas of productivity—both paid and unpaid—need to cease as an act of worshipful trust in God?
2. Enjoy rest: What fills my tank? How can I make space to do some of those things as part of my Sabbath?
3. Practise delight: What parts of God’s creation bring me joy? What sights, sounds, tastes, places and friendships reveal God’s goodness and deepen my delight?
4. Contemplate God: Where have I seen God’s sovereignty, goodness and grace in my life in this past week, which I need to consciously bring to mind? As I open my Bible and gather with other believers to behold God, what about him is worthy of my worship?
In this light, the Sabbath is not so much a break from life; it’s the point of life—the pinnacle of life! It is a foretaste of the new creation—a weekly sip of the world to come. Have you ever considered the Sabbath in that light? As a recurring preview of your future, experienced in the present? What could be more important (and life-renewing!) than setting apart a day each week to experience that?
1 Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles (Eerdmans, 1987), p 82.
2 Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951), p 38.
3 Heschel, p.13.
4 Pete Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Zondervan, 2015), p 144.
This article was adapted from Faithfully Present by Adam Ramsey. Adam leads Liberti Church on the Gold Coast, Australia and also serves as the director for Acts 29 Asia Pacific. His favorite parts of life include being married to Kristina, making memories with their five kids, and preaching good news. Adam is quite serious about joy and an avid practitioner of laughter.