Searching for Sabbath
“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”
God called me to rest. But I was too busy.
God called me to be still. But my to-do list was a mile long.
God called me to worship. But I had work responsibilities.
God told me to be set apart. But the world told me that 24-7 wasn’t enough time.
God called me to Sabbath. But I didn’t know what it looked like anymore.
And I was tired.
When I was a child, Sundays were set apart for God and family. I can’t remember a Sunday when we didn’t attend church. Even on vacation we’d find a local church to attend. After church, our family would either head home to a Sunday mid-day dinner roast already cooking in the oven, or go out to brunch, often with other families from church. The meal, whether at home or out, was never rushed. Every Sunday dinner was set in the dining room with the Sunday plates and silver. The afternoons were spent together in rest. The television was on with football, baseball or golf. The Sunday paper was read, front to back, every section. Reading, sports, and sometimes a nap. All before gathering items needed for Monday morning, setting out clothes, running the dishwasher and heading to bed. Ready to start the weekly routine again. Sundays were a day filled with God, family and rest.
Soon after my husband and I were married, we both started working full-time in the church. Sundays were no longer a day of rest, but a day of work. We were still able to fully worship during the services, but between teaching once, and sometimes twice, and leading events, it was a work day. Mondays were our day off, so they became our Sabbath. We started making a habit of having “day dates” to the movies, out to eat, or attempting to play tennis around the corner from our apartment. We’d head to Costco and eat all of the samples or drive into the mountains and go exploring. Mondays were a day set apart for rest and renewal.
As our family grew from just the two of us to a party of seven, and our jobs in church ministry grew, our Sabbath turned into just a day off. A day not in the office. A day to clean the house, to run errands and buy groceries. We’d talk ministry, strategize, and debrief, and even vent. It became a day to get everything done because the rest of the week was packed full of church ministry and kid’s activities. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t rest. Just because things aren’t bad doesn’t make them right or honoring to God.
Just because things aren’t bad doesn’t make them right or honoring to God.
In our social media world today, hustling is the new buzz word. We are told that if we’re not hustling, striving, growing, working, achieving, moving, producing, well, then we’re losing. This mindset is exhausting and leads to burnout, especially in church ministry. People look down on you for taking a day off to rest, reconnect with your family, and worship God together. But it’s exactly what we need and what God calls us to.
The Sabbath (or Shabbat) goes back to creation, where God worked for six days creating, then took the seventh day to rest. This rest day is not separate from the act of creation, but a part of the seven days. God rested from all of His work and blessed the seventh day making it holy (Genesis 2:2-3). Sabbath is holy or sanctified. It is set apart from the other days. We are told in Exodus to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus tells His disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31) and we are given several times when Jesus went away to a quiet place to pray.
When we fail to give our bodies and our minds time to rest, we not only hurt ourselves, but hurt those around us. We suddenly have a shorter fuse than normal and easily snap at our spouses or our children. Our ministry also suffers. We tend to focus on the negative and are unable to see all of the good that God is doing. God’s calling of rest is not something else we need to add to our to-do lists. It is a practice (that takes practice) that provides a restoration that can only come from God. It is life giving, anxiety reducing, stress relieving and a commandment. We should not take Sabbath lightly.
So, how are we to keep our Sabbath holy, when worship or church is our job? It is nearly impossible to experience rest on Sundays when you work in a church, so our Sabbath needs to be a different day. I believe this rest is vital to following God, leading His people, and keeping yourself healthy. I do not have it all figured out, and it doesn’t always look the same, but here are some truths on how to make Sabbath way of life.
A Sabbath Hour
Start small. Start simple. Sabbath was intended to be from sundown to sundown, but maybe you can start with one hour. Can you give yourself one hour? Take a walk. Read a (non-work related) book. Go out to lunch with your spouse. Pray.
A Sabbath Around the Table
With five children and both my husband and I in full-time ministry, our schedules are beyond full. Yet, there are some things we do not compromise on. Family dinner around the table is one of them. There are some very busy nights when dinners are on the go, but most weeks, we are all together for every dinner meal. We try our best not to rush, and allow time to check in with each other. It is a time we set apart to pray, check-in, and eat together.
A Sabbath Day
I believe that it is necessary to take one day a week off from ministry. Giving those 24 hours to God is life giving. God will provide the time you need to get everything done, and if you didn’t get to it, it can wait. Don’t answer your phone or check your email. My husband and I have to work hard to not talk about work. We love doing God’s work, and are so passionate about it, that it can overflow in to every minute of every day. We have to keep each other accountable and focus on other things.
A Sabbath Week
Take a vacation! I repeat. Take a vacation! The church will not fall apart without you there for seven days. What might fall apart if you don’t take that time can be your marriage and relationship with your family. I believe getting out of town is the best, but financially it isn’t always available. If you have a “stay-cation”, plan ahead. Who can handle emergencies at church while you are gone? Is someone in place to answer questions? Stay off your phone and don’t check your work email.
Would you like to know my current Sabbath truth? Two months ago, my husband and I moved out family of seven halfway across the country to begin a new phase in ministry. Our “out-of-the-office” day has been filled with errands, appointments, projects, and about one million moving boxes. The to-do list of moving seems to never end. We have not had a full Sabbath day since we moved, and many days before we moved were used in preparation for our move. I am Sabbath-hungry. I long for a full day to be still, to do what brings me joy, and to worship and thank God for this amazing place He has placed our family. I know that day is coming, when I can set aside what I feels needs to be done, and allow myself to be still in the Lord. So, maybe this week I only get a Sabbath hour, but soon, a real Sabbath is coming.
God has already created what we need. He gave His commandment to us. It’s not a complicated one. It’s life-giving and God-honoring. God is ready to give us rest, true rest; we just have to come to Him. Will you come and find your Sabbath? “Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Searching for Sabbath is Entry Three in our October blog series at Sanctuary, Rest Up! We are looking to hear from you! If you haven't been taking the Sabbath commandment seriously lately, can you name one of the negative side effects you're experiencing? Or perhaps you're experimenting with Sabbath rest and how to do it effectively. What's working for you right now? Let's talk.
Liz Smith is a faithful Christian education leader and a passionate communicator and speaks to groups of all ages. With over 20 years of experience, Liz speaks from her heart in both large and small group settings. Over the years she has spoken to children’s ministries, at youth retreats, women’s retreats, marriage retreats, in small groups, and has preached in the church congregation setting. She is a 2000 graduate of Seattle Pacific University with a BA in Christian Education with emphasis in Youth and Educational Ministries and a Minor in Literature. In her career she has served as Middle School Youth Leader, Associate Director of Junior High Ministries, and High School Youth Leader at various Presbyterian Churches in the country. She currently works as the Director of Family Ministry & Discipleship at GraceWay Church (Leesburg, FL). Liz loves the beach, baseball, books, and bread, is a passionate sports enthusiast and loves her Seattle Mariners and Seahawks. She and her husband, Shawn, of 19 years have three girls and two boys. You can follow Liz on all social media @simplylizsmith and at www.simplylizsmith.com.