” The Deuteronomy reason for Sabbath-keeping is that our ancestors in Egypt went four hundred years without a vacation (Deuteronomy 5:15). Never a day off. The consequence: they were no longer considered persons but slaves. Hands. Work units. Not persons created in the image of God but equipment for making bricks and building pyramids.”
Keeping the Sabbath was therefore both blessing and sign. (See Deuteronomy 5: 12-15.) The people of God kept one day in seven free of their usual productive activity because they needed it. The fact that they could keep it was also a sign that they were no longer slaves. They were no longer under the cruel rule of Pharaoh and Egypt. They were now free, free under God.
As a people under the care of a loving God, they could afford to work when it was time to work, rest when it was time to rest. Sabbath-keeping was an eloquent statement of their status as God’s people and the reality of the sovereign, benevolent nature of God.
When I look at the frenzied hectic lifestyles of most Christians today, we seem to resemble slaves more than free people. We may no longer be in bondage to Pharaoh, but we are still slaves, slaves to fear, pride, greed, materialism, consumerism, etc. Like those who do not know God, we too push ourselves to work long hours, doing with as little rest as possible.
For many of us, Sunday is no day of rest either. With more and more churches adopting both the practices and the culture of business corporations, Sundays and any discretionary time soon fill up with church related activity. This is but the natural consequence of churches defining spirituality in terms of productivity and measurable success. A Sabbath-l ess life leads to a number of serious consequences.
First I am seeing more and Christians who are perennially tired and flirting with burnout. Monday to Friday, we try to fulfil the increasingly demanding demands of work. Saturdays we do as many family errands as possible. Sunday brings a new round of demands from the church. (Sometimes the only way to be free of the demands of the church is to get a heart attack or be caught in sexual sin. Hmm?.)
The failure to respect the divine work/rest rhythm of life leads to physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual collapse. Exhaustion leads to lowered immune responses, depression, anger, breakdown in relationships, and increased vulnerability to satanic temptation and deception.
There is a second and even greater consequence of not observing the Sabbath principle. When we live Sabbath-less lives we mute our testimony to the reality and the love of the living God. If we really believe that the Father knows what we need and will meet those needs, then why do we live the way we do? Anxious and driven? (See Matthew 6: 25-34.)
I fear that the Church has not given the subject of Sabbath rest the attention it deserves – with potentially very serious consequences. In the last year, how many sermons did you hear on the theme of sacrificial service? The importance of Sabbath rest? I rest my case.
The quest for a God rooted, balanced life will not be easy. We will run straight up against the evil trio of Satan, the world, and our flesh. Which is precisely why any attempt at a solution must begin with careful biblical reflection.
Every generation has had to recover a key doctrine for the church. Maybe the 21st century church needs to recover the doctrine of Sabbath rest.