And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. – Genesis 2:2-3
What a memory it is. I have never had my wife take a knife and hold it up in front of me except on that day. She wasn’t going to stab me, but Anna was, in fact, preparing lunch in our kitchen, and when she made this point, she pounded a knife she was using on the butcher block. It was not characteristic of my wife to make a point that way, and eventually, we both started laughing.
“You cannot do this summer like that again!” She was talking about how I’d planned our vacations for the first twenty years of our life in ministry. I would accept speaking engagements at conferences, and our family would all pack up, get in the car and go. The kids would meet other kids and have fun. It was great travel. We went all over the country doing this, and en route we’d go to Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon, or stop at places in the Midwest. We did this summer after summer. The kids never complained; it was a way of life. That’s all they ever knew. Anna had never complained.
But this day, she’d finally said to me, “You’re crazy if you think that’s a rest.” Her concern wasn’t that we hadn’t enjoyed our vacations together; her concern was for my well-being. We were, by this time, seven years deep in the phenomenon of The Church On The Way, and, without a proper time of rest, the enormous miracle of God taking place at our church was also taking a toll on me. Our home had begun to feel the pressure, and Anna was right; there was a need for a break that was truly a rest.
That summer, I took time to really look into the issue of the Sabbath in the Scriptures. I began with the Ten Commandments, where I realized God not only said for us to observe it because He did, but also He declared a blessing if we would.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. – Exodus 20:8-11
Friend, let me ask you a question: What do you think about the Sabbath? The question is important because we often forget that the Sabbath isn’t merely a suggestion; it’s a commandment. So let’s look at some of the most commonly asked questions concerning it.
Which day of the week should the Sabbath be observed?
I believe it’s been a classic ruse of the enemy to focus the Sabbath question on the difference of opinion or tradition as to which day of the week it is observed. The Bible says in Romans 14:5-6 that argument is unnecessary. Speaking to Gentiles during the early Church’s controversy over historical religious observances, the Apostle Paul makes clear that it isn’t which specific day we observe, but that we observe a day.
The basic idea of “Sabbath” is “to cease or rest,” literally “to stop.” The idea is beautifully expressed in the word “intermission” as the interruption of one’s own effort. That definition comes from the meaning of the Hebrew word in the original language of Scripture. As God modeled for us at creation, He is saying that His people must observe one day in seven as a day of rest from their own labors-a day for a change of pace.
What’s the Sabbath for?
That the Sabbath be “sanctified,” that is, set apart unto the Lord, does not mean in and of itself that the Sabbath was intended to be the day we go to church or even a day dedicated to worship. Worship is a way of life, an attitude of heart, not a one-day-in-seven mindset. Sanctification has to do with the restoration of wholeness, “holiness,” to our lives; it isn’t something we do to improve ourselves or try to earn points with God.
So if the focus of the Sabbath isn’t worshiping God, then what’s it for? It’s for the purpose of altering our usual pattern in order that something regenerative, renewing, and re-creative would take place in us physically, mentally, and spiritually. That we would be restored to the wholeness God intends for us-in relationship with Him, in our behavior, in our bodies and minds, and in everything we do. That incorporates the need to be in His presence, it incorporates what we think of as worship expressions, and it incorporates time in His Word. It could incorporate “church,” but we don’t need to be in church for 24 hours in order to fulfill the Sabbath.
Do Christians still need to observe the Sabbath?
The Lord sanctified and blessed the Sabbath before the Law (the Ten Commandments) was established. Then in the Law, He reaffirmed it and indicated it is a high priority issue with Him. The New Testament has not dismantled that. Jesus makes it clear that we don’t keep the Law in order to be acceptable before God or redeemed in His sight, but having been redeemed and restored to Him, the Law is significant for its practical, purposeful value in our lives. In fact, Jesus declares in the Gospel of Matthew that He comes not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, and that whoever breaks the commandments shall be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” (5:17-19).
Rather than mere legalism, God is saying to us: You can’t live without a Sabbath. You can’t survive effectively in this portion of My creation called Earth unless you observe a day set apart. You need the rest, you need the change, and you need the transformation that comes about because of it.
Why did God observe the Sabbath?
In that summer season when my precious wife brought this matter to my attention, the Lord showed me what an idolatrous (and that’s a tough word to use) thing it was to suppose I could survive with strength and effectiveness without observing one of the fundamental ordinances God had set forth. I was 42 years old and still feeling the vibrancy of youth. I didn’t feel I needed to take a day of rest. So God asked me, “Jack, do you think I observed the Sabbath because I was tired?” Of course not. The Creator did it to model the Sabbath for us.
That was a revelation. God was not telling me to observe a change of pace because I was tired, but because I am human. To try to live any other way is to presume I can serve Him on my own terms and in my own strength.
How can I take time for the Sabbath when there’s so much to do?
One of the most common arguments we have for not taking a day of rest is that we have so much work to do. When the Bible says the Lord blessed the Sabbath, He illustrated it in the distribution of the miracle of the manna. For six days the manna appeared on the ground. God told His people they would find and gather twice as much on the sixth day, and the next day, it wouldn’t appear. He wanted to see if they would obey Him. Still, there were those who witnessed the miracle, and yet went out looking for it on the seventh day. Some of us continue to do that.
We are provided with direct guidelines in Scripture in which the Lord says, “If you’ll do this, I’ll bless it.” The Sabbath is one of them. Over the years, I’ve come to learn that when I don’t observe my Sabbath, my other days are not as productive. When I observe it, He blesses the rest of my days. It’s like tithing. You give a tenth to the Lord, and He multiplies the rest beyond what it would be if it included that tenth. When you observe the one day in seven, He’ll bless you with more wholeness and productivity than you could possibly attain by not taking a day of rest.
Enter into His rest
The concept of entering into the “rest of the Lord” summons our whole being-heart, mind, and body. Taking a “Sabbath break” is not only one day out of the week. In the Old Testament, there were assigned seasons of feasts in which God’s people observed an “intermission” of their work. Some feasts were heart-searching, and others were just plain festive.
The Sabbath is woven through all of Scripture and carries covenant with it. Not the covenant of salvation but the covenant of refreshing on God’s terms. In chapter four of Hebrews, the writer develops the whole episode of Israel’s failure in the wilderness-a generation perished there, and the explanation given is that “they refused to enter into My rest.”
The “rest of the Lord” is the place of being sustained by His power, of dependency on what He can do beyond what you or I can do-the place where we recognize He is the One who makes it happen. It’s the covenant of possessing the land of His promised purpose in us by His power, not by our energy.
God’s Word says there is a need for these times of breaking with routine. We are commanded to rest, whether we’re talking about one day a week or a season of vacation. I thank Him for that day in the kitchen with Anna that brought this great commandment (and blessing) of God into purposeful, practical perspective for me.
Now I hope I’ve done that for you.
Copyright © 2009 by Jack W. Hayford, Jack Hayford Ministries
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