Keeping the Sabbath

Keeping the Sabbath

Everybody I know is tired. You are tired. I am tired. Your work wears on you. Your expenditure of energy in people, places, and things drains you. Your spirit is fatigued.

You shoulder major responsibility. You make life-altering decisions. You hire and fire. You give counsel. You care for an elderly person. You keep an eye on a feeble neighbor. You bake a casserole for the funeral of a friend.

You listen to complaining people. You hammer nails. You chase a toddler all day long and then wake up three times a night to coax him back to sleep.

In addition to the work, you battle the monotony of doing the same things repeatedly. Laundry breeds in the closet. School homework is eternal.

Customers keep showing up. Things break and require fixing, again. Grass grows. Snow has to be shoveled. Reports are due by the end of the week.

Little ones hit the floor, feet and mouths running. Paperwork stacks up. Planes line up on the runway. Your inbox, mailbox, and voicemail are full. Bills stack up. Groceries disappear. Gas tanks plummet toward empty.

We’ve done these things all our lives, every week, most days. And we grow tired of the rat race.

One of my favorite stories is in Genesis 1. Take a minute to read through it and see the pattern as the Creator creates creation. Do you notice the repeated words of “evening/morning,” “evening/morning”? Each new day begins with night.

When we go to sleep, God begins the new day. We begin each day resting. While we’re sawing logs, God is re-calibrating His creation.

The moon marks the seasons. The waves clean the shores. The lion stalks its prey. Earthworms aerate the land. Proteins repair our damaged muscles. Enzymes digest our food. Night cools the earth. Dew refreshes the ground. We wake up in a universe humming with the creative activity of God.

This cycle tells us that the world does not hinge on our work. We make our contribution late in the day. God was putting the finishing touches on creation when we were hired on day six. For all our industriousness and ingenuity, our acquisitiveness and acquiring, our competing and completing, the world does not hinge on what we do. Take us out of the picture and life goes on.

Our fit in this evening/morning pattern is sleep/labor, sleep/ labor. Interestingly, there is no biblical command to sleep. It’s a pattern we can’t ignore without crashing. Our bodies demand sleep. The creation story establishes a healthy pattern—evening/morning, sleep/labor.

But there’s another pattern in the story. In Genesis 2, after creating, God rested. God practiced Sabbath.

The word Sabbath means stop, quit, cease and desist, rest. God stopped doing what He had been doing for six days. A new rhythm began. Six days of labor; one day of rest: 6/1, 6/1, 6/1, 6/1.

Fast-forward in time. We find ourselves in Egypt, slaves in a brick-making factory. We have a slave-driving boss. We are tired.

We do the same monotonous things every day. We’ve been working ten hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, for four hundred years. How’s that for a rhythm?

Here comes God liberating us from Pharaoh’s grind and preparing us for a new career as entrepreneurs in Canaan. We stand at the foot of a smoking mountain to hear the new commands. And God says:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work. …” (Exod. 20:8-10a)

For the life of me, I cannot imagine any liberated slave saying, “What! No way! If I want to work seven days a week, who are you to tell me I can’t? No one has the right to make me stop working!”

They would have called that slave crazy. Today we call the same person a workhorse, the backbone of the company, the guts of the organization, an iron man (or woman). We give that person awards and make him or her the poster child of productivity.

And there are also those people who work six days for pay, then become nonstop workers at other quests on the seventh day—white knuckling a golf club and getting more stressed with each hole, attacking the lawn with veins bulging, cleaning the house with the vengeance of germ warfare.

They are restless, driven, anxious, charging, doing-doing-doing. And God speaks a gift from the holy mountain: “Stop!”

After six days labor, God calls us to a day of rest. This is somehow connected to our sanctification:

You shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you” (Ezek. 31:13).

God cannot make us holy without our participation in the rhythms of grace.

There is no command to sleep, because we cannot violate the sleep/labor patterns without crashing. But we can violate the 6/1, 6/1, 6/1 pattern. Our bodies won’t shut down for a while. It is physically possible to live out the pattern 7, 7, 7, 7 until we fall dead. The Jews had a name for people who did this—slaves.

God never intended us to live this way. God is not a slave driver. God liberates His people from slavery.

Sabbath is part of the process. It includes meaningful, rested worship of God. In this act, we re-center our lives as a community of faith on the God who is our life.

Can you dance with this law?

Today’s post is an excerpt from Dancing with the Law: The Ten Commandments.


  1. Thank you Dr. Boone! The Sabbath is meant to draw us closer to God. Too often we see it as a rule that keeps us from doing what we want. Jesus invited us to come to Him and we would find rest for our souls. This is a needed message for our weary church.

  2. Dr. Boone, what is a Pastor to do when a Parishoner is having surgery on the Sabbath Day? And another Parishoner on next week’s Sabbath, etc., etc.

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