“Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” - Exodus 31:16, 17 (NKJV)
Many people are so busy in their lives. They hurry to church, hurry to pick up their children, and hurry to finish projects. For all of the hurrying, they never seem to finish and catch up. In the midst of the frenzy, you’ll hear comments like, “I’m so weary of all this rush, and I feel like I’m tired all of the time.” Why is this so?
I earnestly believe God’s word has answers for everything in our lives, and if we dig deep, He has a solution for our weariness. It is the principle of Sabbath rest, although when we speak of it, people often respond, “That sounds great, but how could I ever manage it?”
I confess, when I first studied the principle many years ago, I was leery because this subject can become extremely legalistic. Mark 2:27 says, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Sadly, the scribes and Pharisees took it way beyond God’s original intent into extremism, but that does not mean we should dismiss the concept altogether.
The more I have studied the Sabbath, the more I am convinced we don’t understand how to apply it to our lives or how to properly rest. The different Sabbaths in scripture were taken very seriously by God—so seriously that He modeled the Sabbath’s rest in creation and then gave it as a command in the law.
Vine’s Old Testament Concordance says that, by resting, man demonstrates his trust in God to give fruit to his labor. We should consider the subtle messages our hearts are conveying when we refuse to slow down and take time off. Perhaps we are saying to God, “I don’t trust You to bless the fruit of my labor.” Or perhaps, “I have to do this even if it breaks down my physical body or causes harm to my loved ones.” Another hidden message is, “There is no one but me who can do what I do.” If asked, most of us would say that we don’t believe those things, but our actions give us away, over and over again.
The length of time the children of Israel suffered in Babylonian captivity was determined by the extent of the abuse of the Sabbatical year (2 Chron. 36:21). The definition of Sabbath is “to cease” or “cessation.” The two significant Sabbaths were the weekly day of rest and the one which took place every seven years, illustrating some important patterns.
First, we need weekly rest, and secondly, we need a more extensive time of rest every seven years or so. Another crucial element of the Sabbath is including a time of reflecting on God, who He is, and what He has done for us in all of His fullness. This is a powerful principle—rest is not complete without time to reflect on the Lord.
Ministry leaders, pastors and other church staff get trapped into being indispensable to their church or organization. One crisis after another pops up and seemingly restricts them from taking one day a week off or even a vacation. If they do rest, it is not long enough to be fully refreshed.
People in the secular field are snared in jobs that drive them like the hard taskmasters of Egypt. They’re told, “If you don’t do this, someone else will.” This is usually true. If this is the case, maybe the Lord wants you to believe Him for another job to open up so you can “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
I personally don’t believe the Sabbath has to be a particular day, although you may have this conviction; however, I do firmly believe we should rest physically and remember the Lord weekly, and every number of years, we should have an extended time of rest.
Several years ago, when I realized God wanted me to take an extended time away from travel and my heavy schedule, I thought, “How can I do that? It just isn’t possible.” In spite of all the studying I had done on the Sabbath, I am embarrassed to admit that it still seemed like a huge mountain to me, mainly from a financial perspective, but I knew I couldn’t ignore what God was saying.
Since many people haven’t rested properly for years (or perhaps they never have), they may need to make drastic life changes. Some think rest is only recreation; however, it is not truly rest unless we remember the Lord and set aside time for Him.
Does this mean we have to be in church every Sunday and not ever have a vacation day? No, not at all! We can occasionally remember Him in the woods or on a get away or something like that.
What if you realize you have not kept the Sabbath or prioritized rest? Here are some practical steps to take:
Repent that you have not kept the Sabbath. You may even need to repent on behalf of others who have gone before you (Lev. 26:40-42). We learn patterns from our family and even our spiritual forefathers. My daddy burned the candle at both ends, and that’s how I learned to live. When I realized this, I had to change how I was living.
Evaluate your life. Have you gotten too busy to rest? Perhaps you’ve become a workaholic without being aware of it. You may need to ask family and friends what they think.
Make practical changes. Pastors may want to take a month off where you used to only take a week. If you don’t put it on your schedule and give it the same weight as other priorities in your life, you probably won’t do it. Some churches may want to consider a Sabbath rest year and rotate your staff to give them extended time off. Maybe you pastor a smaller church and cannot do this, but you could stay away from the office for a month and only preach on Sunday. Give the time to the Lord, your family, and yourself.
Believe God to meet your financial needs. Don’t presumptuously quit your job if you don’t have another just because you cannot rest. Pray and ask others to join you in prayer for God to open a new door.
Churches may want to have a time of rest from their busy schedules. Just being at everything at church every week can wipe you out. Maybe you want to cancel all the extracurricular activities for a week or a month to allow the teachers and members time to rest from activity. I believe they would come back with renewed vigor if this was done.
Re-evaluate your life and see if God is really asking you to do everything you are currently trying to accomplish. Don’t assume because you did something last year, you should continue this year. A time of evaluation at the beginning of each year would prove valuable. Establish boundaries and maintain the focus God has given you for each new year. Cease from your own labors and take on the burden of the Lord. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matt. 11:29-30)
Submit your schedule to godly friends or prayer partners who will help you maintain patterns of rest in your life.
Perhaps we are burned out because we have ignored the principle of the Sabbath’s rest. Could the Body of Christ be struggling and not experiencing the victories we desire because we are trying to do things in our own strength? I believe if we will implement patterns of rest into our lives, God will pour out His blessings on the rest of our time.
It can be difficult to enter into the rest of the Lord, but it is a goal worth striving for. There is a lost and dying world that needs Jesus, and we need every soldier strong, ready to do battle in the service of the King. Let’s follow His pattern for living, so we’ll have strength to turn the battle at the gate.