In my first article, I wrote of my recent six month sabbatical; when I spent 90 days reading the whole bible end to end. This is the first of the articles with some of my thoughts and inspirations from that time and focuses on the fifth commandment…the sabbath.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. — Exodus 20:8
What struck me first in this read through of the bible, was that this command to sabbath — rest — is even a commandment.
It seems so obvious — yet I found myself asking — How many times had I glossed over this commandment? So many times while sitting in church I had read the list of commandments and majored on the commandments that focused on honoring God first, having no idols and then skipped over to not committing murder, adultery or coveting any of my neighbor’s possessions. At least in my memory and thus in my reflections, I hadn’t previously considered the weight of the command to rest.
At least in my memory and thus in my reflections, I hadn’t previously considered the weight of the command to rest.
The next thing that struck me was that this commandment appears even immediately after the commands to honor God alone — the same God who refers to himself by name in the Hebrew as the almighty I AM — YHWH. While there’s much discussion on what can be inferred in the order of the commandments, I couldn’t help but have the sense that there was something divine to the structure of this commandment. Note the structure of the full commandment:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:8–10
The commandment to rest is founded on the architecture of God’s own pattern of activity. The sabbath and the rest is itself blessed by God, because he participated in it. It’s not an abstract human activity, but is the creator’s idea; it’s God-breathed, God-inspired and God-approved. It’s so good in fact that it was good enough for God; and thus follows the question, should it not also be good enough for me?
In Genesis we’re told of how we are made in God’s image. Indeed, observing a time of rest is fundamental to living out our uniquely created nature as beings in His image. If we are to flourish, prosper and live in the fullness of God’s creation and design; this capacity to rest also needs to be redeemed and set in motion by freedom in Christ.
It has since become my deep seated conviction that if we are to flourish as the image of God on earth, we need to recognise that doing more is not the way to achieve more. We may accomplish more as a function, but the depth of our walk, our integrity, character, fruitfulness, our capacity to reflect a God whose image we are made in, has its roots in rest and sabbath.
Fast forwarding to the New Testament we see Jesus explain that coming to his feet is the one thing that matters:
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed — or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:38–42
Even as I re-read this scripture, I sense again the temptation to say, but Mike, someone still has to prepare food to eat, earn an income, set up the gathering place, prepare worship, programme, outreach and so on and so forth. Yes these things do need attending to, but not at the expense of our own individual time at the feet of Jesus.
Prior to my sabbatical —I had a busy day job as a Co-founder of a company with relationships all over Asia and into Europe and parts of the US. It meant I could be on calls or meetings almost any time of the day. Also as a leader in our church community — which we’ve come to call our missional communities many of my weekends were spent in some sort of ministry activity; outreach, leading worship, prayer gatherings, leader’s meetings.
It was easy to literally be online working every waking minute of the day, while I got ready for work in the morning, for bed at night and every minute inbetween.
Yet somehow, I found that when I shut things down, I made time to come offline, to exercise, to worship, to spend time in the word, to enjoy a long walk along the harborfront; the productivity of those hours spent working was amplified. I could speak of one example where God lead me to sign one of the most significant deals between our company — a then unknown tech start up and a FTSE listed company in record time, or inspiration that preceded market developments years in advance. But without going into specifics — time at the feet of Jesus brings us fruitfulness first in our inner lives — our spiritual walks, our emotional health, and provides order, peace, wisdom and the strength to overcome and see fruitfulness in our outer lives. Once the inner life is well watered and rested in accordance with God’s plan for rest, so also can our outer lives lived out in the communities and places of work also bear fruit.
So my prayer for us in this season is to recognise the value of rest; as God’s given blessing, command and avenue to living out the fullness of all that he has in store for us. For those of us who feel like life is spinning out of control and there’s no window for rest, my prayer is that even as you surrender yourself into God’s good hands, His spirit will help you close the door to distractions. May you find peace amidst the whirlwind of activity and find a solid foundation even as you find yourself at the feet of Jesus; beginning now, for even a few precious minutes each day.