All work— paid and unpaid— is good, but it needs to be boundaried by the practice of Sabbath.
The problem with too many leaders is that we allow our work to trespass on every other area of life, disrupting the balanced rhythm of work and rest God created for our good.
Sabbath is a 24-hour block of time in which we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight and contemplate God.
Sabbath is first and foremost a day when we cease all work— paid or unpaid. On the Sabbath we embrace our limits. We let go of the illusion that we are indispensable to the running of the world. We recognize we will never finish all our goals and projects, and that God is on the throne, managing quite well in ruling the universe without our help.
Once we stop, we accept God’s invitation to rest. God rested after his work of creation. Every seventh day, we are to do the same (Genesis 2:1-4). We engage in activities that restore and replenish us— from napping, hiking, reading and eating good food to enjoying hobbies and playing sports.
Resting from unpaid work, however, requires advance planning. If I am to have any hope of enjoying a Sabbath rest, I need to set aside time during the week to attend to the routine tasks of life I won’t do on Sabbath— paying bills, cleaning or fixing something around the house, etc.
After finishing his work in creation, God pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This was not an anemic afterthought— Oh, well, it’s nice to be done with that— but a joyful recognition and celebration of accomplishment. As part of observing Sabbath, God invites us to join in the celebration, to enjoy and delight in his creation and all the gifts he offers us in it. These innumerable gifts come to us in many forms, including people, places, and things.
As part of preparing to practice the Sabbath, one of the most important questions to consider is, “What gives me joy and delight?” This will differ for each of us, but part of the Sabbath invitation is to enjoy and delight in creation and her gifts. Geri and I both delight in the beauty and grandeur of nature— the ocean, lakes, beaches, mountains and star-filled skies. Geri is a “foodie,” so tasting, smelling, and savoring the gift of food is a high priority for us. I delight in libraries and bookstores. Geri loves cooking a fresh meal. Through any and every means possible, on Sabbath we seek to feast on the miracle of life with our senses
Pondering the love of God is the central focus of our Sabbaths. What makes a Sabbath a biblical Sabbath is that it is “holy to the Lord.” We are not taking time off from God; we are drawing closer to him. Sabbath is an invitation to see the invisible in the visible— to recognize the hidden ways God’s goodness is at work in our lives. It does not mean we necessarily spend the entire day in prayer or studying Scripture, though those activities may be part of a Sabbath day. Instead, contemplation means we are acutely focused on those aspects of God’s love that come to us through so many gifts from his hand. Scripture affirms that all creation declares his glory (see Psalm 19:1). On Sabbath, we intentionally look for his grandeur in everything from people, food and art to babies, sports, hobbies and music. In this sense, contemplation is an extension of delight— we are intentional about looking for the evidence of God’s love in all of the things he has given us to enjoy.
I hope these four characteristics will provide a helpful framework as you begin to consider what it might mean for you to practice a meaningful observance of Sabbath, but if you ever find yourself getting too caught up in the details and logistics— which is easy to do— I encourage you to take a step back. Refocus your attention on the larger significance of Sabbath— the opportunity to experience a foretaste of eternity. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come … The essence of the world to come is Sabbath eternal, and the seventh day in time is an example of eternity.
Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.