9There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…. Hebrews 4: 9-11
Rest — such a simple word but a deeply powerful one.
In this day and age where work has become an obsession of many — where our labors and striving have defined our success or lack of it, it is important that we open our hearts once more to our God-given need to rest.
I am writing about this as I myself had been blessed by the Lord with a brief season of rest which allowed me to reflect and re-focus, to spend more time in the presence of the Lord, to catch up with myself, and to reconnect with people who are precious and dear.
Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word “shabbat”. It means to cease, to desist or to rest from labor.
The Shabbat was first instituted by God in the time of creation when he rested from his creative work on the seventh day. Traditionally among God’s people, the Shabbat was observed from sundown of Friday until the evening of Saturday. Persons, including their animals, were to desist from work in order to keep the day holy before the presence of God.
Throughout the development of the Sabbath tradition, much focus has been given to what cannot be done or performed on Sabbath Day. The Orthodox Jews recognized 39 specific works that are prohibited during Sabbath.
The focus on these restrictions had somehow caused many to neglect the more important aspect of Sabbath which is the spiritual essence or meaning of the celebration.
To add to these restrictions is the endless and often unnecessary debate whether the Sabbath should be on a Saturday or on a Sunday. Jesus himself became very critical of those who viewed the Sabbath as a day of restriction. He was also discouraged a very legalistic and ritualistic understanding of the Sabbath rather than a day that is holy to the Lord.
On one occasion (in Luke 13: 10-17) Jesus “worked” on a Sabbath by performing an act of healing on a woman who suffered from a crippled back for more than 18 years. He was castigated by some of the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking Sabbath restrictions. But Jesus was quick to silence his detractors when he reminded them that the Sabbath is not just about restrictions and legalities.
Sabbath is really all about celebrating the presence and the power of God in the lives of his people. Jesus viewed Sabbath not as a day of restrictions. It was a joyous day of remembering every divine favor that God has extended to his people represented by his glorious work of creation and his awesome work of liberation.
Therefore, to honor the day of Sabbath is to recognize the limitations of human strength and human striving. To honor the Sabbath is to remember that every work that God has done is holy and worthy of our thanksgiving.
When God commanded his people to honor the Sabbath, God instilled in the hearts of his people a holy appreciation of God’s sovereignty and presence. Together with this is God’s deep understanding that the human body was never designed to work perpetually. It needs time to rest, to regenerate, and to heal.
Sadly, human nature is always full of pride and self-importance. This pride and self-importance is manifested in our tendency to trivialize God’s work and make light of God’s favor in our lives.
This same pride and self-importance is also the very cause why many of us abuse our bodies, and fail to honor our need to rest physically and spiritually in the presence of the Lord, and rely more and more in his grace and strength.
We have put our works and our professions to a pedestal, as if everything depended on them. Some people have literally made gods out of their works and professions. There is always a quota to target. There is always a deadline to meet. These are bosses to please. There are endless meetings that require our presence.
We are brainwashed to think that if we do not work hard enough, we will be overtaken or left behind by others.
Meanwhile, what truly suffers in the end are things that are much more important: health, family, participation in the work of God, and most of all, our own peace of mind.
Friends, the real meaning of the Shabbat can be misinterpreted, and even abused by those who are inclined to be lazy or self-righteous.
Shabbat is more than just taking a “day-off” from work, or performing some “rituals” like going to church.
The real spirit of the Shabbat is trust and genuine dependence on God. It is learning to rest our hearts in the presence of the Lord who never slumbers or sleeps. It is about accepting our brevity and finiteness. It is admitting our need to rely on the One who is wiser and mightier than ourselves, and whose grace and strength goes on and on in the lives of his people.
Are you weary? Are you exhausted? Are the pressures of life weighing you down? Are you overwhelmed by what has to be done? It is time to enter the Sabbath –Rest of Jesus Christ.
You do not have to wait for tomorrow or next week. You can enter the Sabbath — rest this very moment. Let your faith rise from within you. Quiet your heart before Christ. Cease depending on yourself. Receive the assurance of his ever-abiding presence and faithful provisions. Let go. Let God. Savor. Relish. Enjoy. Delight in his amazing love. Amen.