Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Many Christians feel totally spent. We worry because we’re low on cash. We hurry because we’re running out of time. We are chronically tired because our energy is completely depleted. Jesus offers a different way.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” - Matthew 11:28-30, The Message
The good news is that, unlike money and time, energy is a renewable resource. We can replenish our energy when we learn to rest properly. Our problem in America is that we have replaced true replenishment with entertainment, recreation, and distraction. We work hard, but we don’t know how to rest hard. The only way to get rest from Jesus is to rest with Jesus.
The ancient practice of Sabbath rest is often downplayed or completely neglected in American churches today. Sabbath-keeping is associated with the legalism of the Pharisees. Christians point to moments where Jesus himself seemingly breaks the Sabbath. On one of these occasions, Jesus and his disciples were picking grain for a snack. When questioned by the Pharisees, this is how Jesus responded.
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” - Mark 2:27-28
Notice what Jesus does, what he says, and what he doesn’t say.
Jesus does not actually break the Sabbath. There is no specific law that forbids gleaning grain on the Sabbath in the Old Testament. The Mishnah itself says, “The rules about the sabbath, festal offerings and sacrilege are as mountains hanging by a hair, for Scripture is scanty and the rules many.” The Pharisees are accusing Jesus of breaking their rules upon rules, not breaking the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8).
Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for humans. It’s a gift from God. Resting is baked into creation (Genesis 2:1-3) and is a sign of freedom from bondage (Deuteronomy 5:15). The Pharisees have a problem with legalism, while we have a problem with workaholism. They needed to hear, “Man was not made for the Sabbath.” We need to hear, “The Sabbath was made for man.”
Jesus does not say that we should stop keeping the Sabbath. He doesn’t say the Sabbath is unhelpful. Certainly, the Law has been fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17). Our relationship with God is mediated through Christ, not through law-keeping. But being a Christian doesn’t mean you are immune to the need for a prolonged period of rest. When he says that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, he makes the point that proper rest is found in him. Christians can use the Sabbath as a spiritual discipline to connect with Jesus and find rest for their souls. The Sabbath should be life-giving, not legalistic.
How do you practice the Sabbath?
The best way to practice the Sabbath is to designate a 24-hour block of time. I do mine Friday night to Saturday night. If there is a different day that works for you, go for it. Once you’ve designated a time, what next? Pete Scazzero provides a helpful template in “4 Steps to a Meaningful Sabbath.”
1. Stop — What are you not doing?
The Hebrew word Shabbat means to “cease, end, or rest.” Stopping is the hardest thing for us to do. In our world of hyperactivity, we have trouble spending even a minute doing nothing. We fill any spare seconds with scrolling on our phones. The first step to practicing the Sabbath is to create a not-to-do list. I don’t check email, answer work calls, schedule ministry events, do chores, or go on social media. Those are all things that I need at least a 24-break from if I’m going to rest.
2. Rest — What really fills you up?
We waste much of our time off on counterfeit rest. There is a place for recreation, but often the things we do for fun leave us more tired. Think of teenagers who play hours of video games late into the night. Did they have fun? Sure. But they also look like zombies the next day. On our traditional American weekends, not only do we fill our time with work, but we don’t do things that replenish our souls. Create a life-giving list. These are the things that have a net positive effect on your life. Try to do a few things on the list every Sabbath. Eventually, you will get into a rhythm.
3. Delight — What do you enjoy?
This is the fun part. The Sabbath is a time to enjoy God’s good creation. Eat good food, get out in nature, or listen to your favorite music. If you make plans with people, make sure they are people that you enjoy being around. It is challenging to appreciate the good in the world when we are overworked. Remember, on the sixth day, God appreciated that his creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
4. Contemplate — How are you connecting with God?
The first thing that God set apart as holy was the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3). The Sabbath is a perfect time to slow down in prayer, Bible reading, and silence. You might feel rushed in your spiritual practices throughout the week, but Sabbath is a time to walk (not run) with God. As a pastor, Sundays are a workday for me. If I didn’t work on Sundays, I would incorporate attending a corporate worship service as part of my Sabbath. Do things that help you enjoyably connect with Jesus. We don’t rest from God; we rest with God.
What activities are true rest for you? Which things do you need to take a break from? Let me know in the comments below! Subscribe to get content like this directly to your email inbox. You’ll also receive a FREE download on how to grow spiritually!