For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” Hebrews 4.4
Several years ago I was strolling down the sidewalk going to class when one of my professors passed by and asked me, “How are you doing today?” When I stopped to answer his question, he responded that he really didn’t have time to hear how I was doing. He went on to explain that he was from Africa, but he had learned that we here in the U.S. use the phrase as a figure of speech. No one really wants to know how you’re doing, and people here in the U.S. really don’t care how you’re doing. It’s simply a greeting said to one another to make pleasantry.
When someone asks you, “How are you doing today?” What’s your usual response? “I’m fine.” Often we really don’t mean what we say. It’s just how we respond. And, the person asking the question really doesn’t mean for you to answer their question with the truth. I read recently an acrostic poem for “fine.” It really stands for frustrated (our plans have changed), irritated (we’re angry about something), nervous (we’re anxious about something that we can’t control or fix), and exhausted (we’re trying to make life happen).
Our text from Hebrews 3-4 today calls to mind Sabbath Rest. There are three kinds of rest that it points to for us today: earthly rest at the end of one’s life, heavenly rest for those who believe, and weekly/daily rest for those who still walk upon the earth. Hebrews helps to guide us in our understanding by pointing to tenets of our faith. When we say we believe in Jesus, then we should be able to articulate whom we believe in and what that requires of us as his followers. Hebrews guides us in our understanding that Jesus is the Messiah and because he is the Messiah there are new expectations for our everyday lives. No longer are believers to worship God out of duty, but because of love for God. A shift in thinking is needy for believers to find fulfillment in Jesus.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus demands his followers to change their hearts and lives for the Kingdom of God is at hand. As believers we no longer live solely on earth for we now behold the Spirit of God within us so that we have access to the realm of God just beyond our senses. And, our texts points out that we are required to live like we understand this Kingdom of God business that Jesus is talking about.
Sometimes it seems that we are carrying around our membership cards for the Kingdom of God, but we think our cards are only redeemable when we die and go to heaven. Jesus didn’t teach that we had to wait. Jesus expressly lets us know that the Kingdom of God is breaking into our lives now.
The main purpose of the Kingdom of God is to restore our relationship with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The second purpose of the Kingdom of God is to restore our relationship within our self that is broken because of sin. It’s hard to live with bad decisions when our conscience keeps reminding us of a mistake we have made. The third purpose of the Kingdom of God is to open our eyes to the needs of others. The challenge in our day is to not skip over the first two purposes of the Kingdom of God upon this earth – relationship with God and our self.
If worship has become rote having no meaningful way of connecting you to The Almighty, then you and I have some Sabbath work to do. If we have distanced our self from confessing our mistakes to God, then we have some Sabbath work to do. And, if we have made doing good deeds for others an obligation or a chore, then we have some Sabbath work to do. God is after our hearts and our lives, but our heart comes first. When we look at one another, we can’t see what’s going on inside. We can’t know each others heart condition just by looking at each other. The only way we can know for certain of our heart condition is if we can hear Jesus speaking to our hearts.
When we look at the scriptures, the Old Testament points to the importance of days of rest in our lives.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Gen. 2.2-3
It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. Lev. 16.31
Asbury Theological Seminary President Dr. Timothy Tennett once said, “The first commandment is about the whole orientation of our lives. It means the end of a compartmentalized life that gives God a certain portion (like Sunday morning) and then orients the rest of our lives around our own perceived needs and goals.”
The fourth commandment states:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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 ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. – Deut. 5.12-15
Even the land is required to have rest. During the seventh year the fields are to be left fallow (Leviticus 25:1-7) and debts released (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). The celebration is called Sabbath Year and Year of Jubilee.
Resting makes us a unique people in the world/culture around us. There are four simple principles for resting. First, we are to set apart time to listen to God. Second, we are to come together with other believers to worship God. Third, we are to intentionally take quality time with family and close friends rest. And, last, we are to adjust our schedule to what we need to maintain our health. If you have ever watched the Andy Griffith show you’ll witness the people of Mayberry celebrating Sunday with worship, a meal, resting on the porch, and taking naps.
Jesus once said, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27-28). Jesus also said to the crowds that followed him, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross (daily) and follow me” (Mark 8.34, Matt. 16.24, Luke 9.23). Jesus taught us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. Sabbath is a day we practice denying ourselves to follow God. The aim of the Sabbath is to realign our thoughts toward God and away from personal gain. Sabbath is not to be spent on personal pursuits. We are not to do as we please, going our own way, nor speaking idle words.
Sabbath rest requires behavior change – moving away from the world. It requires the practice of “P.E.A.C.E.” in our lives. P stands for physical. E stands for emotional. A stands for academics. C stands for choices. E stands for emptying.
It means to physically stop (halt, standstill, finish well). It requires emotionally putting up your feet to rest (striving stops). It demands the ceasing of our thoughts so that the mind of Christ can lay hold of us (bringing our creative to an end and ceasing to go our own way). It means that we must choose by our will to break the cycles of distress we live in (allowing interruptions). It brings peace to our souls because we have emptied our selves of false religion (rote memorization of our faith).
Comedian Bob Newhart once performed a counseling skit with a young woman who comes into his office with all sorts of issues. His response to her was simply two words – six letters… Stop it! As humorous as the skit is there’s some truth behind it for us today. There are times in our lives we simply need to choose to stop what we are doing so that we can come near to God. And, when we come near to God our behaviors change.
Sabbath rest moves us toward behavior modification – moving toward God. We come to a place of “P.E.A.C.E” with God. P means physical. E means emotional. A means academics. C means choices. E means enjoyment.
P stands for physically feasting and delighting with joy in our day (Esther 9.17-18). E stands for emotionally releasing, forgiving, and letting go. It is a day of proclaiming freedom. We break patterns of control when we feel out of control. A stands for academically shutting down the study of the world as man knows it and instead worshipping the God who created the world (loving, adoring, respecting the Creator). C involves the choices we make to embrace others, draw them near in obedience to God’s Word. E means we move to a place in our hearts and lives where we enjoy God, ourselves, and our neighbor with every thought and action.
Finding peace in our lives is as simple as practicing Sabbath Rest in P.E.A.C.E. Our bodies need to rest from laboring and move toward feasting. Our emotions need to rest from being “fine” all the time and moving toward release. Our minds need rest from making plans and moving toward the mind of Christ. Our wills need rest from striving and choosing to draw near to God. Our spirit needs time to disconnect from rote religion and reconnect to God personally. I hope you’ll join me on this journey to find time for Sabbath Rest and enjoy peace in your everyday life.