The Sabbath: For Our Benefit?

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.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 20:8-11

Ever reach a point where you have just been going too hard and too fast for too long? That’s kind of where I am this afternoon. It seems like there is way too much going on to keep up with and all of it is urgent. It’s on days like today that I try to give myself a little more time to just rest. I try to take a Sabbath, which literally means “stop.” I try to use Sunday afternoons as my stop day, a time when I can reset my meter and get ready for the week ahead.

Now, there is considerable debate in Christian circles about “should we keep the Sabbath by not working on Sundays,” which in turn leads to a whole lot of other discussions about what the Sabbath was, how Jesus addressed it, how all of the New Testament addresses the topic and so on. As much as I would like to engage in that discussion, today I would much rather discuss the purpose behind the Sabbath, the “stop day” that God commanded. What if it was more for our benefit?

Did I just use “lolcat” in my blog about Jesus and faith? Yes, yes I did.

You see, Western culture today is a place where our collective attitude seems to be, “You need to be working all the time.” Some of us (and perhaps, many of us?) feel like we are constantly on the razor’s edge, that at any moment our lives could fall apart if we aren’t working. That breeds fear inside of us, and fear is never from God. God works through faith, and taking a Sabbath – taking time to do nothing except relax, honor God and reset your meter – is an act of faith. Taking a Sabbath is an implicit statement that honoring God is more important than anything else we can do, even if that means that we don’t get some really important things done.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you get less done as a result of taking a Sabbath. In fact, I believe that when you honor God in this way he gives you the strength to get more done. Although I think there is a body of scientific studies to back me up, it is my personal belief that those who take a stretch of time to relax not only get about the same amount done, but they live happier and healthier lives too. That contrasts with most of us who try to work 24/7, which I believe is a contributing factor to the rise in stress-related illnesses and other problems that are becoming more widespread in our work-obsessed culture.

I’m not promoting the “health, wealth and prosperity” gospel here; I’m not saying that God wants everyone to live lives of unending bliss. I hope that I’m simply asking the question, What if God actually gave us the Sabbath commandment so we can lead better lives, so that in honoring Him we find in Him the strength to do better? What if in setting time aside to honor God, He actually cultivates joy and strength in us that helps us to lead better lives?

Now, does that mean Christians have to refrain from working on the Sabbath? That’s a big topic for another day.

Whether you are or are not trying to follow Jesus, have you ever gone through periods of time where you refrained from working during certain periods of time? What did you do and not do to relax? Did you notice any change in your outlook on life during that time?

Spiritual Disciplines: What’s the Point?

As much as I joke in the presence of my friends and family about being old, I know that I’m really young. On the grand scale of life, I’ve only been an adult for a moment. As I am maturing, I am still learning a powerful principle of life: how you spend your time is a reflection of what’s important to you. If you can frequently be found in a gymnasium, people just might get the impression that health is important to you. If you spend a lot of time a work, that’s probably something that’s important to you. There might be other motives at work, but what you do still says a lot about who you are.

Why do people trying to follow Jesus end up coming to churches, reading the Bible and other things?

For those who are not trying to follow Jesus, I’m sure that we who are trying to follow Jesus might seem a bit odd in how we spend our time. We go to this thing simple known as “church,” and sometimes we do it in spite of everything else we need to do. There are some people who believe that following Jesus means that they shouldn’t do any work on Sunday, which probably seems really odd to those outside of faith. Then, we’re supposed to do this thing called “prayer,” where we talk to a divine God about stuff, and then we’re always told that we’re supposed to read this book called the Bible that was supposedly written thousands of years ago so that we could understand this thing called following Jesus. And these are just the beginning of what we Christians call “spiritual disciplines,” which is a big, nebulous word that probably doesn’t sound very self-explanatory.

What’s the point behind these things, behind spiritual disciplines? Well, first of all let’s talk about what spiritual disciplines mean and don’t mean. For example, doing spiritual disciplines does not make you holy, nor will you get to Heaven just because you prayed a prayer or read a book. You can read your Bible everyday while never getting anything out of it. If you are just going through the motions when you read your Bible, you’re missing out. The Bible is very clear on that point. You can read the Bible and not even be a Christian who is trying to follow Jesus. I’d bet that there are a few people out there who enjoy reading the Bible just because of the history or literary aspects of it.

Catholic churches during the Middle Ages used stained glass images to help teach their illiterate congregations the stories of the Bible. That way, they didn’t have to be able to read a Bible in order to understand the Bible’s stories.

However, even if you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t have to read your Bible everyday. Think of this: for the first 1,500 years of the Church’s history, not everyone could read and access to any reading material was very limited. Historically, that’s why the Catholic Church started using images of common Bible stories as teaching tools for their congregation. So, if they had a stained-glass picture of the baby Jesus in the church, any passerby could see that image and be reminded, “Jesus came down to Earth to dwell among us.”

So, the point of reading your Bible – or any spiritual discipline – isn’t to get on God’s good side. The story of Jesus is that God loves you, period. Even if you’ve been a total punk, God just flat loves you. But for most of us, we come to Jesus understanding that much of our life has been spent on useless, selfish things. That’s a fundamental part of sin: sin wastes. God gives all men and women energy, strength, and time to bring good things into the world, to make God’s presence known in the world. When we use those energies on ourselves instead, we are being sinful. We are wasting what God has given us on things that do not have any lasting significance.

So, when you come to the point where you can admit to God that you are a waster – that you have misused the gifts he has given you – then you come the point where you ask God’s forgiveness for your waste and you repent. Repentance is us saying to God, “God, help me to not be a waster anymore. I want my life to matter. I want what I do to count towards something worthwhile.” That is what spiritual disciplines accomplish. By reading your Bible, you start putting God’s words and thoughts into your mind so that they can change you from the inside out. By praying, you start interacting with God and asking him to use you in such a way that the world is a better place.

But the real point of spiritual discipline? Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15:4) Let’s say that someone who was both really famous and also someone you really admired moved in next door to you and they said to you the next day, “Hey, let’s be friends.” As you build a friendship with that person, you start to learn who they are. You learn what makes them laugh, what disappoints them, what angers them and so on. You begin to “remain” with that person so that throughout the day, you hear their voice in your head. Not in a psychic way, but you begin to think to yourself, “Here’s what this person would say to them” or “Here’s how she would respond to that.” That, I think, is the true essence of remaining in Jesus. As you follow Jesus and you remain in him, you begin to think like he thinks, respond how he would respond so that you would begin to look like Jesus in the middle of your boring, mundane life.

And make no mistake, that is what spiritual discipline is all about. It isn’t about getting to Heaven; that’s already taken care of. It isn’t about going through the motions. It isn’t about just becoming a better person, though hopefully if you are committing yourself to Jesus in spiritual disciplines you will start to become a new person. It isn’t even about making a difference in the world, though if you are following Jesus and becoming friends with him you will start to change you world for the better. Spiritual disciplines help you spend time with Jesus. As you do that, you come to know Jesus, and then you start becoming a better person and then you can start changing the world for good.

This is the first in a series of posts that I would like to do where I discuss the whats, wheres and hows the spiritual disciplines.

What is your understanding of spiritual disciplines? If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, is there something in particular that we do that seems odd or weird?