It began during my childhood; sometimes manifesting itself late Friday afternoons, and at other times on Saturday afternoons. On Fridays my question was “What time does the sun set?” The Sabbath hours interfered with my TV plans. On Saturday, I asked the same question, but for a different reason. I counted down the hours, then the minutes, before the sun set. It was as if I were waiting for the doors of a prison to be opened so my incarceration would end. This wasn’t so bad during the winter months, because at least I didn’t have to wait so long after church ended before I could turn on the TV and be entertained.
My reasoning changed while matriculating during my university years. Saturday night provided quality hours for uninterrupted study. I was on a mission, and I needed every waking hour to invest in fulfilling the dream God gave me and the goals I set for myself. The sooner the sun dropped below the horizon, the sooner I could do what I needed to do in order to succeed.
Finally, the day arrived when all that hard work paid off. I was a pastor. I found joy in the Sabbath day that I knew God wanted me to experience. I was leading out in the worship experience, and we all basked in the light of dwelling in His presence. On a regular basis I witnessed the fruits of my labors, as church members and others came to a greater understanding of God, drawing closer to Him.
I don’t preach on Sabbaths as often as I once did. My weekdays are now filled with editorial responsibilities. Yet even on the Sabbath day, I find the specter of deadlines still looms, tempting me to ponder what needs to be done soon after the sun sets. Given that my entire adult life has been driven by an ability to perform, where is my Sabbath? How do I claim the true rest that God designed for me from that first Sabbath day in Eden?
Have I been listening to myself?
Through the years, I have preached countless sermons and given scores of lectures affirming the biblical and practical validity of the holiness of the seventh day of the week. Those who have listened have expressed their appreciation for what I’ve said as well as for the God who has given us such a marvelous gift in time. But while I’ve been so busy sharing these truths, have I taken the time to listen to myself while I speak? Have I allowed the beauty of Sabbath holiness to benefit me?
I must remind myself that the Sabbath is not about me. It’s about God. I find it easy to fall into the trap of believing that my sermon constitutes the main activity during the worship experience. The truth, however, remains that my highest and greatest offering during the holy hours of the Sabbath centers on communion with God.
I must also remind myself that the Sabbath day was not designed merely for physical rest; that is, an afternoon nap or simple relaxation. The Hebrew verb translated Sabbath signifies a cessation from labor, an interruption of the normal flow of activities. The Sabbath, then, speaks to my need to rest in God’s performance, not my own. In giving my best in my labor the previous six days, I can take joy in knowing that God has smiled upon my labors—because He is the One who was working through me.
I must also remind myself that the Sabbath hours provide quality time for me to reconnect with loved ones and others. During the week I focus on office duties, committee assignments, household matters, and a host of other concerns. The same applies to my wife and children; so as such, we can feel like four ships passing in the night. The Sabbath day allows us to unplug from the ordinary and reconnect with one another.
My vows for 2015
The new year brings with it new resolve; and with this fresh start I promise myself and God—ever remembering that the seventh-day Sabbath stands as a model of salvation based on His works and not my own—that I will focus more on the things of Christ and less on the things that so often can appear to be about me. I will not yield to the tyranny of emails and deadlines that encroach upon God’s sacred hours. Rather, I will embrace the beauty of the Sabbath, taking time to celebrate—with my family—our Creator and Savior.