It was Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, just before Sabbath. The plaza by the Western Wall was filling with people, laughter, and music. A tune began to emerge, a song of Sabbath celebration. A dozen girls held hands and danced together, circling, smiling, singing. The atmosphere bubbled with pure joy, and their delight was contagious. The Sabbath had arrived, and they had come to welcome the most delightful day of their week.
Later, I described the experience to my Jewish colleague. “For some of us, Sabbath is just a day of duty, a day of following all the rules,” she said, “but Sabbath does its most beautiful work in our lives when we discover its deepest delights.”
What is “delight”? Why is it so important for us to call Sabbath a “delight”? How does God want us to experience the delight of His Sabbath?
“‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob’ ” (Isa. 58:13, 14).*
And how do we have delightful Sabbaths without the danger of doing “as we please”?
Imagine Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, spending their first Sabbath with each other and God. They will experience delight in all its dimensions. They wake together, skin to skin in each other’s arms, gazing at each other’s faces, and growing familiar with every detail. Then God invites them to breakfast, a picnic of His favorite fruits—each one unique, luscious, and dripping with rose and golden sweetness. Their feet feel the freshness of the dew-dampened grass, and the air is filled with the choir of 1,000 different birds, tuned to perfection. Every breath they take is infused with the fragrance of lilies and roses. God smiles, reaches out His hand, and leads them through 1,000 wonders of His freshly created world. A Sabbath of purest delight.
Each of us discovers delight in different things, in different ways, at different times. Sometimes we search out delight for delight’s sake, knowing it will be there when the path ends in the sparkling lace of a forest waterfall, or when we look into the face of a friend and find their love. But sometimes delight catches us by surprise, when we glimpse a tiny flower in the crevice of a desert rock or see the arc of an orca breaking through the surface of the ocean.
Delight is a complex sensory experience—something like wonder mingled with joy and gratitude. It lifts our spirit and sparkles in our heart. Maybe we are delighted by new concepts, fresh insights into God’s character, or soaring anthems of praise. Maybe we experience delight in the warm, wordless understanding of a loving relationship. Or maybe we are delighted when a familiar scripture opens up its treasure chest and scatters new riches at our feet. We delight in the Milky Way, a newborn baby, the aurora borealis, a snowflake, a mug of steaming hot chocolate on a cold night, and the dance of the flames in a log fire.
God filled the world with every possible shade of color and a countless range of different textures, aromas, flavors, and sounds, just to bring us joy. To share in this delight we need to slow down, look at the world through a lens of wonder, and experience God’s creation through each of our senses. Delight is becoming aware of the many beautiful facets of God’s love for us, our relationships with other people, and our natural environment.
Sabbath is a weekly gift from God. Time to help us slow down and experience the delights He wants to share with us. Time to pause, breathe, and experience His creation in all its diversity and intensity. If we do not experience Sabbath with delight, it is like receiving a picture from the world’s greatest artist and leaving it wrapped in the attic, instead of hanging it on our wall where we can enjoy its beauty.
Delight—but not our own pleasure?
How do we balance the delightful Sabbaths that God wants us to experience without doing our own pleasure or business? Delightful Sabbaths put God first, not ourselves. Our greatest delights come from focusing on Him and His creation, worshiping Him, and being grateful for all the blessings He showers on us. We make our relationship with Him a priority, and as we experience His love for us, we are inspired to share His love with others. Our delight is a natural consequence of putting Him first. It is not that we do not have pleasure, but we experience our greatest pleasures when we realign our priorities with His. “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8, NKJV).
Delight is different for everyone.Jeff loves to go pond dipping with awire-handled jar, searching for thelittle creatures that live in the lake.Grandpa enjoys sitting on the porch,reading an inspirational book. Katecreates posies of flowers from hergarden and takes them to a care home.Mark photographs trees. Bobby enjoysplaying Noah with his set of woodenanimals. Susie writes letters to thepeople who did not make it to church.Vince writes a blog about his spiritualexperiences. Anna loves finding creativeways to tell Bible stories to hergrandchildren.
Experience what happens when we make delighting in God an important criterion for our Sabbaths, rather than “doing our duty.”
Delightful Sabbaths are not designed to be an occasional luxury. God wanted Sabbaths to be vital ingredients of our spiritual experience. In John 10:10, Jesus described Himself as coming so that we could “have life, and have it to the full.” He wants our lives to be abundant—filled to the brim with good and delightful experiences. Paul described the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives—the positive and delightful fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
Delight has a positive effect on our lives. Moments of delight bring us joy, soothe us, inspire hopeful thoughts, and help to heal the emotional pain of living in a broken world. When our Sabbaths are delightful, they can enhance our whole week as we remember the wonders of the past Sabbath and look forward to the joys of the next one.
Even when we are facing tough challenges, we can still make an active choice to experience Sabbath delight. Gather some simple things that fill you with delight and will help you have more delightful Sabbaths:
- A collection of inspiring Bible verses
- CDs or a playlist of praise and worship music
- A stack of inspirational books
- Maps of your favorite Sabbath walks
- A collection of nonperishable nature objects that fill you with wonder, such as seed pods, shells, and stones
- A list of favorite Sabbath activities
- Favorite Sabbath foods and meals
Exploring delight together
Delight does not mix well with a list of “don’ts.” While guidelines and boundaries help us have a work-free day for worship, delight focuses on the positive aspects and asks, What can we choose to do to make Sabbath a spiritual, happy, and refreshing day? and How can we share our delightful Sabbath experiences with our local community as an outreach opportunity?
A delight-orientation also asks, What are we doing that might be inhibiting ourselves, and others, from experiencing Sabbath as a delight? because this is also contrary to God’s desire for us. Reflecting on these questions personally and as a church community can be very useful. Capture your congregation’s answers on postcards or sticky notes, including the voices of the children. Then make a large poster of all the ideas, and discuss what you have discovered about making Sabbath more delightful.
It is vitally important for our children to experience delightful Sabbaths. If we want them to choose to be Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we need to make sure that their seventh days are as special as possible. You may find it hard to plan superdelightful Sabbaths when you are a busy parent. Some families take turns to plan special Sabbath activities for all the other families with children in their church. They go for walks in beautiful places, plan picnics, organize scavenger hunts, make things together out of natural materials, identify animal footprints, explore Bible stories, ride bikes, and do service projects together.
Make sure your Sabbath Schools and church services consider the needs of the children and involve them in the worship.
Make a folder for your church of delightful Sabbath things for families to do in your area. Include maps of hiking trails, leaflets for free farms and zoos, fun Bible games, and indoor activities for when the weather is bad, for example. Encourage families to add their own favorite ideas so they can learn from each other.
Help newly baptized church families to experience delightful Sabbaths. They will find it hard to know what to do on Sabbath when they have not grown up in an Adventist family. Some new families are so afraid to do anything “wrong” on the Sabbath that they hardly dare do anything at all. And then Sabbath can stop being a delight and become something to dread. So invite them to share delightful Sabbaths with other families so they taste the wonder for themselves.
What if it were obvious to everyone who knew us or who lived near our churches that Adventists have delightful Sabbaths? Imagine the difference this would make if we were known as people who had one delight-filled day every week. What difference would it make if we invited people to share our delightful Sabbaths as a form of evangelism? What if people came to our church to experience a delightful day with God in joyful worship; exploring His creation; caring for other people; choosing to be happy, peaceful, and thankful; and sharing simple, healthy food?
Next (delightful) Sabbath
You are a busy pastor. Your week may be crammed with study, ministry, and people who need you. And Sabbaths are no exception. What can you do this week to make next Sabbath more delightful for you and your family? It does not have to be anything big. Buy or pick a bunch of flowers for your dinner table, bring home your family’s favorite dessert, or take time out to watch the sunset together in a beautiful place. You will notice the difference this makes to your spiritual well-being and to the joy of those around you.
God loves giving us the gift of a fresh new Sabbath every week, and He is thrilled when we call it a delight. There is something about our delightful Sabbaths that connects us with eternity. They are like pearls, strung together, week by week, connecting Eden to the New Jerusalem, reminding us where we are coming from and where we are going, a taste of heaven right here on earth.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New International Version of the Bible.
Ideas for how to reflect on delightful Sabbaths
1. Make a list of at least 30 things that fill you with delight.
2. Read through your list and categorize each item under a different heading, such as God, my relationships, nature, my spiritual life, my interests.
3. Think about one of your most delightful Sabbaths. What made the day so delightful? Was it a profoundly spiritual experience; being with people you love; someone you met; experiencing the intricacies of nature, for instance?
4. What was the most delightful moment of your last Sabbath?
5. What three things can you do to fill your Sabbaths with more delight?
6. Rate your Sabbaths from 0 to 10, where 10 is very delightful and 0 is not delightful at all. Why did you score your Sabbaths in that way? What can you do to increase the “delight rating” of your Sabbaths?
7. What can you and your church do to make Sabbath more delightful for the children, teens, parents of young children, and older people in your church?
8. What can you personally do to make Sabbath a delight for the rest of your family, especially when Sabbath can be such a busy time for pastoral families?
Ways to make delightful Sabbaths
• Take time to help your church community reflect together on Sabbath as a delight, and how moments of delight can bring you closer to God and each other.
• Survey your members to find out what would make their time in church on Sabbath more delightful.
• Invite different people in your church to say what they find delightful about Sabbath and share some of their most delightful Sabbath experiences.
• Create a bulletin board of children’s stories and pictures about their favorite and most delightful Sabbaths.
• Invite church members to create a display of different things they did and photos of local places, for example, that gave them a Sabbath delight.
• Plan a Sabbath afternoon where families and church members can experience some interesting, creative, and delightful Sabbath activities, such as Sabbath crafts, singing together, going on a Bible treasure hunt in the neighborhood, making care packages for homeless people, exploring semiprecious gems, or whatever else your church community would like to do.
• Invite everyone in your church to try something new and delightful one Sabbath, and then share their experiences the following Sabbath.
• Reach out to the single people in your community who may be experiencing long, sad, and lonely Sabbaths. What can you do to help them experience a more delightful day?
• Collaborate with your family to create the most delightful Sabbath you can imagine. Plan interesting and engaging worships, sing each person’s favorite song, go somewhere you all love, and invite each person in your family to choose an experience that they would find especially delightful.
• Make a scrapbook or journal of your delightful Sabbaths. Include what made the day so wonderful and how the wonder brought you closer to God.