You may think, “I already have a ‘quiet time’ (prayer and Bible reading) every morning, so what’s different about sabbath?” Just like human relationships, our relationship with the Lord requires both quality time & quantity time. A daily quiet time (quality time) is a fantastic habit to practice, but ten minutes before work or ten minutes before bed may not be enough for what God has for you. A set apart 24-hour period provides more room be with the Lord and know him more (quantity time).
New York City does nothing to nurture this. There are billboards everywhere – on the windows of businesses, in the subway, on the side of buses, on the top of taxis, inside the taxi on a television screen, on phone booths (yes they still exist) – calling you to contemplate anything but God. There’s simply so much to do! You could eat out every night of your life in New York City for the rest of your life and never eat at the same place twice.* There are countless concerts, benefits, museums, and theaters for you to attend every night. The city provides entertainment and distraction in unending supply, which can easily choke out the voice of God. Church buildings such as 100 year old Good Shepherd (pictured above) are some of the few parts of the city free from hustle and bustle, signs and distraction. Sabbath provides rest and a call to contemplate who is truly important.
Contemplate is the most intuitive element of sabbath, since it’s the “religious” thing to do. In both Jewish and Christian tradition, sabbath includes corporate worship, reading Scripture, prayer, and silence. In sabbath we remember when Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden at creation (Genesis 3:8), and look forward to the wedding feast of the lamb where we will see him face to face without fear (Revelation 22:4). Contemplation is what truly separates sabbath from simply taking a day off.
Practicing a 24-hour period of sabbath focuses your attention on God. I often begin my sabbath with a prayer declaring that this is a sabbath unto the Lord. Orthodox Jews who practice sabbath use the ritual of lighting candles and reciting a sabbath blessing to welcome the special 24-hour period. When we intentionally begin a sabbath day, our perspective will be focused on the Lord. We become more aware, more in tune with what God might be saying to us throughout the day.
Contemplate doesn’t refer to fulfilling an obligation that makes God love or bless us more. Remember grace. God has already done everything necessary through Jesus. And there’s nothing we could ever do to make God love us more or less than he already does. Sabbath simply gives us extended time with the one who loves us most. God’s greatest delight in all of creation is you, for we are created in his very image (Genesis 1:27). Jesus gave his life for us on the cross so that our relationship with him could be restored. Jesus is called Immanuel – God with us. Sabbath gives us an extended time to be with him.
Practicing the principles of sabbath will look different for everyone. For most of us Sunday will be the best day where we can spend extended time with the Lord. However, as a pastor, Sundays are not very restful for me. So, my sabbath is most often on Friday. I often write in my journal, reflecting on my life in the presence of the Lord. I have time to go on a walk in the park and spend time with the Lord in prayer. I also have time to have impromptu discussions with others.
How has God wired you to best connect with him? Each of us connect with the Lord in different ways. Some connect best by being outside in creation, others by rallying others to a just cause in the name of Christ. Perhaps you need to be alone, journal your prayers, or read intellectually stimulating books. Perhaps you need to worship with others, discuss the Bible, or serve others. Spiritual Pathways is a great resource to discover how you connect with the Lord. North Point Community Church has even put together an online test to see which pathway(s) you most fall into. Sabbath provides us an opportunity to do these things – to spend quantity time with our heavenly father.
Here’s why this is so important. God loves you more than you can ever understand. You were created in his very image. In fact, he knew you before you were born, when you were in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He knows the plans he has for your life (Jeremiah 29:11). He died for you. He has given you his very Spirit to live within you. He wants to spend time with you! Not just quality time, but quantity time too. Accept his invitation of sabbath and contemplate.