Sabbath in New York City: REST

UntitledRest.

New York City is often called “the city that never sleeps,” and we are addicted to productivity. We say things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Often rest is only seen as just a way to make us more productive later. And it’s true. It’s been proven that if you take more vacation, rest more often, you will be more productive than those who take less vacation and work more hours. Resting actually helps us become more productive. And that’s a good thing. But worshiping productivity, becoming addicted, poisons our rest. If we rest just to be more productive, we’ve lost something. We have lost an aspect of who we are as children of God.

When God first instituted the Sabbath for the Israelite people, they had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Their entire culture and identity was wrapped up in being a slave. Slaves do not get days off. Slaves do not get a vacation. Slaves are not worthy of such things. While God had delivered the people out of slavery, they still had generations of slave culture that had to be broken in a dramatic way. Hence the sabbath – a 24 hour period where you could do no work.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they worked seven days a week, and were never able to rest. They were treated not like human beings, but machines. The Sabbath is a gift given to humans who have been created in the image of God. Slavery de-humanizes us. But rest identifies us as human beings with inherent value.

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.13 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

It took the people a while to get it. God even reminds them that they were once slaves in Egypt, but no longer! In modern times, we often treat ourselves like slaves. We worship productiveness every moment of the day. We value multitasking, being in a hurry, and staying connected – because we think it makes us important. But in reality, we become slaves to these things. Our masters become our emails, messages and work responsibilities. Our identity becomes enmeshed with our master, productivity. But the truth is that we can rest from these things not because they are not important, because we are important. We are free children of God, created in the image of our father.

Jesus teaches us that people were not created for the Sabbath – as if God first created a Sabbath and then needed someone to observe it. No, the Sabbath was created for people (Mark 2:27). It is a gift that God has so graciously given us. Must we practice Sabbath? No. Must we rest? No. Must we accept this gift? No. We no longer live under the law, but under grace. Our father does not force rest upon us, but he knows that it is best for us. God may not force rest upon us, but usually our physical bodies will. When we go for long periods without rest, we get sick and are forced to rest. Our bodies often know what is best for us, whether we pay attention or not.

The theology of rest reaches to the heart of the gospel. Because Christ has fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, believers can enter God’s rest. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9-10). When we rest, we glorify Jesus as the one who has given us eternal rest.

As I have practiced Sabbath rest, I am able to work hard throughout my week knowing that I have a 24-hour period where I will be able to rest. It am also reminded me that I need to take small breaks and rest each day. I need to take my lunch break. I need to take 15 minute breaks and rest my mind as I work. I value sleep more. Sleep is not worthless down time. I am obligated to get a good night’s sleep. I am obligated to take a nap if I need one.

Remember, that you were once a slave to productivity, in order to gain righteousness from God, yourself or others. But the Lord your God freed you by the power of the cross. You are not a machine. You are not a slave. You are a child of the king. Rest.

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Sabbath in New York City: REST

Sabbath in New York City

Untitled New York is non-stop. It’s not an easy place to live. I keep hearing from people that since they’ve moved to the city, they’ve faced new physical ailments. And not just allergies. My view could be skewed a bit, because a majority of the transplants I know are Christians who are living on mission for Jesus, therefore the enemy could be attacking them at a higher proportion. But even without the attacks of the evil one, New York is a difficult place to live. It really is non-stop. Something is always going on. You have to walk everywhere in the elements. That fact alone makes New York a difference physical experience from most places in America where the only real walking we do is from a building to a car or walking in a shopping mall. Everything is more complicated. I live in a 5th floor walkup, so when I leave my apartment, I’d better be sure I have everything I need for the day, or it will cost me 88 steps. Most people don’t have central heating and air. We have these things called radiators in the winter and window units for only the essential rooms that need to be cool during the summer. Most people use public transportation (which can at any moment become stressful), and the rest drive in one of the most congested places in America – not a stress-free experience.

But beyond all that, there is a relentless pervasive push towards productivity in New York City. This is the city where dreams are made of, so get to it and pursue your dreams! Don’t waste your time. So many young professionals move to the city to work themselves to death for a maximum of seven years before moving somewhere else. So many artists move here to work 40 hours a week so they can work another 30-40 in pursuit of their real passion. Then there are the swaths (it’s such a large portion of NYC that it’s often hard to comprehend) of working poor working multiple jobs 60+ hours a week to provide for their families. All I’m saying is: it never stops. The city does sleep. But when you’re awake, there’s that pervasive pressure to achieve, to produce, to provide. It never stops. More than most places, work/achievement/productivity, is an idol in New York City.

Everyday Church is doing our part to fight this with annual all-church retreats focused on rest. We believe that rest, and specifically Sabbath, is so counter-cultural to our city, that we must spend extended time focusing on it. Throughout the 2-day retreat, we focused on the four elements of Sabbath: stop, rest, delight, and contemplate (the four elements are not original with me – they come from Pete Scazzero at New Life Church in Queens, NYC).

As I have incorporated  sabbath-keeping into my life in the past year or so, I’ve discovered is that Sabbath is a choice. More than anything else, it’s a choice. Unless we decide to stop, rest, contemplate and delight, we won’t. Our entire culture is against us. But even in the Old Testament, God had to make it a commandment (the longest and most specific commandment of the famous ten) for the people to follow it. While it is no longer a commandment for the salvation of the Christian, we do a lousy job of accepting the gift of sabbath from the Lord.

The worst thing about sabbath-keeping is that most pastors, don’t practice it. There’s an ugly belief out there that the pastor never really gets a day off. That was definitely the experience in my home as the son of a pastor. This is the most backwards thinking. We think that because the pastor serves the people, that his/her work is never done. Well, in reality work, period, is never done. No matter what you do for your profession, there is always more to do, more to improve, more to innovate. In church planting the pressure to be a successful pastor of a growing church never ends.

Now, I’m not saying that as disciples of Jesus that we are required to practice Sabbath. The Lord of the sabbath himself (Jesus) said: “the sabbath was created for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Satan twists this truth to tell us that the sabbath is a legalistic practice from the Old Testament that should be completely thrown out. Instead, we should embrace the life-giving principles of sabbath, all the while remembering that it is only by God’s grace that we are saved (not by our sabbath-keeping). I think it’s ironic that we are able to reconcile the old testament practice of tithing (not even in the 10 Commandments) to the new covenant, but believe the lie that sabbath is worthless.

Practicing sabbath breaks these lies, and can enrich our relationship with Jesus. Sabbath declares that we are not God – even if we stop working, the world and everything we care about will keep going without us (Stop). Sabbath declares that we are not machines – we are human beings (Rest). Sabbath declares that we gain our worth not from what we do – we are children of God, free to delight in all that he has created (Delight). Sabbath declares what truly matters – an eternal God who is worthy of our undivided attention (Contemplate). This is Sabbath.

I dream about a church that is known by their value of sabbath compared to the insecure need to be productive in New York City. People will ask about what kind of God this is that loves us so much – a God who doesn’t judge us based on our productivity or our sabbath-keeping.

Sabbath in New York City