How to Find Sabbath Rest in a Globalizing World

A Gleaning from the Q Conference

Several weeks ago I attended the Q Conference. This year’s gathering in Nashville brought together Christian leaders and innovators to present their ideas, movements, and research in a series of nine-minute TED-style talks. I listened to each segment with a quickening heart. I wanted to take action. Dream bigger. Put all this new information into practice and impact the world.

But my focus shifted after the presentation from Andy Crouch, author and editorial director at Christianity Today. Rather than calling out all the things I could go do, he drew my attention to the importance of cultivating rest.

We Need to Rest

Resting rarely gets top billing for leaders in the church. There is always another person to serve, a program to plan, a sermon to prepare. Our work is meaningful and there are tangible needs to meet.

At the same time, globalization and technology are rapidly expanding our worlds. At the tap of a screen we are connected to both local parishioners and global news. While this can increase our impact, it can also be difficult to set limits around our work. Before we know it, we’re taking texts at the dinner table or checking emails at our kid’s little league game.

Crouch argued that setting limits on technology is not only paramount to our well-being, but is necessary to following the biblical command, “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 20:8). We often let our responsibilities push this command to the sidelines of our lives, but it was meant to be central to the life of God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, God reprimands the people for not keeping Sabbath, citing this as a root cause for their ensuing problems.

Observing Sabbath wasn’t meant to enforce a legalistic requirement but to help God’s people live fully in the abundance for which they were created. Sabbath is one of the ways we can keep our lives in right order, under God’s dominion. For six days we labor and toil and create. On the seventh we rest in communion with the Creator. We acknowledge our dependence on God, enjoying the fruits of our co-laboring with God. And we remember that God delights in us, not just the good works we produce.

How Can We Rest?

For Jews in both biblical times and today, observing the Sabbath has involved ceasing from all work—gathering food, plowing and reaping, kindling a fire, and chopping wood (Exodus 16:29-30). But this looks vastly different across centuries. Kindling a fire can now mean turning on a light switch, taking the elevator, or looking at your TV, computer, or smartphone screen. Yet while the development of technology requires us to set different limits, the focus has stayed the same. Sabbath is a time for enjoying family and friends, coming together around a big meal and shared traditions.

What does Sabbath rest look like for you? Here are some ideas to cultivate the gift of Sabbath rest, based on Crouch’s talk. If you have a leadership role on Sundays, consider designating another day as your Sabbath, or begin your rest period after finishing your duties.

  1. Share a sacred meal. Make a point of gathering friends or family for a Sabbath meal. Be intentional with the ingredients you use, making them hearty and healthy. Carve out several hours to enjoy one another’s company and conversation.
  2. Foster a more natural environment. Put things in your house that promote engaging with creation and being creative. Start developing a library, collecting art supplies, or keeping fresh food in your kitchen. Make these things visible, so you can remember, and easily practice, more integrated living. Focus on doing things that let you cultivate and create.
  3. Do things slowly. Don’t rush through your Sabbath activities. Choose to do things that help you slow down and be present in the moment. Pick up a book, spend time in your garden, or work on an art project.
  4. Set hours on technology. Try setting Sabbath hours. Turn off all technology for the day, or at a certain point in the evening. Or take it a step further—have a basket by your front door for everyone in your household to drop off their phones and other gadgets when they come home!
  5. Practice saying no. During your Sabbath, don’t just give yourself permission to say no to obligations, but practice saying no. Make a list of what some of your “no’s” could be: laundry, hospital visits, administrative tasks. Make a conscious effort to say no to the things from which you need rest.

Choosing Real Life

Sabbath doesn’t mean checking out. Sure, it can involve naps, silence, and solitude. But it will lead to deeper engagement with reality—in yourself, in your relationships, and in the world around you. It will cause you to sit in emotions or questions that arise longer, without turning to your smartphone. You may realize you are experiencing grief or anger that has gone unacknowledged, or joy or gratitude that you haven’t taken time to express. Perhaps you have grappled with a question and now you can sit with it patiently, exploring answers as possibilities.

Sabbath rest will help you care for your own needs and not just the needs of those you lead. You may bask in a psalm rather than teaching on it, talk with a friend rather than offer counsel. It will prompt you to see the physical world in its brokenness and beauty, to choose reality in all its fullness. It may be hard-won, but you will find that Sabbath becomes one of the most valuable gifts, well worth the fight to receive.

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