Spiritual Disciplines Ep. 4: Sabbath

Show Notes:

Matt: J.D., our next spiritual discipline is practicing the Sabbath. That’s something that I think a lot of people have varying views on – talk to us about how to “keep the Sabbath.”

J.D.: So look, Matt… I’m not very good at this. This may shock you, but I’m a very type-A “Achiever” kind of guy. My wife says I’m an Enneagram 8 to the max, the 8iest 8 who ever 8ted.

  • I do NOT like carving time out of my schedule where I’m not getting something done
  • It just doesn’t come naturally to me at all.

But like we’ve talked about, these are spiritual disciplines – they don’t come naturally to us. And in the case of “keeping the Sabbath,” they’re sometimes counter-cultural.

We live in a fast-paced world. Every bit of media tells you to utilize every minute of every day to accomplish as much as you can, so that you can obtain as much as you can. And practicing a Sabbath is completely contrary to that – Sabbath is stopping the work that you’d usually do, trusting that God is in control, and focusing on what he wants you to focus on. 

So, let’s dig in here. 

First, we believe that God has instituted into creation a 7-day rhythm or work and rest/worship.

Second, we believe regular corporate gathering on the Lord’s Day is an essential, non-negotiable element in the life of a disciple.

  • Verses such as Hebrews 10:24-25 tell us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

Matt: J.D., let me stop you and ask Mackenzie’s question: “The Sabbath is commanded to the Israelites as part of the Old Testament law. So because we’re no longer bound by the OT law, do we still have to Sabbath?”

  • This is where the Sabbath gets confusing for people. It’s true that we’re no longer bound by the OT law… but the design reflected in those laws advises us to set aside a day every week for rest and worship. 
  • It’s built on a principle, the same principle as tithing: one day a week we stop and declare our dependence on God
    • BTW, no other society did this… they all felt they had to work to the max., especially in ancient Israel. Survival was often a day-to-day, season-to-season affair. Crops had to be harvested daily. Water had to be drawn daily. To cut your productivity by 1/7 could make the difference in life and death! 
    • By taking a Sabbath, they said,  God, I’m doing less than I’m able to do because you commanded me to, and so I’m depending on you to make up for what I’m missing here.”  
    • (Same principle as tithing)
  • The OT laws are fulfilled in Jesus, so we no longer are bound to the particulars, but the principle behind is the same.
    • We see this principle of flexibility reflected in the early church, who seem to use Sunday as their primary day of gathering. 

Matt: Speaking of, here’s a question from John: “What’s up with the sabbath being Saturday or Sunday? Your thoughts?”

  • Early church took the principle of 
  • But Paul says in Romans 14:5: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” 
    • When the early church changed it from Sat to Sunday they were showing that it wasn’t a particular day that was essential.
  • When non-Sunday might be helpful: 
    • Some people work on weekends, including pastors and many people in ministry, so observing the Sabbath on Saturday makes sense in those cases. 
    • Dubai example
    • Churches with other service times… 
  • I think for most of you it should be Sunday–that is the “standard” set by early church, and practicing that is consistent with 2K years of church history, but what’s important is to set aside one day a week where you cease from your labors and enjoy God and the gifts he has given.

Matt: So, after all that, how to apply? 

  • One day a week for rest, renewal and relationships
  • One day to be rather than to do. To focus on God, relationships, and enjoy his creation.
  • It doesn’t have to be on a Sunday. 
    • For most of you it should be, but it’s at least one day a week where you cease from your labors and enjoy God and the gifts he has given.
    • Public worship should always be a part of it, because your relationship with God is central in your life.
    • But it’s also a day to be with family, and be outdoors, and to do things you enjoy that are life-giving.
  • Daily rhythms
  • If you know it all doesn’t depend on you, you don’t have to work at such a frenetic place and can slow down and adopt creaturely rhythms.
  • Another form of confident rest is building in daily rhythms. One Christian counselor I was reading said that you should build 3 types of rest each day: 
    • Mental (disengage—Churchill); 
    • Social (those who have a daily rhythm of gathering friends, 3x a week had lower rates of heart disease; 
    • Time with your spouse: BTW: According to this study, SEX counts as social rest—“this is the best AGM sermon ever!” Teens, don’t get any ideas. This doesn’t apply to you yet. 
    • Physical (a recent study found that a 30-minute nap three times a week cuts your heart attack risk by 40%. 
    • A recent CNN study showed that those who work 11-hour days are (get this) 250% more likely to become depressed than those who limit their work 8-hour days. 
    • The reason is that when you are under work stress your body releases a certain amount of chemicals and hormones to deal with it—which is fine in normal rhythms but when you work too much it literally poisons your body, throwing off your levels and leading you more anxiety and depression.
    • Other studies have shown that people who nap are actually more productive

Matt: One more listener question, this one from Vicki: “I just finished The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry book. The author has a different list of spiritual disciplines. 4 S’s. silence and solitude, sabbath and simplicity. All taken from the life of Jesus. Based on this, is it still important to observe the Sabbath and what does that look like.”

  • Vicki, I’m glad you asked this, because the author of that book, John Mark Comer, has some really insightful views on the Sabbath. He just released another book called Practicing the Way which talks about the spiritual disciplines, which I haven’t had a chance to read yet.
  • In Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, he lays out how he and his family practice the Sabbath, and that book was pretty influential in the way many people think about Sabbath in their own lives.
    • He recommends Sabbath-ing in a way that more closely mirrors the way the Israelites did in the OT (sundown to sundown), phones away… a bit more rigid than I am with what you don’t do and more intentional about the restful and life-giving activities that you practice. 
    • Some on our staff Sabbath in a way that reflects what JMC lays out.

JMC would agree, I think, that there are various ways of practicing Sabbath and we’re not bound to OT customs and there’s some freedom here, but bottom line is that Sabbath is something our bodies, minds, and souls were designed by God to practice.

  • Matt: Next week, we’ll continue our series on the spiritual disciplines by discussing the discipline of fasting. Don’t miss it next week!
  • We’re now on YouTube; subscribe to @J.D.Greear.


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