“The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed times, the Lord’s appointed times, which you will declare to be holy occasions: Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Common English Bible)
When I was kid, watching the cartoon The Jetsons was a Saturday morning ritual. The futuristic family featured George the husband and father, an employee of Spacely Sprockets. In one episode, George comes home and is met by his dog, Astro, and wife, Jane, looking tired and haggard from a day’s work. George’s comment when he entered on the treadmill through the door was, “Jane, these 3 hour work days are killing me!”
Indeed, the technological progress of post-war America had led to the common belief among many that with so many advancements, workdays would become smaller, with leisure time growing. In the 1960’s, it seemed a foregone conclusion that technology would provide the masses with unprecedented amounts of discretionary time for whatever they would want to do.
Fifty years removed from The Jetsons we now know what Americans and people across the world would do with time-saving devices: We simply work a lot more. Just the opposite has occurred from having loads of leisure time. People discovered that greater efficiency with technology has brought an equal competition for business and making more money. Time saved has translated into accomplishing more work, and not in taking vacations and indulging in new hobbies and ventures.
The 4th command of God’s Ten Commandments is needed today more than ever. It is time to come back to this basic instruction of the Lord, and engraft its wise counsel into our lives.
“Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Common English Bible)
The point of God’s command to his people is neither to squash commerce, nor to be a curmudgeon about fencing one day a week of doing nothing; instead, the command for Sabbath is designed to be a life-giving day where we discover that:
There is more to life than work.
The word “Sabbath” literally means “to rest.” God built into his creation a rhythm of rest and work. God Himself rested, not because he was tired, but because he ceased working long enough to enjoy the earth and everything in it. Everything in life is done in rhythm. We walk in rhythm, talk in rhythm, and our hearts beat in a rhythm. The earth cycles in rhythmic seasons of the year, and the animal kingdom mates and lives in annual rhythms. All creation is rhythmic.
Whenever we keep going and do not live according to the rhythm laid out for all of God’s creatures, we break. Even machinery needs a break. Sometimes I find it more than ironic that we treat our cars and vehicles with the regular maintenance and care that we don’t even extend to ourselves. We care for our cars because we don’t want to experience a breakdown on the highway. Yet, much more important is the care of our souls and our bodies. Without regular intervals of work and rest in a consistent rhythmic pattern, we breakdown, burnout, and, like little children who have missed a nap, we have epic meltdowns of anger, frustration, and passive-aggressive behavior because we simply ignored God’s 4th command.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me at this point. Some of you may have had a background filled with legalistic embraces of Sabbath. No this, and no that, no nothing on Sundays, as if God were some divine curmudgeon who frowns at anything happy on the Sabbath. To rest means to have a change of pace from regular weekday activity of work. To rest and enjoy the difference of a Sabbath’s day is avoided by so many people because it brings this question to the forefront of our minds:
Who am I if I’m not working?
Our identities can be so tied to our jobs that we compulsively check our multiple e-mail accounts on a day off; tie ourselves to our smart phones and iPhones on vacation; and, allow work to bleed into our time away from the job. God wisely placed loving boundaries around us. But like Adam and Eve who could not be content with enjoying the entire garden, we obsessively pluck the forbidden fruit from the one tree that is off limits.
Work brings money, influence, power, relationships, industry, and a host of good things. The problem is not work; the problem is that we humans can create an idol of it. When work and all that comes with it consumes our attention, we are on a one-way road to nowhere. I’ve heard more than one deathbed confession from dying persons, and I’ve yet to hear anyone wish they had worked more. Nope, it’s usually something out of rhythm and out of whack – that they let their jobs and their ambitions surrounding work call the shots in life, without stopping to enjoy the vast creation, the gifts of God, and the emotional wealth that can come from relationships.
Because we aren’t sure who we are if we’re not working, we just keep working. If we feel bad, we work harder. If things are tough at home, we just put more hours in at work. If we need more money, we pick up a part-time job. When work becomes the catch-all answer to our many problems, it has become our god and we will worship at the altar of money and activity… until we can learn to stop and rest.
It’s just one day out of seven. Just 1/7th of your life is needed to change the pace and allow a divine rhythm into your existence. The temptation, however, is to take a day off from work so that you can do other work at home. So, the challenge, for many people, is to allow the weekend to be one day where you get stuff done, and another day to truly rest.
This is not easy. Right now I work six days a week. And, sometimes, I work a few hours on my “day off.” I’m speaking to myself as much as I’m speaking to you. Yet, no one bats an eye at my constant working (well, except maybe my wife!). In fact, people seem impressed when we work all the time. We don’t want others thinking us lazy. We want others to think well of us, and give us accolades for our hard work. What gets lost in it all is God’s grace to us through rest.
God desires us to enjoy Him, and not avoid Him. He wants us to be still and know that He is God. He longs for us to connect with Him. This will only happen if we plan and prepare for it. Sabbath doesn’t just happen; we must engage it. Maybe we need to put God on our calendars. Make an appointment with Him like we would anyone else. Put the same kind of effort into making a date with God that you would with the people you care most about. Perhaps the best thing you could do is go play a round of golf (if golf isn’t your idol!); go to the beach; or, take a nap.
The thing about Sabbath is that, when we get down to actually practicing it, we find that the world didn’t stop. When we return to work, the earth is still spinning on its axis. The company didn’t burn down in our absence. Life doesn’t cease when we submit to a Sabbath rest; it’s just that we cease from participating in it for a short time. Our delusions of grandeur dissipate and disappear when we finally come around to consistently obeying a Sabbath rest.
Work is noble. But there is nothing noble about working without rest. We are still human beings when we aren’t making money, and still valuable when we don’t have jobs. Folks in healthcare facilities aren’t any less important because they aren’t holding down a job. Work doesn’t define us – God’s image within us does.
It isn’t likely that we’ll ever see a George Jetson 3-hour workday, and that’s probably a good thing. Work’s inherent goodness can only be truly appreciated when we plan and prepare to live and enjoy a Sabbath’s day rest.