What Is A Sabbath Rest?

5 min read

The subject of Sabbath rest is a complicated one. But it’s one worth diving into because the rewards of a life incorporating Sabbath rest are infinite. 

The idea of a Sabbath day rest comes from Scripture but it has been observed in a range of different ways, across Judaism and Christianity. The result is that a lot of Christians today feel a bit lost and confused about the whole concept of Sabbath.

Let’s start by asking this question:

What is your relationship with Sabbath rest? Or, rather, what is your relationship with rest?

A rhythm of rest

Before scrolls and temples, shop opening hours and centuries old traditions, you can find the origins of a rhythm of rest, right where it all began, in Genesis. 

In Genesis 2:2 we find God resting, after finishing His incredible work to create the world:

“So on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.”

This passage from the Bible is so well-known it’s easy to overlook it. But we must remember that God is a God who rests. He is infinitely strong, the creator of all and nothing can overcome Him and yet, He instigates and follows a rhythm of rest. 

This is where we learn the most provocative of truths: that no season of our life should be without rest. No matter how important or busy your work, no matter how difficult the things are on your plate, we must include a rhythm of rest. 

We are created in the likeness of God; He leads by example and His decision to press pause, on the seventh day should influence how we chose to live today. 

A blessing on Sabbath rest

If we look again at Genesis 2:2, we read that God blessed the seventh day. 

There’s an inherent connection between blessing and fruitfulness and abundance. Think of God’s blessing on Abraham, it was a blessing of fruitfulness. This connection is found throughout the Old Testament. 

There’s an implied connection here then, between Sabbath and fruitfulness. 

It’s easy to let resting feel like an entirely unproductive activity but what Genesis teaches us is that resting is, in fact, productive. That, by resting, we position ourselves to be fruitful, to grow and to experience what God has for us.

Are there rules for Sabbath rest?

The subject of Sabbath traditions and practices is a big one. In some areas of the world Sabbath is still observed incredibly strictly. Houses will go without power for 24 hours and shops will close. For others, observing Sabbath means gathering for a traditional ‘Shabbat’ meal with family on a Friday night. 

Sometimes, in contemporary church communities, Sabbath is interpreted in a myriad of creative ways, like going without your phone for one day a week. A helpful resource to consider on practical applications of sabbath is John Mark Comers excellent book “The Ruthless Elimination Of Hurry.”

We are disciples of Jesus, we’re not bound by the laws of Israel if we don’t want to be. But observing a Sabbath rest isn’t just an empty religious gesture, it’s a rhythm set in place by God himself. 

Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ expectation of what can and can’t be done by healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). He wasn’t saying that the Sabbath was worthless. No, Jesus was saying that it was in His presence that real rest was to be found. That to experience Sabbath meant to seek Him out, follow Him and spend time with Him: “You will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

It’s time to think differently about rest

We need to make two big changes to the way we think about rest. 

Firstly, you are worthy of rest. You were created to rest. Don’t ever think that you haven’t achieved enough or that you’re not deserving of rest. Resting isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. By allowing yourself to rest you are connecting to your created purpose and recognising that you were made in God’s image. 

Secondly, rest isn’t just about escaping from things. Rest is about running towards Jesus. 

True Sabbath rest is found in relationship with Jesus, which makes it incredibly flexible. You can rest in all sorts of places, while doing all sorts of things, as long you’ve invited Jesus into every moment. 

How healthy is your relationship with rest?

Think back over the last week. Was there a point when you stopped to rest properly? It could have been during a long walk outside, perhaps a soak in the bath or time spent curled up on the sofa reading? 

How about the week before that? 

Do you have a regular rhythm of rest in your life? Not the moments where you collapse, exhausted, in front of the TV show you watch mindlessly. But rather a rest filled with intentional connection with Jesus. A rest that leaves you feeling energised, inspired and encouraged? 

Building a healthy relationship with Sabbath rest takes discipline and time. Choosing to press pause and rest, instead of ticking another thing off your to do list, is truly counter-cultural these days. 

Let God’s invitation into fruitfulness, via a connected rest with Him, tempt you away from the everyday hustle and grind. You’ll be amazed at the impact on your wellbeing. 

Small ways to Sabbath everyday 

If you’re out of the habit of resting well then it can take a while to build the discipline up again. Don’t expect to be able to go from sixty to zero and sustain the rhythm. The best way to commit to a lasting rhythm of Sabbath is to treat it like building up a muscle. 

Start small and then increase your periods of rest week by week. As the months go on you’ll find you’re setting aside more time for rest as you experience the transformation and life-giving boost that connection with our Maker brings. 

Here are some small ways to start building up your Sabbath rest muscles: 

– spend one night a week away from the TV, reading an inspiring book or listening to a podcast that connects you to God

– go phone-free for 24 hours

– invite friends to share a meal and encourage each other 

– go for a short walk somewhere beautiful

– start a small gardening project.

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