Rest on Purpose

August 23, 2010

I recently heard a troubling sermon. Here is one of the verses used as a text:

Tell the people of Israel: “Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13).

I’d always figured that didn’t apply to American culture. But it bothered me because it was instituted long before the Law of Moses, by God Himself at creation. He rested. I don’t think it was because He was tired; He was resting on purpose, not out of necessity.

So after Shane preached about it a few weeks back, I couldn’t get it off my mind. I pulled some reference books off the shelf and researched a few things. What I discovered encouraged me.

Shane had said that we are commanded to keep the Sabbath, not in a legalistic sense like the Pharisees did, but because God set it up that way. He knew we’d need the time to refocus and prepare for the week to come. He noted in his message that refusal to “take a day off” indicates that I think I’m indispensable. I think my world can’t run without me. “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done.” By my refusal to slow down and drop the “urgent” stuff, I’m implying that I am in control. I’m actually denying that God is sovereign. More than that, I’m actually trying to play God’s role in running my life. Ouch!

The key verse listed at the top was an eye-opener for me. First, it said, “Be careful.” If I am not intentional about rest, I will slip into that control mode by default.

Next, I noticed that “the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant.” The Sabbath is not the covenant; it is a sign of the covenant. So I looked up “covenant” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1970). It gave the Greek word that’s used in the Septuagint (the Greek O.T.). I won’t try to write that here, but the part of the definition that caught my attention noted that in contrast to the English word that signifies a mutual agreement between two parties, “it does not …contain the idea of joint obligation, it mostly signifies an obligation undertaken by a single person.”

Maybe that seems convoluted, but consider this: the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant that God made. God rested—ceased working—when His creative work was complete. When I take a day off to refocus, I’m showing that the unique promise, or covenant, God made with me is important. He made the new covenant and sealed it with the blood of His Son: He’s promised that Christ’s work for me on the cross is complete. My break from frantic work is a sign that I trust Him. It gives me an opportunity to focus on Him and cultivate that relationship on a deeper level.

How will I live that out? Shane gave the example of cutting the grass. He said that if lawn work wears just you out, makes you sweat and takes the place of time with your family, you shouldn’t do it on your Sabbath. But if it gives you the only time you get outdoors alone in nature, it revitalizes you and offers you time to pray and meditate, go for it. It’s not the activity, it’s the focus. And Sabbath may not be Sunday for you. That’s okay, too. But whenever it is, it should be an intentional day to re-create: rest on purpose.

It’s a point of growth for me. I hope it will be for you, too.