God’s rest can be yours today if you take a few simple steps to follow his plan for sabbath times of restoration.
God’s Rest: A Perspective
March of 2020 will be remembered as the month and year when the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) began sweeping through the United States, and life as we know it ground almost to a halt. Being told to stay home and avoid human contact (social distancing) with people not part of your family took us to a place few people are familiar with: down time.
Can we be honest for a moment? When was the last time you looked over the faces at your local church and saw well-rested people? From where you sit or, if you’re like me, from your place on the stage, do the faces of the people look as though they have had time to rest? The resounding answer is “No.”
The United States has become the land of “hustle and bustle”; families are constantly on the go. Our children get shuffled off to school, then hustled off to practice or rehearsal, then a fast food meal, then home after 10pm, hose them off, send them to bed, then the parents collapse in front of the television to catch up on the exhausting news of a world going sideways where identity politics is more important than actually getting the business of the government done.
Our world is careening out of control. “Helter Skelter” is no longer a movie title, it’s a way of life.
It’s not surprising.
We have forgotten:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8, HCSB)
“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28, HCSB)
We have forgotten to rest. We have forgotten God’s commandment to rest.
To understand God’s rest, remember your childhood summers
Summertime was the freest time I had during my elementary and junior high years. We didn’t have Netflix or Hulu. There were no streaming services. A book took you on an adventure where your bike couldn’t take you. My friends and I re-fought World War II about a hundred times, and that was before my parents asked the magic question: “Do you want to go to the farm?”
Going to the farm meant only one thing: I was being exiled to 375 acres of the most awesome adventures my mind could envision. Being sent to the farm was a death sentence for my older sister. Four years my senior, she detested farm life because she had to get her hands dirty snapping beans and canning corn off the cob. My parents both worked and to keep me from certain death at the hands of my older, yet not-as-loving sibling, I was carted off seventeen miles away to where dreams turned into my everyday existence.
There was a horse to chase down and saddle for adventures out into the woods. Starlings, a bird that was considered a menace at the farm, had to be purged from the trees surrounding the farmhouse and barn. The massive garden my grandfather planted needed tending. I was given Carte Blanche to ride the riding lawn mower, even if the yard had just been mowed.
Oh yeah, I still had to help with chores, but kids today don’t know the power of the magical words “Go to the house and get the tractor.” Are you kidding me? I think my grandfather told me to do that so he could see the look in my eyes. He might as well have told me, “Go to the house and fire up the F4U Corsair (my favorite WWII airplane) and fly it back to this particular piece of farmland. And no, buzzing the barn on the way!”
Telling a 10-year old boy to go back to the house and climb up on the 1956 AC (Alice Chalmers) tractor and drive it a half-mile back down the road was not out of the norm in 1977. It was how we did life. I could drive a tractor before I could drive anything else. I was given a responsibility to follow my grandfather’s instructions, but I would have waded through sharks to fight a circle saw for the chance to drive the tractor.
Amid all of the adventures there was one rule for the farm that was never broken. That rule is Exodus 20:8. Sunday was the Sabbath. We rested. My grandmother didn’t cook, and my grandfather didn’t farm. We ate fried chicken for lunch at the downtown restaurant after church out in the country, and leftovers for dinner. On Sunday afternoons there were naps, crossword puzzles, books, and Solitaire. The animals were fed and tended, but no other laboring was done. If something was broken, it waited until Monday. There were no meetings to attend, save revival meetings. No clubs, no teams, no membership met together on the day of rest, and we all survived somehow.
Scripture Lessons about God’s rest
Now, as a nation, the United States of America is being forced to take an extended Sabbath. We have been told to rest. Are you listening? Did you hear the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”?
Think about these words. The Sabbath, the day of rest was made for you.
I asked a close friend what day he chooses to rest on. He told me that there was no day of rest for him. How sad. Choosing to ignore a commandment because your schedule doesn’t allow, is not an answer I would want to give God. Always on the go, yet there is a day made for us to rest: The Sabbath. It’s a day ordained for us to stop what we are doing and take time to recuperate, rehabilitate, relax, recreate, and follow the example God left for us:
“By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the
seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and
declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3, HCBS)
The Apostle Paul says this in the book of Hebrews:
“Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you
should miss it. For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the
message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who
heard it in faith (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what He has
So I swore in My anger,
they will not enter My rest.
And yet His works have been finished since the foundation of the world, for somewhere
He has spoken about the seventh day in this way:
And on the seventh day
God rested from all His works.
Again, in that passage He says, They will never enter My rest. Since it remains for some
to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of
disobedience, again, He specifies a certain day — today — speaking through David
after such a long time, as previously stated:
Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.” (Hebrews 1:1-11, HCSB, emphasis mine)
The results of not enjoying God’s rest
How much of an effort are you and your family making to have a Sabbath? I lead my family to have a Sabbath every week. It is not something we have always done.
Seven years ago I looked at my wife, Kelly, and said the following: “I work seven days a week. I have no Sabbath!” Words of condemnation coming from my own mouth. It showed. I was a stressed out mess. I was sick on and off, and we had no cohesive time as a family to just rest. Not following God’s commandment was putting me in the category that Paul talked about in Hebrews. I was not entering into God’s rest, even though I believed in Him.
Something else to ponder; God was not kidding when he instituted the day of rest. Did you know this verse existed:
“For six days work is to be done, but on the seventh day you are to have a holy day, a
Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord. Anyone who does work on it must be executed.”
(Exodus 35:2, HCSB)
(Gulp.) That’s the ultimate severe punishment for breaking a commandment. I think what we can take from this verse is that God was serious about having a day of rest.
Finding God’s rest in troubling times and afterwards
In this troubling time, let’s take this time to rest. Find your rest in God. Do not be afraid.
Now? When all this bad stuff is happening?
Yes. Rest in God. Find your peace in Him. This is the message of the Church today: Do not be afraid of what is happening in our world. God is still the God of peace. He casts out fear. Look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, and enter into the rest that can be found only in Him. Choose today to rest in God and observe the Sabbath as he has commanded. Then, when all of the chaos of COVID-19 has passed, maintain a Sabbath day.
What can you do?
- DO go to church together as a family. If you’re like me and on staff (full or part time doesn’t matter) make an effort to sit together during sermon at the service your family attends.
- STOP scheduling activities on your Sabbath. Say “no” to sports team games or practices on your Sabbath. Say no to club meetings, no to social events, and no to anything that will steal your time from resting.
- DO make time for family. Eat lunch together. Waiting until dinner time (or supper time for all of you northerners like me) is too late in the day. Then spend the rest of the day together. Read out loud to each other (thanks Frank and Pauline for the idea), work on a one-thousand piece puzzle, invent family trivia games about each other (how well do you know your immediate family members), have everyone sit in the same room and read books individually, go for a family walk, or create a family outing that doesn’t involve electronics but does include being in nature.
- DO acknowledge that God is Lord of the Sabbath, and that you and your family are choosing to honor His commandment.
- DO tell your friends and family about your personal choice. Be honest and you may change hearts and minds. You will also likely earn the respect of those outside your family for choosing to take a stand for God and his commandments.
- DON’T mow the yard, fix the fence, repair the window, or work on the car. There will be time for all of that if you make margin in your life for such things.
- DON’T be legalistic about your Sabbath. Many of my friends are church staff members and Sunday is a day of work. They choose another day of the week for Sabbath. Some choose Saturday, some choose Friday, and some choose Monday. What matters is that a day is chosen and set aside, consecrated, kept holy for the Sabbath.
A scripture prayer for God’s rest for you and your family
In the meantime, here is how you can pray for yourself, for your family, and for this world as we slow down from the frenetic pace we set for ourselves:
When you sit enthroned under the shadow of Shaddai,
you are hidden in the strength of God Most High.
He’s the hope that holds me and the Stronghold to shelter me,
the only God for me, and my great confidence.
He will rescue you from every hidden trap of the enemy,
and he will protect you from false accusation
and any deadly curse.
His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you.
You can run under his covering of majesty and hide.
His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm.
You will never worry about an attack of demonic forces at night
nor have to fear a spirit of darkness coming against you.
Don’t fear a thing!
Whether by night or by day, demonic danger will not trouble you,
nor will the powers of evil launched against you.
Even in a time of disaster, with thousands and thousands being killed,
you will remain unscathed and unharmed.
you will be a spectator as the wicked perish in judgment,
for they will be paid back for what they have done!
When we live our lives within the shadow of God Most High,
our secret hiding place, we will always be shielded from harm.
How then could evil prevail against us or disease infect us?
God sends angels with special orders to protect you wherever you go,
defending you from all harm.
If you walk into a trap, they’ll be there for you
and keep you from stumbling.
You’ll even walk unharmed among the fiercest powers of darkness,
trampling every one of them beneath your feet!
For here is what the Lord has spoken to me:
“Because you have delighted in me as my great lover,
I will greatly protect you.
I will set you in a high place, safe and secure before my face.
I will answer your cry for help every time you pray,
and you will find and feel my presence
even in your time of pressure and trouble.
I will be your glorious hero and give you a feast.
You will be satisfied with a full life and with all that I do for you.
For you will enjoy the fullness of my salvation!” (Psalm 91, The Passion Translation)
This week, remember the Sabbath, keep it holy (consecrated, set apart), and seek the peace of God that passes all understanding.
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Copyright © 2020, David Eric Shelton, ASCAP