The first several posts from my out of print book, “When God Gives a Time Out” established that we often have the compulsion to do things. Sometimes this compulsion arises from our need to be esteemed or our need for achievement. God may give us a time out to remove the distracting activity and grow our relationship with Him. Today’s post moves on to how we can give ourselves a time out to hear the voice of God. Intentionally stopping and listening for God is what the Bible connects to the Sabbath.
Click here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” if you want to start with chapter 1 of When God Gives a Time Out.
After God finished creating this universe, He took a break. God doesn’t get tired, so why did He take a rest? I believe He took a rest because for a time, there was no need to do anything else. After creation, it was time for God to relate to and enjoy what He had made. I also believe that God was providing a powerful example. If God, who needs no break, took a break – then people, who tire easily, should take a break. Whatever the reason God rested, scripture tells us that God wants us to take a time out. Look through all the Sabbath scriptures in the Bible and it becomes clear that God wants us to have time outs, or Sabbaths to ensure that we have time to connect with God. In the biblical world, one could become caught up with work because it was a struggle just to survive. The compulsion constantly to do things arose from a need for security rather than a need for esteem or a chemical rush. If one was constantly working, then one felt more secure from starvation or invasion. Although this reason may seem nobler than our modern day reasons for being addicted to busyness, God knew that it was equally distracting. Whenever people are driven to constantly do things the end result is always difficulty in hearing the voice of God. God wanted Israel to have at least one day out of seven to work on knowing Him. The book of Exodus explains it this way:
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel’, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”Exodus 31:12-17 (Italics mine)
This time out in the week was for Israel to know that God sanctifies them. This is the overarching principle that we spoke of earlier. We are dependant on God to sanctify us and grow us into what we were meant to be. We cannot sanctify ourselves. Taking a time out is a step of faith as we acknowledge that we can rest because whatever we are working for (righteousness, security, material things, happiness) is dependant on God – not us.
In the above scripture, the Sabbath harkens back to creation. The Sabbath was considered a sign and a covenant as God’s people remembered that God is the creator of all that they saw and knew. As Israel mimicked weekly what God did in the beginning, they were acknowledging that God is the creator. In this way the Sabbath was a “sign” that pointed them to God. The Sabbath was a covenant in that God set apart (sanctified) Israel as His own people and Israel in turn set a day apart to celebrate and connect with the God that had established this special relationship.
For Christians, the principle of rest remains. God rested so we need to rest unto the Lord. God sets us apart to be in relationship with Him so we set time apart towards this relationship. Those of us who live in individualistic cultures must remember that God not only sets us apart to be in relationship with Himself, but relationship with His people. We carve out a day of rest in a covenant community that facilitates our connection with God. It is not that the remaining part of our week is not God’s; we still work in His name, play in His name, doing everything unto Him. However, we need to give our bodies at least one day to restfully remember God’s creative work and His re-creative work in saving us from death, buying us with His blood, and establishing us as His people. God’s work allows us to enjoy God all day, everyday, directly through His Son and by the Holy Spirit.
The Sabbath principle is a gift. For the Israelites it was a commandment that required at least one day of rest to remember God, go to temple, etc. The command was an effective external control to give the Israelites merciful rest and a time when they could do nothing other than worship God.
In the new covenant the Sabbath principle is still a gift. We no longer need external controls to bring us to God. The Holy Spirit living within us drives us to live everyday for God. The Holy Spirit sanctifies our work, play and everything we do. While everyday is God’s, we still need rest from doing tasks in order to focus on God. We need time to refocus so that our work or play will draw us closer to God instead of distract us from hearing Him. The Sabbath principle may require rest even from the work of the ministry. Even ministry can distract and hinder us from hearing God if our focus is on the tasks of ministry.
As God’s children, we crawl into the lap of our Father and spend time with Him. Not just once a week for a day, but everyday we spend a little rest time with the Father. It is important to not think of the Sabbath principle as only a one-day-a-week practice. The principle extends to our daily lives as we strive to carve out a mini time out every day: A time when we can be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), a time when we can be silent and listen for His voice.
Is there a day, or a good chunk of a day, that you can spend resting in the presence of God? Perhaps Sunday is a good day for you because observing Sabbath in community naturally carries into the whole day. For me, Sunday is often a busy day spent doing church work. I previously set aside Mondays as my Sabbath but I am currently taking Fridays. The goal is to have a sizeable time during the week when I can stop performing tasks and focus on the Father’s voice. I have this same goal on a daily basis. For me, first thing in the morning is my best time to take a time out and connect with God. I know others who take a time out at night, or at lunch. The particular time doesn’t matter, what matters is that I am intentional about building into my day a time to be still and know God. I have found that if I don’t plan on this time, and specifically build it into my day, I don’t follow through. Even when I actually set aside time in my calendar, I sometimes neglect this time out. The important concept to remember is that taking a Sabbath is a means to an end. If a time out is missed, we are not ruined. We still have the end goal – relationship with God. We also still have the next minute, hour and day to connect with God. We build time outs in our schedule to hear God’s voice, but hopefully they are just what we fall back on to make sure we have some connection time. The truth is we can take mini time outs any time, anywhere. We use our planned time outs to hone our ability to hear the Father’s voice all day. It requires only a minute to kick back from the computer screen and check in with God. When we are stuck in traffic we can tell the Father we are ready to listen. When the kids are actually occupying themselves we can go to the next room and listen for His voice. What begins with our planned Sabbaths, with God’s grace, can become a whole life tuned to hearing the Father’s voice. This is the kind of life that the monks of old strived for and a life that even us Joe Shmoes can taste.
Questions to Ponder
Do you currently follow the Sabbath principle? Do you observe the Sabbath both in community and individually?
What day or parts of days would be easiest for you to set aside? Could your spouse or friend hold you accountable and help you keep a Sabbath time?
When is the best time for you to take a “mini time out” each day?