More than 2,600 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah painted two pictures of my heart:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Parched vs. protected. Rushed vs. rooted. Anxious vs. abundant.
All too often, real life vs. what I long for it to be.
At the end of his imagery, Jeremiah prays a prayer for me — for all of us:
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise…Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come! (Jeremiah 17:14-15)
And God speaks that which He has already spoken before:
Take care for the sake of your lives:
Keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers (Jeremiah 17:22)
Sabbath. For the sake of your lives.
It’s such an ancient word, Sabbath. It seems other-worldly — an emotional relic — out of step with modern times and ways. I have lived my whole life without understanding it and therefore without truly obeying it.
Sabbath was once a strict ceremonial law for God’s people. From one sundown to the next, they set aside a full day for absolutely no work at all. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the “big ten,” the commandments that Moses brought down on stones from Sinai. Rest ranked right up there with worshiping God alone, not killing, not lying, not stealing, and not committing adultery.
However, because Jesus fulfilled the law for us in His life, death, and resurrection, the Sabbath is no longer a binding ceremonial law as it was in the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments are no longer a checklist to earn God’s favor, but a way to know, delight in, and become more like Him.
As Christians who have been saved by grace, we now tell the truth because God is true. We stay faithful because He is faithful. We worship Him alone because He is the only One who is worthy.
And we set aside time for regular rest and worship to acknowledge that He is God and we are not — that we are finite, that the world can go on without us for awhile, and that we trust Him to be enough for our schedules and our plans.
Sabbath rest — sacred time in which we do not center our lives around work, but instead center it on God and the health of our souls — is both a practice and a posture in the way of Jesus Christ that we ignore to our peril. Come unto me, says our Lord, and I will give you rest.
To get to true rest, we must, in fact, do the work of coming.
I learned this the hard way last year, breaking down in exhaustion and eventually drawing away completely to renew. God brought me to that place so could teach me about the kind of true rest He has waiting for me if I’ll only reach out and take the gift.
Here are a few things that I learned along the way:
Sabbath rest is free from rules. Jesus said it Himself: Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). It’s no longer a list of do’s and don’t’s or about specific times or places. It’s no longer about what we can’t do. but what we are called to do. It’s a commitment to obedience and trust, and we can create routines to make it a priority, but God is ready to meet us for Sabbath rest anytime. Jesus removed the burden from the Sabbath to restore it as a blessing.
Sabbath rest is freedom. There is nothing more liberating than knowing it is God’s full intention that I leave my to-do list and cares behind for a time without feeling guilty or anxious or worrying about what other people think. Regular rest — even if the work isn’t done — is His will for me.
Sabbath rest is trust. I don’t have spare time in my week; I probably never will. Taking time for Sabbath rest means I have to trust that God will make up time for me to fulfill the work to which He has called me — marriage, motherhood, ministry. I watch Him rearrange appointments, deadlines, circumstances, and resources regularly on my behalf, and His care for me becomes personal, present, and intentional.
Sabbath rest is worship. Exodus 20:12 says I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. When we take time to rest, we tell the world that it’s God alone who perfects us, and not our continual striving.
Sabbath rest is love. Intentional Sabbath rest is available so that I can be fully convinced that God loves me apart from what I do. He promises that His love endures forever, but says my schedule doesn’t have to. His commands for me to rest shows that tenderness for me isn’t tied to my efforts.
Sabbath rest is spiritual. Sabbath isn’t a “day off.” It’s not just different activities done in the same frame of mind (“I must make work happen on these days and I must make fun and relaxation happen on these days”). Sabbath is not about time with your family or time spent in leisure, although you can do those things during Sabbath time.
But pedicures don’t reach to your soul, and beach days don’t restore a spirit after you leave the sand. Sabbath is rest for the real you, not just your body — it springs from an attitude of the heart that says I will be refreshed today in Christ alone, I will worship, I will seek you where I am, and I will recognize that it’s You alone who saves and provides.
Sabbath is not our Savior; Jesus is. Your rest must be centered on Him if it’s going to restore you.
So start small, start somewhere. But start setting aside regular time for Sabbath rest — an intentional pause to focus on God and acknowledge that your salvation and life and all good things are the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one — not even your busy schedule — may boast.