Countercultural

Look Deeper, See Clearer, Run Harder

More Important Than Ministry — Why I Started a Sabbath

We run but never stop. Work and rest are indistinguishable as we tumble our way through our days, busy but never focused, idle but never still. If we don’t observe the Sabbath, we might be subscribing to a view of God that isn’t in line with the God who rests.

More Important than Ministry - Sabbath

There’s a divine rhythm, and we’re missing it.

Think of an athlete. They run, and then they rest. They have a rhythm. If an athlete runs incessantly, they get exhausted and faint. We know that’s true physically—so why do we never stop emotionally and spiritually?

God demonstrated in creation a pattern of work and rest. He made us in His image. He made us to live by the same rhythm.

Sabbath literally means, “To cease.” Yet when we look at our world, we see the exact opposite. To get a feel for this in just the last few years, consider Twitter. The one billionth tweet was sent in 2009, three years after the creation of Twitter. Today? One billion tweets are generated online in less than two days. [1]

Whether you’re addicted to Twitter or not, the problem for most of us is a constant need for connection. We work and play, always one screen away from the rest of the world.

In his new book, “It’s Not What You Think,” Jefferson Bethke identifies two reasons why we find it so hard to stop: (1) we are terrified of silence, and (2) we are afraid of being unimportant.

There’s a divine rhythm, but we’re terrified of missing out of the here and now. And the result? We miss out on the here and now.

The Sabbath is all about refocusing.

Betake beautifully describes observing a Sabbath (or Shabbat) with a mentor friend and his family in Jerusalem.

To begin Sabbath there would be a reminder that this day was about ceasing, about resting, about enjoying. The parents would pray and bless the five kids, and then we would all, usually emphatically led by the kids, bang on the table and clap our hands and sing a Shabbat song before dinner. Then we’d open up a bottle of wine and have an amazing meal.

Note what the family didn’t do. They didn’t go to their rooms and spend three hours in silent prayer. They didn’t beat themselves up over their sin. And they didn’t ask every five minutes, “If I do this, will I break the Sabbath?”

Instead, they came together. They celebrated family, food, fellowship, and God.

That’s what Mary missed in Luke 10. She was preparing a meal for Jesus and His 12 hungry men when Jesus softly corrects, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

Martha was focused on her work for Jesus instead of being focused on Jesus. Don’t miss that sentence. I’ve fallen into this trap many times without even realizing it. I love this picture of Luke 10 from Kevin DeYoung in his small but potent book “Crazy Busy.”

I believe God wants us to see that if we heal the sick and cast out demons and preach the gospel and show mercy and do justice and don’t sit at the feet of Jesus, we’ve missed the one thing we truly need. The only thing more important than ministry is being ministered to.

We’re making a statement about eternity.

When we Sabbath, we make a statement: This world is not our home. It’s a day to declare our freedom, to tell the world we’re not bound by work, technology, or sin. We have a better home in heaven, so we don’t have to strive to build a kingdom here on earth.

As Bethke says, “When we honor the Sabbath, we are pointing to the future when that will be true forever.” The Sabbath is meant to be a foretaste of eternity—sitting at a table with Jesus, celebrating a great feast in celebration of redemption.

Ultimately, the Sabbath is a day for filling, a day to be ministered to rather than to minister. The Sabbath is an invitation. DeYoung calls it “a island of get-to in a sea of have-to.”

So what does this look like? I don’t know if I can answer that for you, but I can give you a few examples. For the Bethke family, it means (1) turning off their cell phones, (2) doing something outside in nature (not always possible in Minnesota!), and (3) celebrating a meal together.

For me, I love writing, but I know my own sinful tendency to use God as a means to good writing instead of as the ultimate end. So on Sunday I stop writing and spend time with my church, my wife, and in a good book that focuses my heart on God.

So what about you? Check out the comments below and respond to a question!

  • Hey! Thanks for reading! Here are a few questions to get you thinking so you can make this your own. I’d love to hear your response!

    1. What might “taking a Sabbath” look like for you?
    2. What scares you about taking a Sabbath?
    3. What benefit might it unlock?

  • Thanks – really excellent reflections here. Esp like your idea that “being ministered to is just as important as ministering”……
    On your questions below, a Sabbath to me is finding a period of 24 hours when I can attend church but not be the minister, take a walk in the English countryside (general rainy weather permitting), read a weekend newspaper, and perhaps most important of all NOT do any email.
    What’s scary is sometimes I just cant do it
    The benefit is it quells the noise within me to “just get on with the next task…”

    • Thanks for sharing, Chris. I agree especially with your last paragraph. It seems one benefit of a Sabbath is not only what I gain from it, but how it impacts the rest of my week. Being able to stop and pause is a learned and developed skill, it would seem.