The Beauty and Importance of Sabbath Rest
In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Sabbath is a “sanctuary in time.” As expressed in traditional Jewish prayer, the Sabbath is a “bride.” What is it about the Sabbath that makes it so compelling, so necessary, so refreshing?
The Scriptures record that God Himself “rested” (in the sense of ceasing from labor) after the six days of creation. And it was the seventh-day Sabbath that God established as a unique sign between Himself the people of Israel.
Some later Church traditions claimed the right to change the Sabbath to Sunday, and Islam recognizes Friday as its Sabbath. But this diversity simply underscores the foundational importance of the Sabbath: The three major monotheistic religions recognized the role that it played.
‘Controversy Inspires Him’
To be candid, though, my nature does not relate well to Sabbath rest. I am an achiever, a doer. I am energized by activity, by the adrenaline of life and ministry.
My wife, Nancy, was once talking to our builder, who is also a Christian colleague. They were discussing the nice view I would have in my new home office. It was peaceful, restful, quiet.
The builder said to Nancy, “This will inspire Dr. Brown.”
She replied, “No, controversy inspires him.”
How, then, does someone like me (or, perhaps, like you) discover the beauty of Sabbath rest? How do people who thrive on being connected learn to disconnect? How do we find value in slowing down?
A Bizarre Weekend
I’m writing this article today from the crowded and busy Los Angeles International airport. It is Sunday morning, and I should have been on my way home to North Carolina after the strangest weekend of ministry I have had in my life. (I’ve been preaching since 1973, so to say this was the strangest weekend of ministry I’ve had is to say a lot.)
The folks inviting me to speak at California conference were as sweet and helpful as could be, and they did everything they could to be gracious hosts.
But the weekend was a comedy of unexpected twists and turns.
There was a major mix-up with my accommodations (a story in itself), resulting in changes being made after my arrival (after cross-country travel, now very late Thursday night). Then, somehow, word did not get out properly concerning the conference, and when we gathered for the major forum on Saturday, there were more guest speakers then there were people attending. This is no exaggeration. (Initially, not a soul was there; we were told to expect between 500 and 1,000 in attendance.)
That was the bizarre part of the weekend. None of us involved had ever seen the like, so we made the most of it for the handful of attendees who eventually arrived.
The good news was that I had an 8:40 flight home Sunday morning, which would get me back to North Carolina around 5:30 PM. Unfortunately, on Sunday morning, there was a mix-up with my drivers, who didn’t show up to bring me to the airport. (They got confused about the pickup time and their phones were turned down, so they didn’t see I was trying to contact them.)
At the last-minute, I hired an Uber ride, arriving at the airport just in time. But as were pulling up to my terminal, I got a text message that my flight was cancelled. Eventually, I was rebooked on a later flight (5 hours later, to be exact), so I made new goal for myself: I would take a short nap.
I tried to find an isolated gate, located a less busy location, plugged my earphones into my phone, turned on the sound of ocean waves, and closed my eyes.
Quiet. Peace. Rest.
The outside world shut off. The pressures of my hectic schedule forgotten. All writing deadlines pushed aside. Can you close your eyes and feel it?
But it’s not that easy to sleep in an airport, and within minutes, the earphones were out, and airport life was buzzing all around me.
That’s when I was struck again by the importance of Sabbath rest, the importance of a time to be renewed and refreshed. A time of separation from the normal activities of the week. A time to refocus. A time to recharge. A time to take hold of what really matters.
For a few minutes, I had carved out a place of refuge in the midst of a crazy schedule, a place where the constant blur of airport activity no longer existed. In that sense, it was a mini-Sabbath, a beautiful snapshot, a short respite from the daily rat race. It was something all of us need — but I speak now of Sabbath rest itself.
It was Vince Lombardi who once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Can you relate to his words?
I’m willing to take on almost anything. The greater the challenge, the greater the joy in tackling it. Obstacles invigorate me. Deadlines drive me. But over-tiredness saps our strength, dulls our vision, weakens our courage.
Rest Renews Us
Rest renews us — especially, holy, God-centered rest. And it is a rest we find most fully in Jesus, who said to us, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
May we all discover (or, rediscover) the beauty and importance of Sabbath rest. And hopefully, I’ll catch some sleep on the plane.