In the midst of our fast-paced, busy lives, keeping the Sabbath day holy can feel like an impossible task. But the reality is, Sabbath was never meant to be chased or confined; real Sabbath happens while life is happening.
In this article, Ronne Rock shows us how we can embrace Sabbath rest in powerful and practical ways—just like Jesus did—right where we are.
The word conjures up the image of God resting in a hammock with a cold glass of lemonade, taking the ultimate day off while someone else mows the lawn.
We’re taught to define Sabbath as a commandment to rest carved on stone, and we’re also taught that Sabbath is the thing we don’t do enough. As a former church staffer, I listened to both pastors and congregants talk eagerly about what Sabbath looks like—a worship service and good sermon in the morning, a great meal with family at lunch, followed by a nap or watching a football game on television rather than responding to work emails. And when that one-day Sabbath failed to offer true rest, there would be talk of an extended Sabbath—a sabbatical with time away from everything to disconnect from the busy and reconnect with the simple.
Days off are good. Vacations are healthy. Time away should be celebrated. We all need weekends in our weeks. But the reality of our lives rarely includes 24 hours of blissful nothing.
No, our realities far more often look like rushed mornings and unfinished homework meltdowns, missing ingredients essential to dinner time recipes, relentless pings from computers letting us know more work is being added to our overflowing plate, and the ever-present ache of longing to have the conversation or visit the aging family member or simply be held.
None of it sounds very holy. And none of it sounds like Sabbath.
WHAT TRUE SABBATH LOOKS LIKE
If Sabbath was merely a day of the week or a quick vacation, Jesus would have demonstrated it. Yet in Mark 1, He broke all the rules set in place about Sabbath by the religious leaders and was condemned for His actions. He healed on the Sabbath, and His disciples worked on the Sabbath. He declared that Sabbath was more than simply ceasing work—and He reminded all those who would listen that He knew what Sabbath was because He created it. And the purpose of the Lord of the Sabbath is to tend to the people who receive Him.
Yes, RECEIVE. It’s not about getting away, running away, hiding away. There is no place we can go to find Sabbath—no mountain retreat, no warm sandy shoreline. It was never meant to be chased or confined. Sabbath is the very presence of Jesus, given to us.
Sabbath is a cool breeze, a wash of peace, a do-over, a start-again in the midst of the still going strong. Real Sabbath happens while life is happening. Sabbath is there in our commute to the office, in staring at spreadsheets, in the living room and nursery, and at the bedside vigil of a dying loved one. Sabbath is even there in the worship service and the message and the family lunch—long before there’s a nap and a game on TV.
In Mark 2, after Jesus healed on what was considered by religious leaders to be a day where no work—not even benevolent life-saving care—could be done, He and His disciples were walking through some fields of grain. The disciples grabbed some of the grain to eat. Again, the religious leaders were up in arms about Sabbath rules.
Jesus stopped, looked them in the eye, and said, “‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27, NLT).
It might seem Jesus refuted the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. But in reading about His journey, it becomes evident He not only honored the Sabbath, but it infused every aspect of His life. Sabbath rest wasn’t confined to a calendar; no, it was woven into His days. He embraced Sabbath rest in powerful and practical ways that you and I can embrace as well:
1. JESUS KNEW WHEN TO TAKE THE LEAD AND WHEN TO LET OTHERS DO THE WORK
In Mark 6, He sent every disciple out to ministry on His behalf. Knowing full well all their struggles, He trusted them and let go of the need for control.
2. JESUS KNEW WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM CONVERSATIONS—AND RELATIONSHIPS
The Gospels recount story after story of Jesus engaging with others. But Scripture also shares stories of Him walking away when conversations weren’t fruitful. He knew the demands being placed on His life, knew the expectations of both those who loved Him and those who wanted Him dead—and He didn’t feel compelled to manage those expectations.
3. JESUS STEPPED AWAY TO PRAY AND GATHER STRENGTH
In his article, “There’s a Place for Solitude in All Our Lives,” Ward Cushman shares six reasons Jesus chose to step away and pray.
- For a Major Task: Luke 4:1-2,14-15. He spent 40 days praying in the wilderness and being tempted by Satan before beginning His public ministry.
- To Recharge After Hard Work: Mark 6:30-32. When His disciples returned from their ministry tour, He encouraged them to rest and refresh.
- To Work Through Grief: Matthew 14:1-13. After Jesus learned John the Baptist had been beheaded, He lamented.
- Before Making an Important Decision: Luke 6:12-13. Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before selecting His disciples.
- To Focus on Prayer: Luke 5:16. Many times in Jesus’ ministry He spent time alone in prayer.
- In a Time of Distress: Luke 22:39-44. Before Jesus was arrested, He stepped away to pray as He faced the anguish of what was going to happen.
4. JESUS MADE TIME FOR MEALS, SAVORING CONVERSATION AROUND THE TABLE WITH BOTH FRIENDS AND STRANGERS
He was unafraid to keep it simple, and he used what was available. He borrowed a boy’s barley bread and dried fish to feed thousands. He let others take the lead when he sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners. He used Passover bread and a glass of wine to invite His disciples into a tender place of common union.
5. JESUS GLADLY ACCEPTED THE INVITATION OF HOSPITALITY FROM OTHERS
Peter’s mother-in-law fixed a meal after being healed (Luke 4:39), Mary and Martha loved to have Jesus as a dinner guest (Luke 7:36), and even the Pharisees opened their home to Him (John 12:2). Jesus said “yes” to them all.
6. JESUS WAS UNAFRAID TO BE ALONE
He knew the rest that can be found in silence, in contemplation, in giving our souls space to breathe. As He and His followers walked to Jerusalem, Luke says Jesus was resolute—quiet—for the 22-mile hike. Jesus opted to walk by Himself to a feast—a 90-mile journey that offered Him several days of solitude. And He found ways to have that soul-space even when He was with His disciples. In Mark 14:32, as they all went to Gethsemane, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray’” (NIV).
EMBRACING SABBATH REST
Perhaps you are a bit like me—maybe the twinges of shame creep in at the thought of slowing down, taking a breath, giving space for Sabbath rest; believing that letting go of the good work will result in that work being dismantled, destroyed, or diminished—or forgotten entirely.
As an author, I’m encouraged to keep proclaiming my message so that it catches your attention. As a wife, mom, and grandmother, there is always one more thing to do to tend to those I love. As a minister, it’s tempting to push rest to the side as long as there are needs yet unmet, as if rest is either our one-day-down-the-road compensation—or an outright crime.
Sabbath rest is neither. It’s a place so worthy that it’s woven seamlessly into God’s design for our days. It gives permission to place those days squarely in the Lord’s hands for safe-keeping, no matter where the days find us. Psalm 127:2 says, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know He enjoys giving rest to those he loves” (The Message Translation)? Jesus embraced that rest fully.
Take a moment. Take a breath. And most of all, remember: God delights in giving us Sabbath rest.
How do you typically embrace Sabbath in the midst of a busy life? How might Ronne’s article encourage you to view it from a different perspective?
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