I’m a big believer in the positive potential of New Year’s resolutions. Twenty years ago, I realized I was setting a bad example for my young kids so—despite dozens of failed attempts—I tried something new and quit smoking for good. Five years ago, I looked in the mirror and saw I was getting old and fat. Well, I couldn’t do much about the old, but I lost 50 pounds and even managed to keep it off. For New Year’s 2012, I publically resolved to quit drinking sodas; it went well for much of the year … until I fell off the wagon this fall.
Yet all of these resolutions put together do not equal the impact of the change I made a decade ago and have kept ever since. That resolution has improved my life on every level. It is the single best thing I have ever done for my relationships with family, friends, and God. And it’s the only resolution that has been fun to keep from day one.
Ten years ago, I resolved to stop working 24/7 and start living 24/6. I began keeping a weekly day of holy rest, and it has made all the difference.
My ER Doctor Days
When I was working as an ER physician, people often called me a workaholic. I’m not surprised. For far too many years, I worked 24-hour shifts in the hospital. During my teens, I knew what it felt like not to have enough to eat. And so when I became a husband and father, I never wanted my family to, well, want for anything.
It was not until my forties when I became a Christian that I discovered God’s answer to our always-on, 24/7 culture of work, work, work. His answer first appears in the opening pages of Genesis. God’s rhythm since the beginning of time has been 24/6—six days on, and one day off. And when I began adopting that rhythm, my entire life changed for the better—physically, emotionally and spiritually.
What does the word “Sabbath” mean? It simply means “stop.” That’s all. The Hebrew people didn’t have names for the days of the week. There was one-day, two-day, three-day, four-day, five-day, six-day, stop-day.
The fourth commandment says we don’t work on stop day. We don’t make our sons work; we don’t make our daughters work; we don’t make anybody in our household work. We don’t make strangers work; we don’t make illegal aliens work; we don’t make minimum wage employees work. We don’t make anything work, including the cattle and the chicken and the sheep. We stop. We cool our jets. We just idle our engines on that day.
When my wife Nancy taught English, she assigned diagnostic essays on the first day of class. One student turned in an essay that was three pages long. It didn’t have a comma; it didn’t have a period; it didn’t have a paragraph in it. It was a three-page, run-on sentence.
I don’t think God intended our lives to be like that paper—just one long, run-on sentence. The work of our life is meant to be punctuated by rest. Musicians talk about this. They say it’s not the notes that make the song, but the pauses in between the notes. This rhythm is equally true for our lives.
I have a memory from when my kids were younger that defines Sabbath rest for me. We lived in a house that had a big attic with a window on either side. The only thing in the attic was a hammock and a pull rope. The kids and I went in there one evening when it was too cold outside, but it was perfectly warm inside. My son Clark was on one shoulder, pulling on the rope, and my daughter Emma was on the other shoulder. I read a book to them and, at the end I put the book on the floor. In that quiet, while the swaying of our hammock slowed down, they both fell asleep.
I think heaven is going to be a whole lot more like that moment than the typical Monday at work. Best of all, when practiced regularly, Sabbath is a piece of heaven that can be taken with us into the other six days of the week.
What’s Missing Does Matter
My question for you is “Why in the last couple of decades have we decided to throw out the fourth commandment? Why throw out a day of rest? Which commandment are we going to throw out next?”
Now, Jesus isn’t a legalist. Instead, he’s about the intent behind the laws. So, if the Ten Commandments say, for instance, “Don’t kill somebody,” Jesus says, “Don’t even call them a jerk.” If the Ten Commandments say, “Don’t commit adultery,” Jesus says, “Don’t even cruise the Internet looking for racy pictures.”
So what does Jesus have to say about the longest of the Ten Commandments—to keep a day of rest once a week? He clarifies that this day is dedicated to God, so it’s OK to feed the hungry. It’s OK to take care of the sick. It’s OK to go and rescue an animal. But we’re still supposed to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
For me, one of the most profound lines in the Bible comes from the Psalms. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
As you prepare for your next Sabbath, try meditating on this scripture. Then take off one word from the end of the line, each time you say it.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know that I.
Be still and know.
On Sabbath, you are no longer just a human doing, you’re a human being. Just be.
What our Sabbath Looks Like
Sabbath doesn’t just happen. You have to prepare for it. So, my wife and I always clean the house the day before Sabbath. We pay bills, answer emails, go grocery shopping and prepare food so on the Sabbath we can truly come to rest.
Sabbath morning, we take a walk. Nancy reads the Bible. I take a nap. We rest in rest. If there’s an important deadline coming up and it seems like we just have to get it done, we stop. We trust in God’s promise that six days of work each week is enough.
If you can’t imagine twenty-four hours of rest, start with four or six hours of holy rest, but just start. Sabbath is about restraint. It’s not about doing everything we can. It’s about finding the peace of God that passes all understanding.
The Sabbath is not meant to be saved by humanity; rather, humanity is meant to be saved by the Sabbath. I know from first-hand experience. After practicing the Sabbath for almost a decade, I have seen how it has flowed into the other six days of my week. I still work hard, but I always know Sabbath is just around the corner—an oasis of complete and holy rest.
Sabbath rest has saved countless numbers from the physical, emotional and spiritual consequences of unremitting stress. If practiced regularly, the Sabbath can save you, too.
As we start the New Year, I pray you resolve to open up this gift of stopping one day a week. I pray you find peace in this weekly sanctuary of time. I pray you will be still and that, through rest, you draw closer to God. And it will be good.