By Nako Kellum
September 3, 2021
Shortly after I bought my first smart phone, I was at Disney World with my family for vacation. When I was standing in line for “It’s a Small World,” I received a text from work, and without thinking, I answered it immediately. Then, a thought came to me, “If I did not have this phone, I could not have been reached, and I would not have responded during my vacation!” That day, I felt like I lost something significant.
With the advance of technology, it is difficult to keep the Sabbath. Instead of going to work and sitting in front of computer, we carry “work” with us, 24/7.
I have to confess that for a long time, I have had “days off,” but I have not practiced Sabbath keeping. According to Eugene Peterson, these two are different things. He calls a day off “a bastard sabbath.” Usually, my days off are filled with different “have-to” errands – grocery shopping, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, the children’s extra-curricular activities, etc. It was not until recently that I learned about what observing the biblical Sabbath truly means, and how much I need it.
Of course, I knew Sabbath-keeping is one of the Ten Commandments, but I do not think I took it as seriously as the other Commandments. I was careful about not having any other gods or making an idol and even preached about it. I was careful to not use the name of the LORD in vain. I honored my parents, and I took the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing, and coveting seriously, but Sabbath keeping? Not so much. Yet, in the Ten Commandments, it is the only commandment that comes with the reason as to why we have to keep it. “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…For in six days, the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8,11). God established the rhythm of our lives in creation – work for six days and stop on the seventh day. It is based on God’s action in creation, and as His image-bearers, we are to follow Him. If we play by our own rhythm instead of God’s, we disrupt the harmony God built into His creation. Maybe that is why we have problems such as stress or burn-out; we are out of synch with His rhythm.
The Sabbath is not just a simple day that we quit working; it is a day of “rest dedicated to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20.10). It is a day we reorient our perspectives on our lives. Sabbath in Hebrew means to “cease” or to “stop.” The Sabbath is different from the other six days, because it is the day we stop using our time to gain something for ourselves and return to the fact that our time belongs to God. It is the day we remind ourselves that we are not God; it is God who runs this universe. It is interesting that in Jewish culture, the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. All we must do at sundown is eat and go to bed; the only one who is awake is God. When we wake up, God is already at work. It reminds me that God is the One who takes the initiative, and He is the one who is sustaining the world. My part is to see what He is already doing and participate in His work. It is a day to pay close attention to God, and what He does in this world.
Another aspect of the Sabbath is that it is a day to remind us of who we are – human “beings,” not human “doings.” In Deuteronomy 5:15, after giving the commandment on the Sabbath, Moses says, “Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.” The Israelites came out of slavery, during which time they were treated harshly and had to work seven days a week. They probably felt relief that they had a day that they did not have to work. When we value human beings, including ourselves, in terms of productivity, we lose a bit of our humanity, as God created us to be. He did not create us to be machines, but He created us as “beings” who enjoy being with Him and with people. The Sabbath lets us just “be” in His presence and with each other, without worrying about being productive or accomplishing something. This may be one of the most counter-cultural things we can do as Christians now, in a culture where people are valued in terms of how much money they make, or their status, or which school they attended.
God blessed the seventh day of Creation, and He blesses the Sabbath day. Psalm 92 is a song of the Sabbath Day, which starts with giving thanks and praise to God. The Sabbath is a day of celebration and worship, as we give thanks and praise to God for who He is and His work. It is a day to enjoy God’s creation, delighting in the good gifts He has given us, and simply having fun.
When I was asked to write this article, I had just started trying to observe the Sabbath, and to be honest, it has not been easy. It is difficult for me to keep a full day of Sabbath (which I try to do on Saturday), but let me share a few things I have learned so far:
- Observing the Sabbath is a spiritual discipline. It does not just happen automatically. It takes intentionality just like any other spiritual discipline.
- It takes preparation. If I want to take a break from doing chores, I need to finish them by my Sabbath. It means no more procrastination regarding my work, which means I have to prioritize what I do during the six days.
- I must be careful not to be legalistic about it either. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” I have to keep in mind the heart of God behind the Sabbath and see it as a gift and grace from God. There are days I cannot keep 24 hours of Sabbath, and that is ok for now.
- The church runs fine without me, and our family is fine even if the house is not tidy and we eat frozen pizza on paper plates. In other words, I have learned the world runs just fine without me running around, trying to do all my “have-to” errands. It takes away a sense of self-importance and control and it reminds me that God is the one who initiates the work and He’s always at work.
- God accepts me for who I am, not for what I do. He enjoys being with me and invites me to enjoy just being with Him. He is slowly teaching me not to put my self-worth on how much I have accomplished or how many boxes I checked on my check list.
If you do not keep the Sabbath, I invite you to join me in this journey of Sabbath-keeping. Let us not check texts or emails for a day. Let us just “be” with God and with each other. Let us go outside and put ourselves in His creation that He has called “good.” Let us rest, have fun, and enjoy the good and beautiful gifts God gives us and be thankful.
The Rev. Nako Kellum is co-pastor in charge at Tarpon Springs First United Methodist Church in Tarpon Springs, Florida. She is also a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Council.