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Rest for the Soul

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Ever since it has warmed up, I have spent my leisure time outside reading a book. It has been a great way to relax, except the fact that Iowa can’t make up its mind when it comes to weather. Shorts one day, heated blanket and thermal leggings the next. Classic Midwest.

“If I were your enemy, I’d make everything seem urgent, as if it’s all yours to handle. I’d bog down your calendar with so many expectations you couldn’t tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not. Going and doing, guilty for ever saying no, trying to control it all, but just being controlled by it all instead… If I could keep you busy enough, you’d be too overwhelmed to even realize how much work you’re actually saving me.”

-Priscilla Shirer, “Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer”

Consider this. How many of your pressures, your obligations, your day-to-day tasks that must get done resemble slavery? Slaves work. Slaves don’t relent because they can’t. Slaves have no control.

I’m beginning to see the reality of something I like to call “The Full Agenda Idol.” This idol indeed takes the form of a booked schedule, but it goes beyond the tangible scribbles on a calendar. The Full Agenda Idol surpasses the urge to be busy and get things done, it seeps below the surface of a planner page and into our hearts. Suddenly, when things pile up, we find an odd sense of value in ourselves at the expense of rest. Or worse, when things don’t get done – dinner plans are put on hold, the household schedule gets all messed up, work goes late – the result is more stress than the original matter at hand. And whether things get done or not, we continuously feel a need to find more to add to our plate. Why? Because The Full Agenda Idol convinces us that our identity and worth are in the amount of things we can accomplish in a given day, week, year. It convinces us that “busy” is our new normal and makes us expect nothing less than a go-go-go dynamic. And the Full Agenda Idol does not discriminate. It will use whatever plans we have to drive us crazy and enslave us further. It isn’t limited to just wild parties and nights out on the town to bind us up – it is just as successful (if not, more) in using bible studies, church events, and good, pure things to exhaust us to the point of giving up. It’s not just our generation or society we live in, either. This idol dates way back to the time of the Israelites…

For four-hundred years of bondage and merciless mastery, the Israelites were held captive in Egypt as slaves to Pharaoh. Hard labor was a generational thing — it was expected that their inheritance be enslavement. The rhythms and demands of slavery had been internalized within them from birth. Whatever their taskmasters commanded they would do without hesitation. No arguing, no refusing, no resting. Day in and day out, work ingrained itself into the mentality and hearts of these people.

And then God sent Moses to free them. Just like that, the Israelites were liberated from the only label and practice they had known. I wonder if some grew fond of their lowly position, the only thing that had defined them since forever. Israel was free, but still had the slave mindset. God knew he needed to radically change their perspectives in order to help them embrace their new identities as an emancipated nation. And then came The Sabbath.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20: 8-11

The Hebrew word for Sabbath, shabath, really just means rest, but in a more specific sense, the desisting of doing work or exertion. Rest, in this sense, is the intentional resistance from laboring, choosing to take a day off no matter what things pile up on the ol’ agenda. What God commands in this passage is straightforward: take a day and don’t work. Seems simple enough, right?

But these people had never been extended grace as great as this. “Don’t work?” A foreign concept. Their whole lives had been built around the go-go-go, around the Full Agenda Idol, if you will. Resting was never an option.

You would think that this invitation to take a load off (literally) would have gone over well, that the Israelites would see the love of their God in the command to shabath. It should have been expected that this holy day, set apart from the rest of the work-filled week, would be welcomed with open arms, but the opposite proved to be true.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites directly go against the command of God to refrain from gathering food on the seventh day of the week. Why was it so dang hard for them to take a break? Same reason that it is for us. To some extent, as I mentioned before, we’re slaves just as they were. The reason this command feels so unnatural is because the peace-giving words of God fall on the ears of captives.

15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:15

God doesn’t want something from us, he wants something for us. Our value is not in what we do, but who we are. Nothing we do will ever be enough, anyway. We are mere humans, stuck in a sinful world with fleshly desires. But we’ve been redeemed, rescued out of the pit of slavery. Now it is up to us to rest in that as a new creation.

This Full Agenda Idol is exhausting. It tires us down and hinders us from seeing the gift of Sabbath, of a spirit-filled rest. The primary purpose of this day of rest is to diminish our devotion to things vying for our attention and refocus our allegiance to God. When we hustle by at one-hundred miles-an-hour, trying to get everything done, we fail to see the peaceful present that the Lord offers.

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27

So what does this look like practically? Is this something we should still observe in the twenty-first century? I think it really comes down to personal beliefs with this. If we are to observe the Sabbath, then we should be able to give our reason for it in full confidence. The same is true if we choose not to honor this. Now obviously, I am biased when it comes to whether or not man should rest on the Sabbath, considering I felt strongly enough to write and share about it. Lemme paint y’all a picture of what this looks like to me…

I work with kids all day long, five days a week at an elementary school. It has been eye-opening, to say the least. God has shown me just how alike I am to these kiddos in my walk with Him, one similarity being crankiness when tired. When the kids show up to class with fatigued and bloodshot eyes, I tell them to take a nap. I know they need the rest that they have missed out on, but the thing is, they fight me on it.

No, Miss Josie! I’m not tired!

I don’t want to!

I’m fine!

I know the truth – these kids need sleep – and so I beg and plead with them to go to a quiet place and just lie down. I’ll use logic and facts, persuasive words of compassion:

Please, (fill in name). You’ll feel better.

Kids need eight hours of sleep a night.

More often than not, they only respond to a terse, upfront direction.

STOP. GO SLEEP.

I can reason and beg with them all I want, but in the end, the kids just need a straightforward command – just like us. How many times do we fight God on the commands he puts in place? No God, I know I should take a break, but (fill in the blank) didn’t get done. I’ll rest when I can afford to. I’ll take a day off when I don’t have so much going on. Sound familiar to the kids’ excuses from above? We put it off, we refuse the gift, and get irritable and frazzled, and then we wonder why we feel so icky the rest of the week. God knows our earthly bodies need a break, a reminder of the eternal rest we will one day enter, and he tells us, even orders us, a prescription of what we need. Shabath.

To me, Sabbath is more than a day to take off and observe God’s deliverance and character, it is a sacrifice. Just as tithe is a tenth of our income, Sabbath is one-seventh of the week dedicated to the Lord. This day of rest is not adding onto the schedule, but taking away. It is a day that can be enjoyed because it’s not just another thing to cross of the to-do list. It is designed to remove the burdens of the week for a short while so we may live life with a mindset of peace and pleasure, practicing a true form of worship by giving up the things that would usually weigh down our task-oriented minds.

To me, it is saying, “Alright, God. I am going to stop what I am doing on the seventh day, admire you and love your law, and then trust that you will take care of the rest of the week and its obligations.” Of course, I can’t always just expect things to get done if I observe Sabbath and don’t make efforts throughout the rest of the week to accomplish my duties. Schoolwork isn’t going to miraculously disappear; the laundry isn’t going to fold itself. So along with a day of anticipated rest, I plan my week around Sabbath.

If I can’t do dishes on Saturday (my personal Sabbath), then that means I need to find time to do that some other time that week. Same goes with every other responsibility of daily living. And after I plan the week out, with meal-prep on Monday, schooling on Tuesday, cleaning on Wednesday, etc., then my week becomes centered on the anticipated day of shabath and even helps me manage my time better.

I’m not saying this is a fix-all solution, that life will get better in an instant if we apply this to our lives. I am definitely not preaching a prosperity gospel, here. The fact of the matter still remains – our lives are going to be turbulent and full of earthly troubles. That’s just the fallen world we live in. But to take time out of the week and intentionally make time to remember, make time to make it holy, that’s gotta be worth something. Right?

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58:13-14

 

I could provide further commentaries for these scriptures that I included and share about the ways I see them prevalent today, but I encourage you, readers, to look into it yourself. As I mentioned before, Sabbath looks different for each person.

I have been encouraged by Simply Holy Living’s video posts on the Sabbath, linked below.

https://www.simplyholyliving.com/single-post/2016/11/26/Sabbath-Living

In addition, much of the concepts that come from this blog (especially towards the beginning of the post) are from Priscilla Shirer’s book, “Fervent.” Check it out if you want to learn more about strategic prayer and the reality of the spiritual battle among us!

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