Sabbath: An Invitation to Spiritual Rest

I am convinced human beings are not primarily designed for productivity—at least not in the way the world defines it. By my rough calculation, we only have about 50% of our lives available to “get stuff done.” We are not God’s work horses designed for efficient productivity.

We are made in the image of God in many beautiful and powerful ways. However, Psalm 121:4 tells us that God “neither slumbers no sleeps,” and while God could have made us without the need for sleep, we have been intentionally created to spend one-third of our lives in a state of dormancy.

In fact, God created every healthy living organism to need regular periods of dormancy. On top of designing us to shut down for eight hours out of every 24, God commands us to “do no work” for an entire 24-hour period every week.

God rested after creating the world (Gen. 2:1-3). This act of resting is the capstone to the first creation account. God rested—not from exhaustion, but for example. If the Creator of the universe rested from his work, then we ought to rest from ours. We rest not with begrudging obedience, but because it is good for us, and it serves as a prophetic example to the world around us which is bombarded with the message that one’s value is solely based in what one produces.

Restoring Our Identity

Our identity and sense of worth need to be weaned from the unholy attachment to work. We are more than what we produce and until we build rhythms of dormancy and rest into our lives we will be forever lured into measuring our value and identity in what we do.

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Isaiah 58, where the people of God are challenged to loosen the chains of injustice, to spend themselves on behalf of the hungry, and to satisfy the needs of the oppressed. Yet that same chapter also urges God’s people to “keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day.” And obedience to Sabbath rest comes with a promise; “You will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land” (Isaiah 58:13-14). Our rest is connected with our joy and our triumph in confronting injustice.

We ought to rest weekly—and rest deeply in body, mind and spirit. But why?

  • We rest for our own physical, mental and spiritual health.
  • We rest to locate our value and our identity outside of our productivity.
  • We rest to keep us humbly dependent upon God.
  • We rest in order to energize us to serve the campus as well as those who are oppressed and hungry.
  • We rest to serve as a prophetic example to a watching world which is obsessed with productivity.

This is not a Pharisaical invitation to scrutinize how far one walks or how much one carries on our day of rest. It is an invitation to experience our value and our personhood in God, apart from our work. It is an invitation to embrace the fact that we are loved and valued by God, even in a state of inactivity or when we are “producing” nothing for the Kingdom.

We are a diverse fellowship of students, faculty and staff who have given ourselves to following Jesus together. It is important to develop communal rhythms of spiritual rest.

Weekly Rest

Building in one day of rest each week may look differently during different seasons of life. It is critical that we develop a consistent time each week with boundaries to allow ourselves a significant period of rest. Like all good disciplines, this involves making hard choices, inviting accountability, and lots of practice. Draft a plan and invite someone close to you to hold you accountable. Use this Sabbath Questionnaire to guide you to restorative Sabbath practices.

Consider setting boundaries on your engagement in social media, texts or email. Commit to a specified number of hours to engage in restorative practices. And take a mandatory nap!

Although these rhythms will likely change with our stages of life, seasons of the year, and shifting responsibilities, it is important that we devote time and thought to our weekly Sabbath commitment. Be inspired to create and maintain your own Sabbath boundaries and activities.

Regular Retreats and Holy Seasons

Daily time spent in prayer and listening to God as well as taking a weekly Sabbath rest are critical to the health and spiritual well-being of all people. But we regularly need a focused time in prayer, reading, and reflection. It is a gift to those we love and serve when we take time beyond the Sabbath to set aside regular activities and re-center ourselves.

The Hebrew scriptures outline seven holy periods to be celebrated throughout the year. These were days set aside to read scripture, reflect, celebrate, pray and rest. Many of these holy days had the injunction to “do no work.” God was eager for his people to set apart special regular periods on top of a weekly Sabbath in order to draw near to him. Holy days and seasons call us to draw near to the One who is the source of our strength and hope for our souls.

When we are more thoughtful and committed to Sabbath rest, I believe we will be better able to weather the challenges of life and ministry in a beautiful but fallen world.

About the Author
Associate Director of Missions

Scott has worked with InterVarsity since 1986 to send more than 3,000 students each year on short-term mission experiences. He has ministered with students in urban poor locations around the world. Scott frequently speaks and writes about issues of poverty, justice and global missions. He also claims to possess the largest international cigarette collection owned by an evangelical non-cigarette smoker. Scott lives with his family in Madison, Wisconsin. Follow some of Scott’s thoughts at his blog, OverturningTables.