Living in the Promise of Sabbath Rest

By Corinne Gnepf, LPCA

As the masses of tourists in our city are slowly decreasing it signals that the summer is over. For many cross-cultural workers summers offer a break from regular schedules, duties, programs, school, etc. They are looking for rest, renewal, relaxation, and vacation. For others the summer experience is quite the opposite, it is busy, hectic, and intense. They are receiving short-termers and teams, running summer programs, or are the ones who are holding down the fort while the majority of their teammates are participating in the annual exodus. Although it is nice and refreshing to get out of one’s host country and reconnect with loved ones, visiting family, partners, supporters and churches can easily lead to a busy and exhausting summer experience.

Too many times I have returned to the field feeling worn out and peopled-out (I’m also an introvert, but a social one) because there was so little time and so many wonderful people to spend time with. As a result, I returned to my host country still in need of a vacation or at least several days to just be and rest, but instead I had to jump right back into ministry. Does anybody relate to this?

We all know that rest is essential; at least we know that theoretically. Rest has to be an ongoing and prioritized part of our lives and schedules. If we put our need for rest and renewal off until the next holiday or vacation, we are not doing ourselves a favor. God himself modeled how to rest; he worked six days and rested for one day. Sabbath is part of the creation story and was established before God introduced the law to his people. Rest was part of life when all was well and sin hadn’t done its ugly work yet.

Setting our work aside for 24 hours weekly is a principle of God. This principle shows up in creation,  the law, the prophets, and the gospel. The Creator knew that his creation needed it, that without regular rest it would not turn out well. Yes, there is always something more to do, another problem to solve, one more person that knocks on your door or calls you late at night with a need, etc. You know the story. The pressure to get your work done, to connect with people and attend to their needs, to wrestle with the suffering and darkness in this world, combined with the value of productivity leaves too many cross-cultural workers stressed out, overwhelmed, running on fumes, and burned out.

What would the health and effectiveness of the Body of Christ look like if we all honored his invitation and command to keep the Sabbath in the same way we pay attention to not give a false witness or steal from someone? I believe that we need to become better in setting boundaries on the busyness in our lives. And God himself has given us permission, example, and command to do that! Sabbath can help us to live more consistently in a place of sanity, health, and peace. The enemy does everything to target these areas so that we become less effective in ministry, cause more friction with co-workers and family members, or lose our joy because we have become tired, irritated, or disillusioned by the unending needs and problems.

Jesus kept Sabbath in a spiritual way, not in the legal way. He healed more people on the Sabbath than any other day and he was clear that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8). On the Sabbath Jesus set a crippled women free from an 18-year long spiritual oppression and restored her back to her community (Lk 13:10-13). We should not be enslaved by God’s command to rest so that we go about it in a legalistic way. There is no freedom in that. But I think we honestly have to be sincere about it and discuss this personally with God. Our conscience before God matters, not the letter of the law.

Sabbath rest is life giving. Jesus demonstrated how it restores people back into community and enjoyment both with God and with other people. To begin to experience this outcome more consistently we have to slow down and commune with God as we read, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10, ESV) The Hebrew word for ‘be still’ in this phrase probably means more than “be quiet” or “hold still,” but instead it says “enough!” as in “Stop!  Acknowledge your need for rest to know God.”

This verse, however, doesn’t end there. Instead it continues, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” What if God is doing more than we can imagine when we rest from our labor? Can he be exalted among the nations more fully when his children honor and practice Sabbath rest? God invites us all into his rhythm of life and the deep results that he says can be ours through practicing Sabbath rest (Isa 58:13-14). God wants us to experience him, to know him deeply. By keeping a restless and busy soul we limit his presence with us. He is here. Rest, peace, prosperity, and blessings are here for those who rest in him and honor his rhythm of life. But it takes the courage to put more healthy boundaries around work one day weekly and push back the worries of getting even more behind with work. God himself decided that this is the rhythm that is the best for his creation. He hasn’t failed us yet.

Be still.
Be still and know.
Be still and know that I am God.

I love you. I’ve got you.
I’ve got this … (whatever issue, relationship, goal, loss, you are having difficulty pausing from).
Just sit with me awhile.
I AM GOD.
Time with me will change everything.