A few weekends ago, my husband was showing me the progress he had made on organizing our second garage. As he talked, a moving box with “office books” written on its side caught my attention. Almost three years ago, we went through what we refer to now as the “unmove.” Our house was completely packed up (like boxes-in-a-storage-unit packed up) and we were all set to close on our house when an unexpected turn of events a week out from closing meant we were no longer moving and had to fetch all our boxes. Some of those boxes still sit unopened, neatly stacked in a corner of the garage.
I wasn’t sure what was inside the “office books” box because my office space has been set up since Covid-shutdowns forced both my husband and I to work from home, so I peeled back a small portion of tape and peaked inside. A pile of completed Bible study books met my eyes on top of which was Priscilla Shirer’s 5-week study Breathe. I had forgotten all about doing the study! I remember it making an impact on me at the time, and the title, but I couldn’t remember what topic it studied.
Not surprising, really. It was a bit of a stressful summer when I worked through it as the non-profit I ran had received a grant to remodel the building we were working in to better serve clients. There was so much work to be done! And, during the same time, God began to transition some people off our leadership team. It was exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Which is why I chuckled when I saw the study in my garage and read the subtitle: Making Room for Sabbath. Even back then, God was trying to get my attention but I wasn’t listening. I say that because the one thing I do remember about that study is not what Priscilla Shirer had to say about resting, but rather about how God created a six-day, not five-day, work week.
As a busy mom of littles trying to juggle the every day needs of my children with my leadership duties, I was trying to figure out how to accomplish everything during the week. The to-do list for the non-profit seemed ridiculously long and a 6-day work-week seemed like the solution. It feels like a lifetime since that summer but it has only been 6 short years. During that time, I learned that the 6-day work week is only one part of the solution, equally as important was the 7th day of rest. But, more on that in a bit.
Often people ask me what actually qualifies as “work” so they know what they are supposed to be avoiding during their Sabbath practice. I get why they are asking. Our world and culture looks so drastically different from when God laid down the structure for the Israelites in Exodus that it is hard to determine what “work” is now. On the flip-side of that, at times the “rules” the Israelites adopted over the years feel a bit heavy and legalistic for our saved-by-grace-through-faith hearts.
We get that we need to rest, but from what exactly? We want a To-Cease List, but we don’t know what should be on it.
The Original Design for Work and Rest
To answer that question, we first have to go back to the beginning.
“God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good! It was evening, it was morning – Day Six. Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day, God had finished his work. On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done.” Genesis 1:31-2:4 (MSG)
God not only created a habitat and the animals and humans which would inhabit that habitat, He created a structure of time and a life-giving rhythm of work and rest. We can often miss this deeply beautiful and intimate detail of our origin story. Yes, our origin story, not just that of Adam and Eve’s, but the one that belongs to God and humanity. The one that tells us that the King of Kings designed, crafted, and spoke into existence a Garden-Kingdom meant for us to co-rule with Him.
“God took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order.” Genesis 2:15 (MSG)
Work was never a result of the curse of sin, but rather sin fractured the work that was given us as part of our image-bearer identity. What once was meant to be experienced in a life-rich communion with God now drains us and drags us away from Him. But, here’s the thing, that rhythm of work and rest was already put into place before sin entered the picture. Knowing that makes me ask the question “why?” Why would God create a structure of creating and then ceasing from that act of creation long before work morphed into a physically- and mentally-taxing necessity?
The answer, to me, seems to be found in the truth that Work and Rest are the balancing weights on opposite ends of the scale. You cannot have one without the other. To fully understand this life-giving rhythm, we actually have to dig a bit into the Hebrew word used for rest in Genesis and then in Exodus.
A Little Lesson on the Word Rest
The Hebrew word for rest in Genesis 2:1-2 is shabat and means to “cease from.” When God rested after creation, He didn’t take a nap, He stopped working. Not because He was physically tired or because He knew that one day we’d physically need the rest, but because it was time to stop. He had created what He needed to create and it was good and complete.
Exodus 20:11 gives us a little more of the story. Moses uses the word nuakh as he reminds the Israelites that God rested on the seventh day, blessed it, and made it holy. Nuakh means to “take up residence.” God’s rest had nothing to do with weariness, it had everything to do with taking up residence with His creation, specifically, His co-rulers Adam and Eve.
The guys at the Bible Project explain it this way: “God’s rest is about God’s presence taking up its rest within a sacred space by filling it with his divine presence. Creation is depicted as the cosmic temple, filled with God’s presence on the climatic Sabbath.”
If we are meant to be image-bearers and co-rulers, then it makes sense that we first create and then we take up residence with that creation. In fact, in Genesis 2:15, God nuakh, or rested, Adam in the garden! Humanity cultivates and then co-inhabits. We design and then we dwell. Just as God did for us at the beginning of the world, then again when He physically dwelt among us in the person of Jesus, and once more when the Spirit takes up residence within us when we surrender our lives over to him.
The Modern Day Worker
So, what does this mean in the here and now? In this space of time where the balance of work and rest is upset and these two actions that were meant to be co-dependent are fractured into separate aspects of our lives? What does it mean for us as we try to regain this life-giving rhythm back into our week?
It is important to note that God didn’t give extensive structure to the Sabbath day in His command to observe it. Remember, the Jews were newly freed and in a land foreign to them. They were, to borrow a term we’re all familiar with now, faced with a new normal. God knew this and gave space to it. As the Jews became a people-group with a homeland, the lack of a to-do list allowed them to adapt what it meant to Sabbath. Some took this to the extreme, working to keep rules instead of resting with God, but from the beginning, God gave space within Sabbath for it to “serve man” (Mark 2:27) the centuries.
That includes our century and our culture. Within the past 40 years, the impact of a digital and international work world has moved our culture away from a day of rest. Brick and mortar stores are now open on Sundays and online shops are open 24/7. Expectations for what a worker can realistically accomplish has morphed into a “due-yesterday” mentality.
For the Jews of the exodus, to Sabbath was to establish a culture of remembrance. For us today, to Sabbath is to resist a culture that insists we forget our divine design and purpose.
I think this is important to note because what you’re about to do has less to do with creating a “don’t” list and everything to do with a mindset shift that will be challenged week after week.
Creating Your To-Cease List
To Sabbath is to stop working. To work is to make a Sabbath a necessary next step. The two go hand-in-hand. They co-exist. So, in order to know what you are to cease from on day 7, you need to know what you’re creating days 1-6:
- Working to create a product or service
- Working to create a clean and safe space to live
- Working to create nourishment for your body
- Working to create exercise for your body
- Working to create care for your physical self
- Working to create care for your inner self (mental and emotional)
- Working to create growth in your faith walk
- Working to create connection in your relationships
I love the way Isaiah 58:13-14 (MSG) puts it:
“If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God’s holy day as a celebration, If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’ making money, running here and there— Then you’ll be free to enjoy God! Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all. I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.” Yes! God says so!
“Business as usual.” I think that’s the key here. For six days we work in various ways doing the things we need to do, but on the seventh, we remember our original design to dwell with God and with others in pure enjoyment.
I can give you some examples of ways I know others within our culture are ceasing from their work, but ultimately, you will need to decide what it is you have been given to cultivate in this very individualistic culture of ours. It is on you to decide what it means for you to cease working on day 7 so you can dwell with God in all that He has entrusted to your care and enjoy it.
But, I will leave this with you as a place to begin: Ask yourself “which area of work in my life do I need to learn to simply dwell in for one day?”
Make that item number 1 on your To-Cease List.
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