How we started (stumbled into) keeping the Sabbath blog image from jonhorton.com

How we started (stumbled into) keeping the Sabbath

“I Sabbath on Sunday.” It's what always came to mind when I would hear someone mention the Sabbath. I mean we go to church on Sunday, Sunday is Sabbath. Right?

Having grown up in a Protestant church, there's not a time I can remember when church was not a part of my life. Sometimes these routines and rituals have a way preventing you from ever asking any questions. To go beyond the surface of what you've always done to really dig in and uncover the roots of why we do what we do.

After all, it's just what we've always done.

A few years ago, I started reading a book, Garden City, by John Mark Comer. The book talks about how we can work with God to create a world that looks more like his kingdom. A garden city, if you will.

About halfway through the book is a chapter on The Sabbath. I was mesmerized. Reading his description of Sabbath (that he kept on Saturday) sounded so incredibly life giving. I wanted that to be a part of my life.

So I took some notes, tucked them a way and ventured off to read another book.

This time it was Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. What are the odds this would be yet another book on God's Kingdom, and, you guessed it—a chapter about the Sabbath.

I sent text and snapshots of pages to Kristelle. Something was stirring inside both of us. "We need to try this" one of us wrote.

So we had a discussion and made some plans.

What do you do to usher in the Sabbath? How do you santify it and set it apart from the other days of the week? I started researching and found that the Kiddush (which means sanctification) is prayer that Jewish people will pray while lighting two candles at sundown on Friday nights.

Originally written in Hebrew, it's primarily sung rather than read. Since we obviously couldn't read Hebrew, we opted for an English, messianic version that interjects portions recognizing Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah.

For some, the idea of reciting a static prayer may seem foreign, but sometimes, rituals can bring consistency and a depth of meaning. For me, I look forward to saying that final line:

“Blessed are you LORD, who sanctifies the Sabbath.”

There’s this sense of demarcation that happens in my soul, where everything before that line is what happened during the week: the worries, the stress, the nonstop busyness. Then I say those words and Sabbath begins. It’s like a marker for my brain that sets the Sabbath apart and gives me permission to just be.

But what do you do on the Sabbath?

Everyone has different things they enjoy, that fill their souls with delight—there’s no one size fits all.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish rabbi and theologian, describes the Sabbath as “Eternity in a day.” In his book aptly titled “The Sabbath”, he puts forth the idea that since God is a god of time and space, unable to be relegated to an object (Hence the command to not create images or idols representing God), that instead, we are given a day—the seventh day—to be fully immersed in this divine presence that permeates all things.

By responding to the Sabbath, you are making yourself more aware of God’s presence in the world.

I love that.

What would you do in response to this? What would you do every day, over and over if you could live forever?

You’d likely do something you enjoy—something that isn’t stressful or draining.

You wouldn’t be in a hurry or be frustrated.

Eugene Peterson, pastor and writer of the Message said that he spent his time on Sabbath to “Pray and Play.”

What are some things you can do that make you more aware of God’s presence, but also bring you joy? Jot a few things down that come to mind and start there. There isn’t a magic formula, but you’ll know at the end of the day if your cup is filled or empty. Take note of what those activities are and do more of the ones that fill your cup.

It shouldn’t feel difficult. Perhaps a bit uncomfortable as you form new rhythms—as you learn to live freely and lightly. But don’t forget, the whole purpose of the sabbath is for you to rest. Rest in just being you. Rest in God’s presence in a day. Rest in the community and friendships that you have. No obligations, no low-grade anxiety, just a sense of completeness and shalom.

Learning new rhythms

Adopting this new practice came with ups and downs for our family. You would think that slowing down to rest would come naturally to us with our world of frantic busyness, but it doesn’t. It wars against our existing patterns, against our culture of always needing to produce something. Sometimes, even against our entrenched expectations of church.

For a season we tried to sabbath on Sunday. Everyone was always out and about on Saturday which made it difficult to be the only ones attempting to sabbath. But after a while, we found that with getting the kids ready for church on time, volunteering throughout the day, and all of the other Sunday expectations, we found ourselves drained and not filled with peace. We came to the realization that Sabbath on Saturday just fit, and we decided to commit to it, regardless of the sacrifice.

Over time, as we settled into these new rhythms, the sense of God’s presence began to grow. We began to rest again, foregoing shopping trips and anything that would hinder our ability to take a break from the normal flow of life. We had lazy mornings, baked chocolate croissants from Trader Joes, played with the kids, read books in the hammock, and just enjoyed life.

It was good for our souls.

As we’ve practiced this rhythm for several years now, we’ve kept many things, tried new things, and let go of others. There’s no “perfect” way to sabbath, but we’ve found that committing to this rhythm has totally changed our outlook of the week and deepened our love for God. Our kids expectantly look forward to Friday night when we can say “shabbat shalom!”

So, whether you’ve been practicing the sabbath for years or you’re just getting curious about how to start keeping the sabbath—welcome! You’re in good company and I pray that this is the beginning of a whole new way of experience God’s presence and shalom in your life.

April 14, 2022